City loses to Kissel Company, again

In the ongoing soap opera that is the long-running legal and political battle over the Paradise Cove Mobilehome Park rent control ordinance among the city of Malibu, some of the tenant coach owners and park owner Kissel Company, a court has once again intervened and slapped down the city.

In a notice of intended decision, Judge Lorna Parnell, who heard the most recent case in the Los Angeles Superior Court in Santa Monica, indicated she was going to rule in favor of the Kissel Company because “the city’s proceeding in this matter was unjustified, unfair and clearly prejudicial to the petitioner [the Kissel Company].”

The city of Malibu Rent Stabilization Commission, which some argue is heavily stacked in favor of the tenant coach owners, had turned down the Kissel Company’s application for any rent increase, and Kissel sued.

After hearing the case, in what was perhaps a telling indication of her thinking, the judge indicated this was not the first litigation between the parties, then quoted some of the pertinent findings in the earlier, federal case, in which a federal judge found part of the Malibu rent control ordinance to be unconstitutional and ultimately rendered a decision that cost the city more than $2 million. Referring to the earlier judge’s opinion that made note of the “city’s intransigence” and its desire to please the tenants of the mobilehome park, whom it referred to as a “large and very vocal voting constituency in the city,” Parnell said, “It is against this backdrop that the present matter is considered.”

She then held the city misconstrued and/or misapplied the law in several significant respects. She also found the city disregarded its own rules and considered evidence that was not admissible under its own rules, evidence that the court said was both untimely and based on unsworn written statement by tenants.

What happens next, after the judgment is finalized, assuming the judge doesn’t change her mind, is that the city has the option of appealing to a higher court or sending the matter back to the Rent Stabilization Commission for further hearings consistent with the judge’s opinion.

The city could even sit down across the table from the Kissel Company and attempt to work out some acceptable compromises and end this state of constant warfare that seems to exist in the mobilehome park, although that is considered by most to be highly improbable.

Whatever they decide to do, the battle is far from over, but this opinion sounds a loud, cautionary note that the Malibu rent control ordinance and its application will be carefully and somewhat skeptically scrutinized by the courts.

In addition to this case, there are several other ongoing cases growing out of the Paradise Cove Mobilehome Park disputes.

There is presently a criminal case being tried in Judge Lawrence Mira’s Malibu court in which the Kissel Company is being prosecuted for alleged violations of the environmental laws for failures in the park’s septic system. The defense is just beginning the presentation of its case.

In another civil case, a number of the tenant coach owners are suing the Kissel Company for damages for alleged failure to maintain the park properly. It’s set for trial in January 2000.

In still another case, the Kissel Company is suing the city, asking the court to declare the city in breach of the settlement agreement that was signed several years ago to settle the earlier federal rent control case. If the Kissel Company is successful in that one, there possibly could be damages, said to exceed $1 million plus attorney’s fees.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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