From the Publisher: School District Split

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Arnold G. York

The Santa Monica School District and what was once the wild west of Malibu were married, much to my surprise, in the year 1850 or so, to provide a place, I suspect, where the children of ranch hands of very large ranch holdings and perhaps a few families living in Decker Canyon could send their children for an education. In the ensuing 170 years, we’ve had a Civil War and a couple of world wars and our population has changed a bit. LA became a city in 1850, Santa Monica in 1886. The marriage, which seemed sensible at that time, probably because there was no Las Virgenes School District to join—in fact there was no Las Virgenes, nor a Pacific Palisades, nor a West Los Angeles—has now outlived its usefulness. 

Which brings us up to today. Today, we want out of the school district for the many reasons outlined in Karen Farrer’s op-ed. They don’t even mind us leaving, provided we agree to leave our money behind. This battle is not about the quality of education, nor protection of racial minorities, nor educational philosophy, nor custody of the kids. What this is all about is alimony: how much it should be and for how long. So, why the battle? What the Board of the Santa Monica Unified School District wanted from Malibu, as came out in the negotiation, is alimony for roughly 50 years at a rate that would amount to a couple of billion or so over the time period. To put it another way, they want us, and after us our children and after them our grandchildren, to continue paying the alimony. After all, 50 years is two generations, and they figure they have us over a barrel and we need their cooperation to get out and form our own district. We are soon scheduled to go before LACOE, the body that makes the decision, on Saturday, April 17, which is why it’s necessary, if we want out, we must all be engaged and have a massive show of strength. So, get engaged.

 

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Currently, the California Coastal Commission has the power, given to them by the legislature, to fine you for up to $11,200 per day for a period of up to five years for violation of coastal access. If you do the arithmetic, that could add up to $20 million in fines. My immediate reaction is that they would never do anything like that and, besides, no court would ever allow it. Well, I must confess, I’m wrong on both counts. So, here is the story: There was a house on the ocean front, on Las Flores Beach (often called Dog Beach), not too far from Dukes Restaurant, that had a dedicated coastal access on the same property, adjacent to the house. The access had been given by a prior homeowner in 1982 and, 20 years or so later, the coastal commission came to the successor homeowner who had purchased the house years after and said, “We want you to tear out the stairs and build out the coastal access.” 

He essentially said to coastal, “It’s been years, you never demanded it of the guy who gave you the access, so why are you coming to me now? I had nothing to do with any of this.” 

Coastal basically said, “Tough, that’s the law and we have the power.” 

So they negotiated back and forth and finally, after they couldn’t agree, it went to a hearing in front of the 12-member coastal commission. Perhaps a little background is necessary. The commission meets once a month, for three continuous days, with a packed schedule that often can mean they work 12-hour days. It is not an easy job. I’ve been told by lawyers who do this kind of work you might get as much as 30 minutes to make your case, often less, depending on how tight the commission is scheduled that day. The coastal staff is basically the prosecutor and the homeowner’s lawyer the defense counsel. Effectively, you’re arguing to the same body that filed the complaint against you that they or their staff were wrong. No judge, no jury, not even a hearing before someone that’s neutral. The staff suggested to the coastal commission they level an administrative fine of $950,000 and the commission, after a short discussion, seemed to feel that anyone who had the temerity to challenge their staff had a very bad attitude and they leveled a fine of $4,200,000 instead. We covered the story at the time and we were all sort of shocked at the lack of fairness in the hearing, the lack of time to present witness or cross examine or, in fact, to do any of the things you would expect to have a right to do in a trial. As for the size of the fine, the coastal commission seemed to just pull it out of their ear—or perhaps some other orifice I can’t mention in a family newspaper. My instant reaction was that no court will go along with something so utterly lacking in fairness, or due process, with a fine so excessive and arbitrary. 

Well, the court of appeals decision just came down and, I must confess, I was totally wrong. The appellate court didn’t seem to have a problem with any of it: Not the lack of due process, not the size of the fine, not the arbitrary nature of the entire proceeding. Out of curiosity, I looked up the profiles of the three justices who all agreed in the decision. All are very experienced, clearly very smart, and pretty much liberal. I see it as blatant disregard of any scintilla of fairness; I can only assume that the rule must be if you waive the green flag in California, you win—period, end of case. 

To make matters worse, there is now a bill before the legislature authored by State Senator Ben Allen to expand the California Coastal Commission’s power to levy fines for any violation of the California Coastal Act, not just for blocking coastal access. If it passes, it means that almost anything can be a violation of the Coastal Act. Recently, the commission filed a case against a Malibu homeowner because he had a sign on his property, which had been there for years, marking the mean high tide line. The commission said that sign was a development and, therefore, he needed a coastal development permit for the sign. I assume they’ll be threatening a fine of $11,200 per day for that. Who can afford to challenge them on anything? Who can take that kind of a financial risk? You could lose and end up bankrupt. 

If you wonder why a bunch of fruitcakes invaded the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, it’s because I suspect it’s due in part to this kind of governmental institutional thinking, which strikes me as being totally divorced from the realities of people’s lives.