How many planning commissioners does it take to change a light law?

Planning Commissioner Jo Ruggles Monday doggedly continued her quest to dim the lights in Malibu by proposing strict new guidelines regulating exterior home lighting, despite specific instructions from the City Council last week that staff not prepare such an ordinance at this time. The proposal died when most of the other commissioners said they would not support a major amendment to the zoning code without staff research and a public hearing.

Ruggles’ proposal came in the midst of the commission’s minor revisions and grammatical and organizational changes to the interim zoning ordinance in preparation for its conversion to the city’s official zoning code. It also came on the heels of her move at the last Planning Commission meeting to prohibit lighted tennis courts in single-family and rural residential zones.

At Monday’s meeting, the planning staff wrapped up their suggested minor changes to the code section dealing with commercial parking, and the commissioners were then asked whether they had any recommended changes.

Ruggles started off the discussion by saying she wanted revisions on side-yard setbacks and exterior home lighting.

But Planning Director Craig Ewing jumped in and told Ruggles the commission was only cleaning up the code and members should not be proposing any new policy revisions. As a compromise, he suggested the commissioners compile a list of the major items they would like to see added to the code, and he would present it to the City Council for future action.

“We should have the council review them before we spend time on the issue,” said Ewing.

Ruggles then later asserted that a provision requiring all exterior lighting to be low-wattage, shielded and down-directed would not be a major change to the code because the General Plan includes such a land-use policy.

“The General Plan and the zoning code have to be consistent,” she said.

Ewing told the commissioners they could adopt the suggestion, but it would mean that if the council upheld it, security lighting and motion detectors would be banned.

Commissioner Ed Lipnick and Vice Chair Ken Kearsley strongly protested the proposal, and Lipnick accused Ruggles of trying to legislate in the guise of cleaning up the code.

“This is last-minute, poorly thought out and it doesn’t cover all the contingencies,” said Lipnick. “It’s a major change to the zoning code that needs to be dealt with at a later time.”

When Chair Andrew Stern suggested he would like to speak with the interim city attorney before proceeding, Ruggles withdrew her second to the motion that Commissioner Charleen Kabrin had made on Ruggles’ behalf.

“All this rhetoric, discussion, dialogue … this is ridiculous,” said a clearly frustrated Ruggles.

When no other commissioner would second the motion, the proposal died. Ewing then reminded commissioners that the exterior lighting issue would probably be taken up by the City Council when it considers the revised housing design ordinance this fall.

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

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