From the publisher


    Arnold G. York

    The quiet in the eye of the storm

    On the surface there is a quiet lull in Malibu’s battle with the California Coastal Commission over the commission’s draft Land Use Plan (LUP) for Malibu.

    Later this month, commission staff will meet with Malibu staff to try and iron out rough spots in the Coastal Commission’s draft plan. In my judgment, however, it will take more than an iron-more likely a drop hammer, and it’s doubtful even that would make a dent.

    Beneath the placid surface the commission is lobbying legislators to try and convince them that Malibu is full of a bunch of selfish NIMBYs (Not in My Backyard) who intend to keep their beaches exclusively for themselves. This is the same message that Coast Commission Chair Sara Wan and Executive Director Peter Douglas have been cooing, rather effectively, to the Los Angeles Times and CNN, among others. It’s very strange to be in the media and to watch how easily it can be manipulated. Apparently, the story coverage goes to whoever gets to the media first, especially when you’re dealing in an area where the media doesn’t know much, and local coastal politics is clearly an area of major ignorance on the media’s part. Clearly, someone is handling public relations for the commission, and rather effectively, painting us as the bad guys. The city has yet to catch up.

    But the city and its citizenry are not without their own weapons. For one thing, the city has two very highly regarded lobbyists working the coastal commissioners and the Legislature, and Malibu’s elected leaders are making the rounds of the coastal commissioners.

    The message is simple: If the Coastal Commission jams this down Malibu’s throat, which it probably has the power to do, it will fail, and no one wins.

    Then we’re probably all looking at years of litigation. I know the city would like to avoid this, but if major changes are not made in the draft plan that the commission is pushing, then litigation is pretty much a certainty. And it’s going to come from a variety of different directions.

    For example, I know of a group of local lawyers, some very competent and expensive legal talent, who are prepared to donate some energy and time to this battle. There is also a political group developing here in Malibu and in several places up and down the coast that is looking to do battle with the Coastal Commission. I know this because they’re beginning to call. In the old days these battles were typically fought by the property rights crowd, but this time the coalitions forming are a lot broader and run across the political spectrum.

    If the commission jams it through, as I fear it will, there will be some major losers in this battle.

    Malibu, for one, will lose, and lose big. It will impact our ability to build fields, a senior center, a community center and such. It also will impact our real estate values. I know the local real estate industry with the assistance of their state organization is gearing up for the fight. The legal battles are also going to be expensive.

    But we’re not the only ones that will lose big. The Coastal Commission is also going to lose big because there are some major issues, like local control over land-use planning, and some real constitutional issues involved here, and it’s going to get some large institutional opposition. The original bill, AB 988, which gave the commission the power to write Malibu’s LUP, was highly unusual and almost unprecedented, and probably what lawyers call “first impression.” If you’ve ever been involved in expensive litigation, the two scariest words in the world are “first impression” because it means the courts are moving into a new area, and that is always complicated and expensive because there are few guideposts. I was at a recent UCLA seminar on land use and the very highly regarded speakers recommended to a bunch of planners and land-use lawyers from all over the state they go to the Coastal Commission Web site and check out the Malibu draft plan. They felt it was the Coastal Commission’s blueprint for the entire state. A major battle brewing.

    But the biggest loser, I believe, is going to be Gov. Gray Davis. People I’ve talked to blame this mess on him, and I’m not talking about Republicans. I’m talking about life-long Democrats, many living in the coastal zone. They are party activists, who, if Richard Riordan gets the Republican nomination, could easily join Democrats for Riordan.

    These are Democratic activists and environmentalists who believe the Coastal Commission is out of control and that coastal politics are in the hands of a bunch of environmental extremists who value snail darters and not people; that Coastal commissioners are people who get excised about steelhead trout, but not about children; who they believe fish need a place to play, but don’t much care whether the children do also. If the Republicans get smart and nominate Riordan, then Davis has a very tough fight on his hands. The last thing in the world he needs is any defection from his usually reliable Democratic base in the coastal districts.

    Now you know the politics of the situation. Only time will tell how well my crystal ball is working. Next week, I’ll talk about the specifics of the Coastal Commission draft Land Use Plan and why it’s a total disaster for Malibu, which I genuinely believe it is.