Coastal Commission approves Malibu LCP amendment

Rhetoric and fighting between the commission and the city is often the norm, but last week’s meeting was a cooperative one between the two entities. Only one contention, regarding setbacks for development on bluffs, comes up.

By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor

In a rare friendly encounter between Malibu city officials and the California Coastal Commission, the commission last Thursday unanimously approved the city’s proposed Malibu Local Coastal Program amendment. Although the commission did modify portions of Malibu’s proposal before approving it, there was only one item that remained in dispute between the two entities, with the city accepting all other Coastal Commission modifications.

“The rhetoric has toned downed somewhat and I hope that we will continue to go in that direction so that the city, and the [Coastal Commission] staff and the commission can work cooperatively,” said Coastal Commissioner Sara Wan, a Malibu resident who has often been at odds with this city’s local government.

Mayor Ken Kearsley, who attended the meeting, was quoted in a press release issued by the city of Malibu this week saying, “We were gratified by the sense of collegiality at the hearing.”

The LCP amendment approved by the commission was the first in what is expected to be a series of amendments to the LCP (a set of two documents that includes the Land Use Plan and the Local Implementation Plan) that the city will be submitting over several years as Malibu officials attempt to modify the two-document package that sets the rules for development in Malibu.

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The amendment approved last week mostly dealt with minor technical issues, language changes and some inconsistencies in the documents. The only major issue of contention between the city and the Coastal Commission involved the amount of setback required for development on bluffs. The Coastal Commission says the minimum should be 100 feet from the bluff edge, with an ability to reduce it to 50 feet if geotechnical staff determine that would still be safe. The city wanted those numbers reduced in half, citing that most cities in California have a 25- to 50-foot setback requirement.

The commissioners would not budge, citing safety concerns about reducing the setback.

Wan said there is a great deal of erosion with Malibu’s bluffs, and she said it is not just along the ocean. She encouraged people to take a look at the canyon areas along Pacific Coast Highway.

“Take a look at all of the black tarps hanging over the edge of the bluff, and tell me there should be no concern because there is no [ocean] wave action,” Wan said.

Several Malibu residents who are regular opponents of the city government came to the meeting, and spoke in opposition to the city’s request on bluff setbacks. Point Dume resident Dusty Peak spoke out against the elimination of Point Dume streams and riparian habitats as environmental sensitive habitat areas, or ESHAs. When an area is designated as an ESHA, there can be no development within 100 feet of it. But the commission did not agree with Peak.

John Mazza also accused the city of ignoring Coastal Commission staff, and said the city misinterprets portions of the LCP when it approves projects. None of the commissioners responded to his comments.

Although only Planning Manager C.J. Amstrup spoke to the commission, several city officials attended the meeting including Kearsley, City Manager Jim Thorsen, additional city planners and Planning Commission Chair Carol Randall.

Thorsen said the process to create the next amendment should begin within the next six months. Although this amendment was mostly uncomplicated, future ones might not be so easy. The city and the commission do not see eye-to-eye on the issue of creating more visitor-serving places in Malibu.

Originally, Coastal Commission staff had proposed in its recommendation on this amendment that there be an inclusion of regional parks designation. The city had included in the amendment the establishment of certain park designations, but did not create one for regional parks. City officials are opposed to regional parks, in fear that it will make it easier for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy to enhance its park properties. In response, rather than have that battle on this amendment, the city withdrew any reference to parks.

The amendment process began after the city ran out of legal options to challenge the Coastal Commission-drafted Malibu LCP. After the Coastal Commission drafted and approved the Malibu LCP in 2002 without the city’s input, Malibu officials attempted to challenge the documents through the court system. Led by City Attorney Christi Hogin, the city said the people of Malibu had the right to vote on the documents. A trial court judge disagreed, and a Court of Appeal panel in 2005 affirmed that decision. The state Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

During the legal process, the city drafted one large Malibu LCP amendment, which in reality was a rewrite of the LCP. Following the end of the legal battle, the city submitted the amendment to Coastal Commission staff. The staff refused to read the amendment, and said it planned to recommend the voting body reject it. After negotiations, the city and the Coastal Commission staff agreed on the multiamendment process.

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

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