Liebig says taxpayers group has acted appropriately

Rev. Steve Swafford, Rev. Larry Peacock of Malibu United Methodist Church, and Tim Cline. / photo by Heidi Manteuffel

The council candidate says the amount of development in the deal was “inappropriate” for Malibu. He defends record of TLC’s, of which he was formerly the president, lawsuits against city.

By Jonathan Friedman/Staff Writer

Until Jay Liebig announced his City Council candidacy in January; few even knew what he looked like. But his name is familiar to those who follow Malibu politics. The former president of Taxpayers for Livable Communities has been involved either as a co-plaintiff or a TLC member in each of the four lawsuits the organization has filed against the city. Some say Liebig has wasted the city’s money with his suits, but he begs to differ.

“The City Council caused the city to spend a great deal of money on lawsuits from their actions,” he said in an interview last week.

Liebig said TLC’s suits all stem from what occurred with a citizen’s committee-drafted Local Coastal Program. Liebig said the council withdrew the document in 2000 before it could go before the California Coastal Commission for approval, so it could be replaced by what he called, “The developer’s LCP.”

“We [TLC] weren’t going to sit by and let that happen,” he said.

The councilmembers running for re-election dispute that story. They said the document was presented to Coastal Commission staff prior to the current council being put in to office. The staff said the document was so out of sync with the Coastal Act and Malibu’s General Plan that it could not even be revised.

Liebig said TLC has not lost any of its suits against the city, referring The Malibu Times to TLC attorneys for an explanation on several cases.

In one lawsuit, TLC sued the city for violating the Brown Act among several other complaints. The court ultimately ruled in favor of the city, but TLC attorney Linda Thornton said the court told the city it could not do anything with the document Liebig refers to as “The developer’s LCP.” City Attorney Christi Hogin said that was not the major issue of TLC’s complaint, and that the court ruled against what was. She added that before the court decision was made, AB988, the law that placed the state in charge of writing Malibu’s LCP, had already been approved. Hogin said it was the state law, not any court decision, that took the drafting of the LCP out of the city’s hands.

Thornton admitted TLC lost at the trial court level on two other cases involving an alleged Brown Act violation and an alleged unlawful granting of a building permit for a home. Those two cases are under appeal. Thornton said strong new evidence has been garnered in the suit involving the home that will be presented to the appellate court.

TLC has also joined the Coastal Commission challenging the city’s attempt to put the LCP up for a vote. The Coastal Commission won that case at the trial level and it is currently under appeal. Liebig said he is not against the people’s ability to vote on the LCP, but he said there would not be any validity to the vote. He said how the city is attempting to alter the Coastal Commission-drafted LCP is not what the law allows. He said the city should do it through an amendment process.

Liebig said what originally caused him to get involved in Malibu politics was learning the details of the Malibu Bay Co. Development Agreement. He said the amount of development proposed was unfeasible.

“It’s completely inappropriate for a city this size,” he said.

Working in real estate development for more than two decades, Liebig is familiar with development deals. He has worked with many city councils, and Liebig said in cities such as Thousand Oaks and Pasadena, his companies were heavily challenged every step of the way. He said he wished the current council in Malibu had done the same. Liebig looked to a statement made by Kearsley in June 2003 that Malibu Bay “had all the carrots” as an example of the city’s weak approach. “That’s a great negotiating posture,” Liebig said sarcastically. “It sounds like he’s saying we have no leverage, which is ridiculous.”

Liebig said the Chili Cook-Off property, which in the agreement the city would have been able to purchase for $25 million, is not worth nearly that amount. He said the property could not be developed to the extent a company would need to make a good enough profit without receiving variances. He said a council acting appropriately could never approve those variances because the company could not properly mitigate the environmental impacts of those variances. He added that the council approved the environmental impact report for the Malibu Bay deal, despite most of the possible impacts not being addressed.

“A reasonable person would say they [Malibu Bay] can’t mitigate the overall impact [of the development],” he said.

If elected, Liebig said he would recommend the city attorney’s contract go out to bid. He said an in-house attorney would probably be more appropriate. He said he did not like the way Hogin worked on the Malibu Bay agreement.

“She represented us on a development agreement which I didn’t like, so why would I support her,” he said.

Liebig was born in the Bronx. He became a junior accountant at a CPA firm only six months after high school. He moved to California in the 1960s. Liebig has lived in Malibu since 1998. He married his high school sweetheart, Dianne, in September. They were reconnected recently after being apart for decades. In his free time, Liebig said he enjoys reading, hiking and going to the opera.