Task force meets, while protesters gather elsewhere


Just as Malibu’s newly formed Code Enforcement Task Force Committee was holding its first meeting last week, 75 protesters were gathering at the Malibu Homeowners for Reform code enforcement rally at the Community Center.

And while those protesters voiced everything from concern to rage over actions by Gail Sumpter, community services specialist for code enforcement, Sumpter was addressing the newly formed task force, along with Malibu Building Official Vic Peterson and City Attorney Steve Amerikaner.

The City Council formed this task force after being hit by an avalanche of citizen complaints calling for investigation of Sumpter and other code enforcement issues. The task force comprises 15 members, including Realtors, attorneys and community members. Each City Council member appointed three committee members.

Five days before the City Council passed a resolution to form the task force, Peterson sent letters to task force committee members notifying them of the initial organizational meeting March 29. Otherwise, not much public notification was offered, and only three members of the public attended the meeting. Neither The Malibu Times nor the citizens protest group was given notice.

Protesters said they would have been there had they known about it, while one task force committee member stated, “We wanted to be there at [the rally] to see what people’s concerns were.”

At the meeting, reported one committee member, Sumpter and Amerikaner spent almost equal time “educating us” on various issues, and it appeared Sumpter and Amerikaner would regularly attend future meetings.

Another committee member described the meeting agenda: “The council came up with an 11-item agenda [charter]. We received copies of the IZOs, the interim zoning ordinances that the city is operating on for its planning, so we can better understand zoning for the city. We discussed what’s necessary. The new city attorney … explained the process as to how other cities have committees, and how the Building Department and Code Enforcement will not be giving input. They will be giving us the information we request, but they will not try to influence the group’s decisions. Some citizens [the three who attended] expressed concerns that we not be puppets of the [Building] Department.”

The Charter for the Code Enforcement Task Force limits its inquiries to:

(1) grandfathering,

(2) permitted uses,

(3) ancillary structures,

(4) the meaning of “entitled” in the grandfathering provision,

(5) costs, fines and retesting for permits,

(6) guest homes versus second units,

(7) a policy requiring all complaints be in writing and signed,

(8) a written code enforcement policy,

(9) expanding the function of the Building Board of Appeals,

(10) the concerns about the lack of records from Los Angeles County, and

(11) consideration of an amnesty program.

Several people said they attended the meeting “ready to work” and left uncertain as to what they were going to do. Some decisions were made, however, that will serve to guide the group. According to one member, the committee established a uniform goal: “Whatever we decide will be made public before it’s censored by the council. We want to be sure our voice is heard before it’s tainted by the council. We want problems to be resolved and avenues to be available. Our most important goal is to determine what code enforcement parameters are, what she’s [Sumpter] supposed to be doing, and what boundaries should be set for anyone in this position.”

Said another member, “Sumpter was educating us on various zoning issues and code enforcement, and the procedures for moving a case to the city prosecutor. She explained how they usually send a letter to the homeowner requesting compliance, or they send it to a prosecutor.

“Then someone asked her, ‘What happens when it goes to the prosecutor?’ She responded that this was only for major problems, not minor issues. However, she didn’t really answer the question. I think everyone noticed it too.”

“Huge places are getting put through, yet people who want to add a bedroom are getting slammed,” said another member. Said another, “There’s a dichotomy on how you’re treated based on how much you’re willing to spend. There’s a lot of elitism involved. People with big projects are generally not having problems. It’s money and how much influence you have with the city and Coastal Commission. They’re not getting away cheaply, but they’re getting what they want.”

Meanwhile, at the homeowners rally, one woman told the crowd she and her family have been ordered to vacate their premises and all personal property within seven calendar days, and to demolish her home within 60 days. “By the way,” she said, “they told me to be sure to get a demolition permit first.”

Members of the Task Force include: Robert Hart, James Schoenfeld, Toni Semple, Todd Sloan, Marc Jackson, Terry Lucoff, Don McLay, John Miller (chairman), Dusty Peak, Jeannette Maginnis, Bill Sampson, Bruce Terranova, Roger Trivette, Ted Vaill and Marissa Coughlan.

Next of the weekly meetings is tonight (Thursday), 6:30 p.m. at City Hall. Members of the planning department are expected to attend.