Coastal development issues topic of panel discussion

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The discussion was a first in a series hosted by Malibu Coastal Vision Inc.

By Troy Dove/Special to The Malibu Times

The Malibu Local Coastal Program and the California Coastal Commission were the main topics of discussion Saturday morning at Malibu High School for the first in a series of guest lectures and panel discussions hosted by Malibu Coastal Vision Inc.

The panel discussion entitled, “Preservation, Public Access, Private Property Rights and the Coastal Commission: How Citizens, Cities and States Can Work Together to Achieve Common Goals,” was led by panelists California Deputy Attorney General John A. Saurenman and Larry Salzman of the Pacific Legal Foundation.

The aim of the discussion was to provide Malibu citizens with a clear understanding of how city and state governments interface and how the role of the Coastal Commission and the Malibu LCP affect land use decisions in the city.

Saurenman, who has handled litigation for the Coastal Commission, began the discussion by providing a brief history of the commission and the LCP.

The process for creating LCPs is “fairly lengthy and involved,” Saurenman said, adding that the LCP must make sure all coastal developments “meet the standards of Chapter 3 of the Coastal Act.”

The Malibu LCP was established in 2002 by the California Coastal Commission pursuant to the Coastal Act of 1975. The purpose of the LCP is to determine whether proposed coastal developments would pose a threat to the natural coastal environment. All coastal development permit applications must be processed and verified through the LCP prior to approval.

The Malibu LCP was drafted by the Coastal Commission after it was determined that Malibu was making no progress in drafting its own LCP. Coastal permit applicants in cities or unincorporated county areas without an LCP receive their permits from the Coastal Commission. Saurenman said the Malibu LCP was in immediate need due to the large burden that applications from the city placed on the commission.

“Malibu became a difficult situation for the Coastal Commission,” he said. “Malibu would have 1,000 permit applications in a year, while most coastal cities would have less than 40.”

Many Malibu residents found the Coastal Commission-drafted Malibu LCP to be unacceptable and sought to overturn it in a referendum. They felt that the state should not be charged with determining the land-use in Malibu, that it should be decided by the city. The litigation that ensued developed into a two-year legal battle that essentially froze all coastal development in Malibu.

The referendum was overturned in court and the city attempted to pursue the issue at the Supreme Court level, but its appeal was denied.

The city is now beginning to grant coastal permits based on the Coastal Commission-drafted Malibu LCP. The city has proposed amendments to the LCP. The Coastal Commission staff is currently reviewing them. They will be presented to the commission for a vote later this year.

“Amendments are extensive,” Saurenman said. “It’s going to take the commission a while to work through them.”

While the freeze on development had angered many Malibu citizens, Saurenman said he doesn’t believe the commission was trying to act maliciously in its creation of the LCP. “The Coastal Commission and its staff have taken a good faith interpretation of the statutes [of the Coastal Act],” he said.

Salzman of the Pacific Legal Foundation agreed with Saurenman that an LCP was needed in Malibu to process coastal permits, but added that it needed some work. He pointed out a few cases where the Coastal Commission may have acted inappropriately, denying permits for simple residential homes. In many instances the landowners waited years for a permit to build.

“The act [Coastal Act] should not be used to grant or deny permits,” stated Salzman, “Its primary concern is to limit development.”

The purpose of the Coastal Act is “to balance economical development with the natural resources of the coast,” Salzman added, saying that “future developments that are carefully planned” should be OK with the state.

Due to the commission’s slow response in issuing permits, Salzman said the state “became an active enemy of property rights. The state should be doing everything they can to serve its citizens.” Which, Salzman said, was approving valid permit applications.

Salzman also noted that, in some instances, the commission agreed to approve the permits only if the landowner agreed to donate a portion of their property to the state, for public beach access. In many instances, these conditions led to lawsuits, both against the state and the residents.

“If a city and state are serious,” Salzman said, “the last thing they should be doing is filing lawsuits against its citizens over permits.

At the conclusion of the panel discussion, the floor was opened for questions and comments from residents. Malibu Coastal Vision Inc. said it hopes to gather through these lectures and discussions, the citizens’ vision of the future of Malibu and provide the results as a guide to policy-makers and voters to better serve the needs of the community.

The next guest lecture, “Decision Making in Cities-How to Get Citizens Involved,” will take place on March 8.