Debate on planning appeals continues

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Council recommends that complaints be made to city staff, and proposes a seven-year cap on planning approvals.

By Jonathan Friedman/Staff Writer

The debate over whether appeals should be allowed on planning projects that only need the planning manager’s approval and require no variances continued at Monday’s City Council meeting. All the councilmembers who spoke on the issue said appeals should not be allowed because they said it puts politics into an issue that should only be about whether a project abides by the city’s zoning laws. The councilmembers said if somebody believed the planning manager had incorrectly approved a project, the complaint could be brought to the city manager, the city attorney or other city planners rather than before the Planning Commission. Those who disagreed with the council said that by eliminating the ability to appeal, it erased the ability to dispute human error and could increase the number of lawsuits, since people would be left to that option alone.

The council talked about this issue as part of its discussion on planning streamlining, a series of amendment proposals to the city’s zoning code that are supposed to make the planning process in Malibu run more smoothly. It addresses issues such as what types of planning should require certain types of scrutiny before permits are granted, viewshed issues and several other topics. The Planning Commission recommended the amendments for approval last summer. This is the third meeting the amendments have been before the City Council, which has made numerous changes to them.

Another item discussed was whether the issues raised before the Planning Commission or City Council during an appeal should be limited to what was included in the original written appeal. Councilmember Jeff Jennings said this would not be a good idea because an appeal must be made in 10 days, and somebody may not know everything there is to know about the project in that time period. Mayor Pro Tem Sharon Barovksy said people should be limited to only bringing up issues that are in the appeal or else it creates a situation similar to a person going to trial without knowing the charges.

“If in 10 days, you can’t figure out about your neighbor what’s bugging you, maybe you shouldn’t be appealing,” she said. “Or perhaps you should go around the neighborhood and get advice on how you’re supposed to nail him.”

The council finally recommended that following an appeal, a person would have 21 days to add anything to it.

As part of the streamlining process, the council also recommended primary viewpoint origins should not be limited to the ground floor. A primary viewpoint is the point from which a person stands in their home and has a view. Only one viewpoint can be determined. The council said a viewpoint should be determined by a planning manager and the homeowner.

Also, the council recommended a 7-year cap be placed on how long a person can hold on to a planning approval before the project must get under way.

The council further recommended that stringline determination, whether a beachfront home is aligned with the homes next to it, should be able to be appealed. Jennings said this was important because stringline issues in Malibu are often controversial. The council also recommended that people should have the ability to appeal bulkheads and seawalls, citing that a neighbor’s bad seawall could harm one’s property. The recommendations will be returned to the council at a future meeting in the form of a proposal.

Also at the meeting, the council voted to add two alternate member positions to the Native American Cultural Resources Advisory Committee. City staff had recommended the number of committee members be enlarged from 15 to 17, but Committee member Harold Greene said he and others did not like the idea, since just last month the committee had been increased from 13 members to 15.