Don Maclay’s letter of last week echoed a bit of confusion regarding the issue of grandfathering in Malibu. An underlying principle of land use policy is that there is a big difference between giving a permit to a structure that generally met zoning when it was built and one that did not, and it goes to the heart of good planning which attempts to balance needs and rights of all the property owners within our community.
We should make it as easy as possible to get a permit for construction that occurred without a permit since 1993 but generally reflects the Malibu zoning code and for homes that followed county rules before 1993 because the administrative violation of failing to obtain a permit for a building that was otherwise legal at the time has few negative impacts. But homeowners can instantly suffer property losses of hundreds of thousands of dollars, after having have paid millions for their homes because of Malibu’s high design standards and scenic beauty, if their neighbors are allowed to do current construction to all of the old L.A. County standards.
The recommendation that the city approve all unpermitted structures on a property as if they were constructed at the time of the original home would require the city to throw out the Malibu zoning code for current construction on the majority of homes in Malibu and replace it with the former L.A. County zoning code. As great as that may sound to some, it doesn’t look so bright if you take the time to review the historical county zoning codes (at the L.A. County Archives) that would apply to all residences constructed before 1993 or 80 percent of the homes in the city. A few of the designs that would be allowed – additions, guest houses and perimeter walls up to 35 feet tall, built along side yards as narrow as 3 feet, as many additions and guesthouses as you want up to 90 percent lot buildout, the complete elimination of setbacks for environmental areas and their concretizing, high intensity halogen sport court lighting, up to 100 percent asphaltic coverage of your lot, and numerous other L.A.-typical design standards.
The smarter thing to do is to focus on revising the parts of the Malibu code that are too strict and to make it easier for everyone who owns an existing home to get permits more cheaply and rapidly by eliminating any expensive and unnecessary studies that do not contribute to the health, safety and welfare of the community. The Task Force has recommended several excellent measures to this effect and I urge them to continue this work, while using the same definition of Grandfathering that is used in thousands of cities across the county.
Throwing out the Malibu zoning code for the people who are building now and are lucky enough to evade detection, while There are hundreds of people currently in the permit pipeline on a parallel path who have to follow Malibu zoning is chaos and is lunacy by planning standards used across the county. It could easily result in lawsuits for selective enforcement (witness the recent Sierra Club lawsuit against the city for letting by an extra 11 feet of roof height on Latigo Shore Drive) and create more neighbor hostilities. When a person buys a home next to an older property originally constructed under the county, he has been given the choice and accepted the difference in design standards which is reflected in his purchase price. The value of his investment and that of every homeowner in town also reflects that future development will be according to Malibu aesthetics and not LA’s.
As a final note, Mr. Maclay’s letter contained a few errors. He quotes me as saying that, “it isn’t fair to allow neighbors to build guesthouses . . .” Speaking as one who has spent the last six months working full–time to protect the rights of people to build guesthouses, it’s surprising he left out the words “within five feet of their property lines.” He also wrote that “State law regarding the right to build second units transcends the laws of the Coastal Commission.” Currently, the state allows second units up to 1,200 square feet, yet Malibu is restricted by the 750 square foot limitation of the Coastal Commission, which many of us are presently trying to change.