Sacramento powers hand Malibu ultimatum

For almost everyone wanting to build or remodel in Malibu, the first stop is the City of Malibu and the next stop is the California Coastal Commission. More than an unfortunate few have gotten themselves caught in the ‘No man’s land’ between the two governmental agencies.

What the city is willing to permit, the Coastal Commission will turn down, and what the Coastal Commission considers legal, the city refuses to permit, sometimes leaving the poor applicant frustrated, with no place to go other than back to the drawing board.

The reason the authority is split, and the Coastal Commission is the final word in planning in Malibu, is because the City of Malibu has never had a Local Coastal Plan approved.

According to Malibu resident Sara Wan, chair of the California Coastal Commission, this occurred because of a long-term rocky relationship between the city and the Coastal Commission.

Wan said: In the past “the city has consistently ignored the coastal act and put the applicants into a very tough position” of being caught between the two entities.

However, she said she was now much more optimistic that a plan, acceptable to both, could be worked out, and once approved, the City of Malibu would handle all of its own permitting.

But apparently, the powers in Sacramento are not willing to wait any longer for the two entities to work out their differences and to come up with an acceptable compromise plan. To add urgency to the process, a bill was recently put into the legislative hopper, Assembly Bill 988 (AB988), authored by no one less than the Speaker of the Assembly, Robert Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys). The principal co-author is Sen. John Burton (D-San Francisco), president pro tem of the state Senate.

They constitute two-thirds of the most powerful politicos in the state of California, and, in case there are any doubts that this bill is going to pass, Burton indicated recently they had discussed this problem with the governor and the governor was in agreement that a solution was necessary.

What the bill does, is to ensure that Malibu gets a Local Coastal Plan (LCP). The way they intend to do that is to take it out of the hands of the city and give the job to the Coastal Commission to complete. The move is unusual, but not unprecedented. About 10 years ago, another piece of legislation directed the Coastal Commission to write the LCP for the city of Carlsbad. This new bill, which just cleared Sen. Hayden’s Natural Resources Committee last week, is now moving through the state Senate. The bill delivers both a message and an ultimatum to the City of Malibu and its inhabitants. The message is — work this out with the Coastal Commission or we’ll do it without you. The bill instructs the Coastal Commission to prepare an initial draft of the LCP and get it to the city by Jan 15, 2002 then, after consultation with the city (not approval by the city) and public hearings, it instructs the Coastal Commission to adopt a LCP for Malibu by Sept. 15, 2002, or suffer some dire consequences, which they’re still working out.

The bill is simple, but the reasons behind it are much more complex. The city has a bad reputation in Sacramento. In the past, the city has had various groups, including the LCP committee, work on an LCP draft for almost 10 years. By the time the working draft arrived at the Coastal Commission headquarters it was characterized as dead on arrival (DOA) by some on the Coastal Commission staff. In other words, they felt it didn’t come close to meeting the requirements of the Coastal Act and that the city alone wouldn’t or couldn’t fix it.

At the same time, because we had no LCP, many of Malibu’s permit applications went to the Coastal Commission for hearings. Many, of course, were contentious, and often consumed one-third or so of the Coastal Commission agenda and staff time. Coastal wanted out.

But, probably the largest driving force was Malibu’s land-use battles, often involving high-profile and well-connected people, who are political donors with considerable access to the governor, speaker and president pro tem. Though no one will admit it publicly, the rumor is the politicos were tired of being harangued about things like the size of somebody’s ocean deck and wanted the city to pass a LCP and take over the responsibility to get the Coastal Commission and them out of the loop.

Despite the bill, Wan is considerably upbeat about the city and the Coastal Commission being able to work out a LCP acceptable to both the citizens of Malibu and the Coastal Commission.

“City staff and coastal staff can work together,” said Wan. “I’m hopeful that the community wouldn’t overreact to the proposed legislation. The Coastal Commission is very experienced with Local Coastal Plans. We’ll listen to the community.”

However, one thing she thinks could be a problem, only because it has been a problem in the past, the question of coastal access. The location and opening of access points, which allow the public to get to the beaches, has always been a sticking point in Malibu, but Wan felt it was doable.

Marilyn Leuck, Malibu city manager, was somewhat less certain about AB988.

“Anything that erodes local control, the city tends to be opposed to,” said Leuck. “Staff doesn’t understand the need for this bill, since after the last City Council election in April the council has made getting a Local Coastal Plan its top priority.”

She indicated they were on a timeline that could produce a new LCP by spring, and the process was ongoing and already in high gear.

Lucile Keller, formerly a longtime member of the Malibu LCP Committee, echoed those comments.

“It seems very superfluous and it appears that the authors are not aware of the current status,” said Keller. “An administrative draft was submitted to Coastal Commission staff over five months ago for their review and comment.”

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

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