Sierra Club appeal denied in heated case over Latigo Shore houses

Council reaffirms decision to grant variances.

By Meme McKee/Special to The Malibu Times

Three city councilmembers voted to uphold after-the-fact city variances granted more than two years ago to two Latigo Shore Drive beach houses, which have long since been completed but are still unoccupied.

The two homes were originally granted a variance by the Planning Commission, which was later upheld by the council, but the Sierra Club sued, challenging the council’s decision.

In the heated dispute over an alleged 12-foot height violation of Malibu City’s Interim Zoning Ordinance (IZO), Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs found the previous council ruling of May 2000 upholding the variances was invalid due to the lack of a proper voting quorum, which required three council members. Mayor Joan House, who was a councilmember at the time, and Councilmember Ken Kearsley were ordered disqualified from future council proceedings on this item due to personal ties, and the case was sent back to the City Council for rehearing. Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Jennings, and councilmembers Tom Hasse and Sharon Barovsky reaffirmed the previous decision.

The houses were in dispute for several years after City of Malibu building inspectors noticed the 36-foot beachside elevations violated the city’s 24-foot height limit. At the time, one of the homes, designed by architect Mike Barsochinni, was standing in full frame, nearing completion.

Attorney Alan Block, defending Russell Shears, Evangelina Shears and Damien Perrillo, the owners of the multistory houses, related Janavs’ ruling in the Sierra Club’s appeal of the variances on the faulty quorum of city councilmembers in May 2000.

“What could have been fixed in two weeks was fixed in two years,” he said.

Shears “has been put through the ringer,” said Block, stating the Sierra Club took an unreasonable position in the case.

The height violations have no impact on the environment, nor do they impede public/private views, said the attorney.

Attorney Frank Angel, representing the Sierra Club, said the club was frankly “disappointed” by the council’s decision.

Angel said Janavs’ decision to send the case back to the council was due to substantial evidence against the variances.

He reiterated, when filing for a variance, there should not be a present violation, as in the Latigo Shore case. Angel said citizens have to be treated as “even-handed matter,” citing the City Council’s duty is to hold public hearings, promoting democratic participation of all citizens.

He further claimed, “[The defendants] knew what they were doing,” stating, on three occasions, the city building department rejected their housing construction plans.

Attorney Curtis Horton, Angel’s associate, said the defendants “shifted strategies” to get what they wanted. Horton cited documented grading violations, which he alleged incurred as the builders’ attempts to hide the fact they were building in violation.

Claiming to be a friend of neither plaintiff nor defendant, Norm Haynie, a land development consultant who helped establish standards of the original ordinance, said the ordinance was created with two types of development in mind-beachfront properties over sandy portions of the beach and bluff top properties on cliffs.

This project “falls in between,” he said.

The ordinance was not designed for the situation, describing the Latigo Shore Drive lots as “unique sites.”

Upholding the May 2000 ruling, Barovsky said, “I just see lawyers” highlighting the fact that no external community members were present at the meeting, and that all evidence remained the same.

Jennings said the idea that the existence of a violation on a property should cause a total lockdown situation disenabling continuation is an unreasonable action.

Moreover, Hasse said, while granting after-the-fact variances is not encouraged, he was reluctant to go against the previous ruling as he felt the May decision in upholding the variances was based on substantial evidence.

Upon the long-awaited council ruling, less-than happy homeowner Russell Shears said, as he was leaving, “It’s only cost me about a million dollars.”

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

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