The city attorney will research before the Oct. 11 City Council meeting whether there is a way for the city to issue coastal development permits while it continues with the litigation. The Supreme Court could take up to 100 days to decide whether to hear the case.
By Jonathan Friedman/Assistant Editor
The City Council voted unanimously Monday to petition the state Supreme Court to hear its case against the California Coastal Commission.
The decision received a mixed response from public speakers at the meeting. But all were unanimous in saying the city needed to find a way to issue coastal development permits immediately. The council asked City Attorney Christi Hogin to come back at its Oct. 11 meeting with information on how this could be done while the city still pursues its case.
No coastal permits have been issued in Malibu since the city’s conflict with the Coastal Commission went to litigation in the fall of 2002. The conflict began when the Coastal Commission drafted and approved a Local Coastal Program for the city. Malibu residents quickly gathered more than 2,400 signatures to put the document up for a vote. The Coastal Commission said that vote was not legal. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge and the Court of Appeal have since sided with the state agency.
The Coastal Commission says the city is supposed to issue coastal permits based on the Coastal Commission-drafted Local Coastal Program. But Hogin has said that would put the city in a position in which it could be looked at as accepting the document, jeopardizing its case. This has led to 110 projects, which have all the other necessary permits, waiting for coastal permits. And another couple hundred projects are working their way through the system, eventually needing coastal permits.
“I am increasingly uncomfortable with putting all the burden on what I see are the equivalent of draftees,” Councilmember Jeff Jennings said. “These people didn’t volunteer to be put in the pipeline. These people are there by circumstance.”
Hogin said she would look into all the options and bring them before the council. Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich asked if a meeting could take place before Oct. 11 at which time Hogin could present an ordinance proposal that could get the city issuing coastal permits promptly. Hogin said that was not possible, because ordinances can only be approved at regularly scheduled meetings.
Beginning in the summer, the city issued letters to the owners of the 100 projects in the pipeline, inviting them to come to the city to begin the process of getting their coastal permits based on the Coastal Commission-drafted LCP. Only 32 property owners have responded to the invitations. Realtor Paul Grisanti suggested at Monday’s meeting that the reason for the light response was that if the Coastal Commission-drafted LCP later became invalid, then the homeowners would have wasted all their money going through the process. The city has said it would not issue refunds.
“If you tell people they have the opportunity to spend 20 or 30 thousand dollars and may get absolutely nothing for it, most of them are willing to sit on their hands for a little more [time],” Grisanti said.
The city must send its petition to the Supreme Court by Friday. Whether the court will actually hear the case is not known, although Hogin said at the Sept. 13 council meeting that the chance of the court agreeing to hear the case was slim because it hears so few. It could be up to 100 days until the city receives a response from the court, although a negative response would probably come sooner.
The city’s dispute with the Coastal Commission could still be solved out of the courtroom arena. One solution would be if the Coastal Commission accepts city-written amendments to the LCP. The City Council, with the help of a consultant, wrote the amendments over an 18-month period, submitting them to the Coastal Commission’s Ventura office earlier this year. Coastal Commission staff has said it will review the amendments and possibly put them before the commission for a vote. City Manager Katie Lichtig said on Monday that vote would not occur until May 2005 at the earliest, and as late as July 2005.
There also remains the situation of Marine Forest Society v. California Costal Commission, a case that the Supreme Court agreed to hear more than a year ago, but for which oral arguments have not yet been made. Marine Forest has challenged the constitutionality of the state agency because of how its members are appointed. A Sacramento Superior Court judge has already ruled in favor of Marine Forest, with the Court of Appeal upholding his decision. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Marine Forest, the structure of the Coastal Commission would be dramatically altered and some have suggested the Coastal Commission-drafted Malibu LCP would then become invalid.