Letter to the Editor: In Response to City of Malibu prepared to defend positions on ADU’s

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Letter to the Editor: The Malibu Times

Dear Editor,

In your recent article, “City of Malibu prepared to defend position on ADUs,” City Planning Director Richard Mollica is quoted making several inaccurate or misleading statements about the controversy over our proposal to build a small ADU to house Elizabeth’s mother. We’d like to set the record straight. 

First, Mr. Mollica avers that the City is primarily trying to clarify that state ADU law does not supersede Malibu’s local coastal program. But we never argued otherwise. Instead, we argue that the coastal program itself exempts “all fixtures and other structures directly attached” to a single-family residence, which would include our proposal for an attached ADU. That is the argument which ultimately won the day in court. 

Contrary to Mr. Mollica, this interpretation of the local coastal program is precisely the same interpretation contained in guidance from the Coastal Commission that was before the City when it rejected our project. The Commission later flip-flopped on this question, but either way, Commission guidance is not binding. What matters is the text of Malibu’s coastal program, which the Superior Court read exactly the same way that we do. Specifically, it found that “the plain language of the statute fits [the Riddicks’] interpretation far better than the City’s interpretation.”

Second, the fact that our initial application requested a modest expansion of the main residence to compensate for space taken up by the proposed ADU is totally irrelevant. According to state law, ADUs cannot be used to calculate things like total development square footage (TDSF). Thus, the City’s math was wrong from the start; they should never have included the ADU in their calculation of TDSF. If they had processed that initial application correctly, the project should have passed with no issue. 

 Unfortunately, despite our repeated explanations on that front, the City did not process our initial application correctly. Seeking to simplify matters, we submitted a second application, one which did not expand the main residence at all. This second application put all square footage solely toward the ADU. But this was still not enough for the City, which refused to review even that second application under the correct standards. 

 Finally, Mr. Mollica claims that the City routinely approves ADUs. Whether that’s true or not, there is no question that Malibu is failing spectacularly to provide low- and moderate-income housing. Between 2014 and 2021, Malibu set a goal to facilitate the construction of 61 new units affordable to low- and moderate-income families. By the end of the goal period, not a single, solitary unit in that category was actually built.  

Frankly, we’re not sure why the City is so adamant to block a small home that is needed to safely house Elizabeth’s mom, a disabled senior citizen. But if the reasons are as Mr. Mollica says, they don’t make much sense. 

Jason and Liz Riddick, Malibu