Commission members flare up on hillside housing ordinance


Apparently satisfied that it now knows how hillside housing should look in Malibu, the Planning Commission Monday began discussing what properties should be subject to its proposed regulations. But the discussion quickly broke down in unusually heated debate, signaling that commission members are sharply divided over what new and remodeled properties to regulate.

At an earlier meeting, the commission determined, among a host of new guidelines, that the architecture and mass of hillside homes, along with their color, should blend in with the natural terrain and not attract attention.

Most of the disagreement Monday centered on what the threshold should be for regulation under the proposed hillside housing ordinance, but opinions were also divided on whether ocean-front bluff homes should be excluded from the hillside regulations.

Commission Vice Chair Jo Ruggles started off the discussion by saying she would like to apply the regulations to homes on hillsides with an average slope of 15 percent, as recommended by Planning Director Craig Ewing.

Commissioner Ken Kearsley said regulating homes on slopes that low would mean most properties in Malibu would be subject to the regulations.

“Why not take off the word hillside and call it the housing ordinance?” Kearsley quipped.

Kearsley then brought up the subject of ocean-front bluff homes, but Commission Chair Charleen Kabrin attempted to cut him off, saying that those homes would not be included in the regulations. But the commission has not formally voted on whether or not to regulate ocean-front bluff homes, and excluding those types of homes from the ordinance appears to be a concern for Commissioners Kearsley, Ed Lipnick and Andrew Stern.

Kearsley, using an assessment by local architect Ed Niles that most properties on Point Dume are on a 12 percent slope, said it was not fair to exclude ocean-front bluff homes.

“Everybody on Point Dume is going to be included, but the people on the beach are not going to be affected,” he said.

Kabrin shot back: “That’s patently untrue. I know Point Dume, and many parcels would be unaffected.”

She demanded to know what evidence he had to support his assertion, and he referred to Niles’ analysis.

A question was then directed to Planning Director Craig Ewing, and he used the opportunity to try to tone down the debate. Ewing suggested that commissioners visit parcels on Point Dume with different degrees of slope in order to get a feel for the variation. Ewing also said he did not agree with Niles that most Point Dume homes are on a 12 percent slope.

“There are a lot of just flat lots in Point Dume that probably have a slope of 2- to 3 percent,” he said. “But there are probably a lot of 10, 12 and 15 percent lots that you might not be comfortable subjecting to [a] hillside [ordinance.]”

Kearsley, apparently ignoring Ewing’s comments, said, in an aside, that he was going to tell people on Point Dume everybody there would be affected by the regulations.

Kabrin bristled at his remark. “If you do something like that, then I would be very offended, because I would consider that inflammatory because it’s patently not true.”

Kearsley said he reserved the right to go talk to Point Dume residents.

Kabrin responded, “You can do what you want, but we have a job to do, and it’s helpful to stay on the point and be accurate and not inflammatory.”

Kearsley shot back: “Don’t patronize me, Madame Chair.”

With that, Kabrin slammed her gavel and in a pitched voice said, “We can adjourn this meeting until another night if we can’t control ourselves and be civil.”

Stern and Ruggles then tried to adjourn the meeting, but the motion failed. Ruggles pleaded with Kabrin to change the subject and review minutes from earlier meetings, to which Kabrin agreed.

Ewing tried to put a positive spin on the flashes of anger.

“That’s always the case. We struggle at the margins,” he said. “Where do we draw the line so that we don’t bring in someone we shouldn’t bring in, but don’t miss someone we want to get? That’s where we’re having the debate.”