Neighbors’ dispute comes to council


A long-standing, acrimonious dispute between Malibu Road neighbors erupted in public at the City Council meeting Monday when attorney Sam Birenbaum charged during public comment that the city staff was wrongfully enforcing city codes based on ethnic discrimination. He also read the council a note he said he took off his wife’s car that read, “All [epithet deleted] must hang.” He made reference to a “racist Realtor,” whom he charged wants him and his wife off the beach.

Birenbaum and his wife, Nidia, who is a city commissioner and an African American, have been involved in an ongoing dispute with their neighbor Steve Karsh.

Karsh has complained numerous times to the city that the Birenbaums’ septic system was not functioning and that untreated sewage was flowing directly onto the beach.

The city staff investigated the matter and recently filed misdemeanor charges against both Birenbaums for allegedly building a fence and patio without permits and maintaining an unlawful septic system.

After hearing Birenbaum’s allegations, the council instructed the interim city attorney to report back on the nature of the allegations and on the complaints that have been filed, and to determine whether any of these matters should be referred to another agency. The interim city attorney called the charges of selective enforcement “serious allegations.”

The conflict between the neighbors has a long history of civil and criminal court actions and sheriff’s reports. It has escalated over the last year-and-a-half with many lawsuits, counterclaims and restraining orders.

A reciprocal permanent injunction, issued Nov. 24, orders each party — Sam and Nidia Birenbaum, Karsh, his companion, Nina Maier, and tenant Nancy Heflin — not to trespass upon the other’s property, and to maintain a distance of at least 10 feet from the other except when entering and exiting their front gates, stairs and/or taking out their trash or collecting or depositing mail. Parties may not approach each other and may not allow their dogs to trespass nor be off leash.

Sheriff’s reports show six complaints filed since January. A claim by Karsh on Jan. 4 stated Birenbaum violated the court order by placing a letter in Karsh’s mail box.

On Feb. 6, Birenbaum filed a complaint alleging violation of the court order in connection with an incident involving their son and Karsh’s guests about parking in front of Birenbaum’s house and alleging attempted assault with an automobile. The deputy reported he didn’t believe an attempted vehicular assault had occurred and that the son was not a party to the court order.

On March 28, deputies responded to Karsh’s complaint about construction noise on a Sunday at Birenbaum’s property.

On June 11, deputies were called by Birenbaum for “suspicious circumstances, possible violation of a court order.” According to the report, Birenbaum said he and his wife heard Karsh and a friend yell profanities from their balcony. Birenbaum said he recognized the voice as that of a former client of his firm. The deputy reported he looked at a copy of the court order, that the client was not named in the order and that he could not determine if the neighbors were talking to the informants.

The latest complaint, for “assault with a deadly weapon (vehicle),” filed by Karsh on June 25, accuses Birenbaum of trying to run Karsh down with his car. Two days earlier, sheriff’s deputies responded to Birenbaum’s call of a possible burglary. He said the desk in his home office had been moved about 12 inches away from the wall. Nothing was reported stolen, but Birenbaum wanted the incident “documented with a report,” deputies said.

The ongoing hostilities escalated during the El Nino-driven storms in February 1998 when Karsh reported Birenbaum had moved some of his rip rap (boulders) with a tractor to protect his property from high surf. Birenbaum then sued Karsh and KCBS-TV for defamation after Maier said on camera a neighbor had moved the rocks.

In March, Karsh and Maier were found in contempt for violating the court order after they failed to appear at a scheduled hearing, and they were ordered to pay $250 to the court and $250 to the Birenbaums.

Additional incidents allegedly include dogs off leash, yelled obscenities, unpermitted grading and building, even frowning and staring.

The parties are due back in court July 20.

Vicky Newman contributed to this story.