Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Executive Director Joe Edmiston came to the City Council meeting Monday armed with a proposal to ward off possible litigation with the city over zoning issues. The council was mum about the proposal, but City Attorney Christi Hogin later said that in closed session, the council members indicated they are prepared to file suit if one final option is not resolved to their satisfaction.
The Streisand Center for Conservancy Studies, an affiliated agency of the conservancy, holds private, catered functions at the facility in Ramirez Canyon to raise funds for its operation. The rental fees from the functions are also used to maintain the grounds at Barbra Streisand’s former estate, which she donated to the conservancy in 1993.
Residents are trying to end the functions, which they say have ruined the canyon. The events, often large weddings, bring noise and traffic into the private community almost every weekend, they say.
The city says the functions violate zoning laws because the conservancy has never applied for a special event permit for any of the three or so events held there each month.
The conservancy says it does not have to apply for a permit because, as a state agency, it is sovereign to the city.
Hogin agrees that the state normally has superseding authority over a city, but she maintains that the state must submit to local zoning laws when it rents out its property for reasons that have nothing to do with an agency’s purpose.
Edmiston touched only briefly on that issue at the meeting by acknowledging a difference of opinion on the matter.
“Your counsel and our counsel probably disagree over the extent to which the city can regulate the state of California,” he said.
Instead, Edmiston proposed having all future functions fulfill the requirements for obtaining a special event permit from the city, which he said would mainly mean lowering the decibel level of amplified music.
Edmiston said he hoped an agreement could be reached with the city, and he joked about sparring with City Manager Harry Peacock.
“If it doesn’t work, then Mr. Peacock and I can duke it out,” he said.
The council would not comment on the dispute. Hogin later said that during the closed session, the council members indicated they are concerned about the events at the center. The city is considering one final option, which she did not disclose, before proceeding with a lawsuit.
“The council wants it to go back to being a residential neighborhood,” she said.