Referendum stalls coastal permit applications

Question raised, who is responsible for dispensing coastal permits?

By Sylvie BelmondSpecial to The Malibu Times

While the city suspended the implementation of the recently passed California Coastal Commission Malibu Local Coastal Plan (LCP), following a successful citizens’ referendum initiative, residents applying for a coastal permit are left in development limbo. The Coastal Commission maintains the referendum is not valid and permits still need to be issued by the City of Malibu, while the city is directing permit applicants to the commission.

The recently certified LCP left the job of processing coastal development permits in the hands of the city, which would have to follow the state Coastal Commission’s mandates drafted in the plan. However, the citizens’ referendum petition to repeal the plan gathered enough signatures to place the issue on a special ballot for voters to decide. More than 2,600 signatures were gathered.

However, it is the opinion of Coastal Commission Executive Director Peter Douglas that, even as referendums are a legal tool that can be used by citizens to repeal laws they do not agree with, the recent referendum initiated by Malibu residents is not valid because it deals with an administrative act created by the state.

“The residents of Malibu clearly have the right to petition their government, but the law provides that those referendums apply only to legislative acts by the city. They do not apply to the state,” Douglas said.


“Nothing was repealed and nothing has been suspended. They should have asked us and we would have told them,” he added.

However, City Attorney Christi Hogin, who said she attempted to contact the Coastal Commission’s Chief Counsel, Ralph Faust, as soon as the petitions were delivered to the city, but received no reply, does not agree with Douglas’ viewpoint.

She noted that, even if courts are not the place to work out differences, this case presents an unprecedented situation.

“If the city adopted the plan, it would turn its back on voters who exercised constitutional power,” she said.

“The city believes the adoption of the plan is a local legislative act, and even if the Coastal Commission maintains it doesn’t matter what it did, just who did it, then that cheats people out of their right to referendum,” she added.

Douglas sees it differently.

“The Legislature passed a law requiring the Coastal Commission to pass the law, and [it] did that … the city has to implement that plan,” Douglas maintained.

He pointed to a letter addressed to the city where Coastal Commission Chief Counsel Faust concurred Malibu has suspended the plan without legal basis.

Douglas maintains a statewide referendum would be needed to suspend the plan.

In a letter to the Coastal Commission, Hogin noted she advised the Malibu city clerk to accept the referendum petition if she determined that enough signatures were gathered, which was the case. Hogin also noted she recommended the planning director and the city manager not implement the LCP, as its effectiveness is suspended.

But Hogin also acknowledged that Malibu residents are caught between a rock and a hard place. Although this case raises uncharted legal circumstances regarding referendum rights, “we need to get it resolved quickly so permit applicants don’t suffer,” she said in a later interview.

However, for the time being it appears that both sides will not budge from their respective positions.

“It’s an unfortunate waste of public resources,” Douglas said. “It’s misleading and confusing to permit applicants and residents, and puts applicants into a real dilemma as they are sent to the Coastal Commission and we tell them we have no authority.”

“I think the residents were sincere and they genuinely thought they were doing something that would have legal force and effect but they got bad advice,” he added.

As he detailed the LCP’s impact on Malibu residents, Douglas said the commission is concerned there has been so much misinformation that people are confused and unnecessarily alarmed about what they can or cannot do with their properties.

He indicated the commission has tried time and again to explain clearly what the law is, and there are people who just don’t want to hear it.

“They keep distorting the facts and produce a frenzy of misinformation, which is counterproductive,” he said.

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

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