Forge Lodge hearing delayed; school district appeals to city on parks bond

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City Council moves public hearing on Malibu Forge Lodge project to a special February meeting. School District asks city not to put its parks and recreation bond measure on same ballot as district parcel tax election.

By Jonathan Friedman/Special to The Malibu Times

The City Council Monday night voted unanimously to delay a public hearing on the Malibu Forge Lodge project until Feb. 19. This was done despite nearly 100 people attending the council meeting for the scheduled hearing. The council members said they received a great deal of documentation on both sides of the issue less than 24 hours before the meeting and needed time to read it.

The Forge Lodge project, a proposed 28-unit bed and breakfast inn to be located near the Beau Rivage Restaurant, owned by Daniel and Lucia Forge, has been in the works for some time. The Sierra Club is appealing the project, which the Planning Commission approved, because of environmental concerns.

Mayor Jeff Jennings acknowledged it was frustrating for everybody that the public hearing was being delayed, but he said it was essential that the council members examine all the information due to the legal ramifications of any decision the council may make.

“The same people who are suing us over and over again are lined up for this situation,” he said. “So whatever decision comes out of the City Council, whether it is to uphold the Planning Commission or modify it in some way, we want to make sure it is a decision which is as defensible as possible.”

Many of the council members expressed frustration with receiving the information so close to the meeting time. Especially upsetting for them was one attorney who faxed the council members at their homes at 1:30 a.m. on the day of the meeting. Andrew Stern said he resented that.

“I would hope that other attorneys will act in a professional manner, and pay our families a bit of respect, and not harass us at 1:30 in the morning,” he said. “It’s very upsetting.”

City Attorney Christi Hogin said it would be a violation of state law to set a deadline on when people could get information to City Council members. By law, the council members must be able to take information up to and during a council meeting. But Hogin said it was a matter of courtesy for people to get information out at least three or four days in advance. She encouraged people to give the information to the city clerk, who would then make sure all of the council members receive it.

Parcel tax versus parks bond

The Forge Lodge project was not the only thing that attracted a large crowd to the council meeting. About 50 people, including parents and students, came to the meeting in support of a request by the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District for the city to delay its tentatively scheduled election for a parks and recreation bond measure.

The city is still in the planning stages for the writing of an initiative for a June election. The SMMUSD Board of Education is expected tonight to approve the language for a parcel tax proposal to be placed on the ballot for an election to be held on the same day in June. District Superintendent John Deasy requested that the city not hold its election at that time, to prevent any harm to a parcel tax approval.

Deasy said the district’s election must take place in June, or else the money generated from an approved tax could not be put toward the 2003/2004 fiscal year budget. According to SMMUSD staff, the district could be facing a $12.5 million shortfall for the year if Gov. Gray Davis’ budget proposal for large education cuts is approved. The district must make that amount in cuts prior to June in anticipation of the governor’s plan being approved. But if the parcel tax is a success, it would bring money back to the district and some of those cuts could be reversed.

Laura Rosenthal, president of the PTA at Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School, said putting both measures on the ballot for the same election would risk harming both of them. She said the parcel tax is the more important of the two in terms of urgency.

“There is a crisis in our schools, not in our parks,” Rosenthal said. “While we all certainly agree that our city needs more parks and amenities, waiting a few more months for a parks bond will not have the same catastrophic effect as postponing the parcel tax.”

Jennings said he sympathized with the school district’s situation, and suggested the parks and recreations bond measure election could possibly take place on an unofficial election day. He said there is precedence for that in California.

Mayor Pro-Tem Ken Kearsley said it is critical that everything be done to ensure the parcel tax is approved. As a former high school teacher, he knows first-hand how budget cuts effect schools. He told a story of how when he was working during a financial crisis, several teaching jobs were cut. The remaining teachers were then left with classes of more than 40 students. This meant there were not enough seats to accommodate all of them, and the teachers who assigned papers had an overwhelming amount to read.

Malibu joins Ahmanson lawsuit

Also at the council meeting, Hogin announced Malibu would be joining other municipalities in a lawsuit to challenge a decision made last month by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors to approve the first phase of a project for the construction of Ahmanson Ranch, the two-golf course, 3,050-home mini-city planned near Las Virgenes Road and the 101 Freeway. Jennings told The Malibu Times last week that the project created traffic and environmental concerns for the city.

The council meets again on Feb. 10.