Malibu Surfside News

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Fire Code and County Water District Policy Takes Center Stage

• Regulations Have Effect of De Facto Building Moratorium for Those without Adequate Fire Flow

BY BILL KOENEKER

The fire department and Water Works District 29 policies discussed at the Malibu City Council meeting this week appear to have far reaching consequences for future builders in Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains.
However, the focus Monday night was placed on 18 property owners within the city who are eligible for permit issuance with the exception of the final fire department and water district approval, according to city officials.
Malibu’s Building Official Craig George said all of the projects had been issued initial fire department approval to proceed through the entitlement process with the city’s planning department. Projects obtained plans from the fire department for grading for access but when the projects were submitted, final building plans for approval by the fire department were denied.
“These denials were based on the new policy requirements to provide the required fire flow rate from the existing water supply infrastructure,” said George, who went on to say the current policy from the fire department is “to require a flow test on existing fire hydrants or to require the installation of a fire hydrant meeting the requirements of the county’s fire code.”
George indicated the fire department is no longer allowing alternative methods of water supply, including wells and private water storage tanks for new construction.
But a somewhat bewildered council heard from Acting Deputy Chief Roy Dull, of the fire prevention bureau, who said “We have not made a policy change. We looked at the past practices and they are not consistent with the fire code. We cannot circumvent the fire code.”
The chief went on to state that if the water district says they cannot serve the property, then the fire department can consider an alterative method.
The council also heard from a water district official who discussed the entire aging water system in Malibu and explained it would take millions of dollars to upgrade the system.
He reiterated what was written in a policy letter about water service and fire protection to new single-family residences within the Santa Monica Mountains. The district will not serve a project site if it is located at an elevation higher than the existing district tank elevation or at a distance of more than 2000 feet.
The council then heard from permit expeditors, builders and property owners about their particular situation.
Some property owners said the current policy would require infrastructure improvements costing millions of dollars.
Some said they were ready to give up the lots they bought because they were not worth the amount of money it would cost them to improve the parcel.
After listening to the litany of complaints, council members were ready to speak.
“We do have a de facto moratorium. Do we have the authority to overrule this?” asked Councilmember Lou La Monte.
City Attorney Christi Hogin said the city has the obligation to adopt the fire code. “Everybody should be able to make reasonable use of their property,” she said.
Each of the council members queried the fire and water district officials.
When the dust settled the council decided to take action and agreed to send a letter to Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky trying to secure a place for the 18 applicants in the pipeline and seek other conditions.
Yaroslavsky’s motion was approved by the supervisors Tuesday morning by consent, according to his office.
The motion instructs the director of public works to prepare a water system master plan for district 29 to provide a comprehensive long-range capital improvement plan “that will meet the existing and future domestic and fire protection water demand of the district.”
Identify funding mechanisms to allow the recommended improvements in the master plan and actively seek a partnership with the City of Malibu.
Within 21 days, the public works head report back to the board and the city with an estimated timeframe for the completion of tasks.
Within the motion was this message. “Unfortunately, even as this work to create responsible solutions begins, a few development consultants and permit expeditors have separately sought to allow their clients’ proposed projects to be built without complying with the water supply requirements mandated by the fire code. This is not a legally viable option. In fact, under state law no local government may adopt standards that are less protective of public health and safety than the state’s minimum building requirements.
Accordingly, and rightly, the county and the Malibu City Council have each adopted these fire code requirements. Now both jurisdictions should work to ensure that these requirements are enforced,” the motion states.

Staff’s View Measure Gets Planning OK

• Majority Finally Forms at Third Session on Ordinance

BY BILL KOENEKER

The majority of the Malibu Planning Commission last week was able to come up with something other than a tie vote for a proposed citywide view restoration ordinance.
It was the third scheduled meeting on the topic, but was the first when all five commissioners were present.
The commission turned down a proposed ordinance that would have been more closely modeled after a Rancho Palos Verdes law after Commissioner John Mazza had offered the motion.
Commissioner Joan House said she could not support such a measure because she did not think most of the Malibu voters would also support it.
“Measure E did not go far enough. It did not ask if private views should be subsidized by the public treasury. There are lots of people who do not support private restoration with public funds. PV views were designed for everyone. We do have a path to gain views. I support baby steps. This is a baby step. I cannot support what John [Mazza] says that places all of the responsibility on the city,” she said.
Mazza replied he wanted to point out his motion was based on keeping the ordinance revenue neutral, because he did not endorse spending public money on a mediation process.
Commissioner Roohi Stack said she agreed with House and endorsed the staff recommended measure. “We can start in small steps. Palos Verdes is not Malibu. It is not a planned community. We are using public money for private views,” she added.
Commissioner Lisa Toledo said she agreed with Mazza. “It is not necessary for the city to offer free mediation. A good service can be gotten at a good rate. I don’t think we spent enough time on fee structures. I don’t know if we spent enough time on the revenue neutral process. I don’t know if we placed a value on the process,” she added.
Chair Jeff Jennings said the ordinance had been on his mind for a long time and acknowledged it is a difficult problem.
“What we are doing is creating winners and losers. When we rezoned land when we downsized, we did not affect properties already built. I don’t want to put the city in the middle,” he said.
A vote was taken on the Mazza motion and the measure was defeated with Mazza and Toledo voting yes and House, Jennings and Stack dissenting.
Subsequently, the staff-recommended motion was made and the measure was approved on a 3-1-1 vote with Stack dissenting and Mazza abstaining.
Mazza said he was not voting because there was no exemption for folks like Judy Decker, who could be imposed upon by five or six claimants who could potentially cause fiscal damage if they all at one time or another demanded she reduce or remove her foliage and she or others like her had to defend herself. The matter now goes to the city council.
There were various elements in the staff-proposed ordinance that the commissioners found consensus.
Claimants are permitted one primary viewing area with one view.
Any initial and maintenance costs should be borne by the claimant with any costs of new plantings to be borne by the foliage owner. Removal shall be considered only as a last resort, unless volunteered by the foliage owners were among some of those items.
A view restoration ordinance would establish and provide a right of action for property owners in the city to restore pre-existing views from private residences that have been obstructed by landscaping on neighboring properties.
The impetus for the proposed ordinance came from the voters on April 8, 2008 when an advisory measure asked the citizens, “Should the Malibu City Council adopt an ordinance that would require the removal or trimming of landscaping in order to restore and maintain primary views from private homes?” The measure was approved by 60 percent of the voters.
The then city council decided on June, 2008 to create the View Protection Task Force to gather public input on what should be included in the citywide ordinance.
The now defunct task force met for almost a year and ultimately approved a proposed draft ordinance which was forwarded to the planning commission. During the public hearings and workshops there were some speakers who urged the commission to adopt a proposed ordinance which was crafted by the municipal task force charged by the city council to vet the issue.
Speakers were on the task force and suggested that the task force’s recommended ordinance would better serve the city.
The now defunct task force met for almost a year and ultimately approved a proposed draft ordinance while two members of the task force prepared a minority report. One of those panelists was Lou La Monte, now a council member. The other was part-time Malibu resident Suzanne Zimmer, who helped La Monte craft a minority report that differed sharply from the majority’s recommended ordinance.
Task force chair Sam Hall Kaplan, and task force members Barry Tyreman, Leon Cooper, Marilynn Santman, and Lucile Keller all joined forces to urge the commission to recommend adoption of their proposed ordinance.
Speaking about the ordinance that was proposed by the staff and currently before the commission, the task force chair said, “The proposed ordinance is flawed. It is not resident friendly and does not fulfill the measure approved by the voters. The task force ordinance is reasonable…and will best serve the city,” Hall Kaplan said.
It was Jennings and Mazza that led the debate during the various hearings about what the panelists should approve or not approve.
Jennings said the process was asymmetrical in the sense that the claimants, gained views, while the foliage owners simply lost their trees and maybe privacy.
“We should come up with some mechanism that the plaintiff ought to pay for it. The foliage owner should get some relief,” he said.
Mazza said he agreed with one of the speakers, Judy Decker, who urged the commission to include a hardship clause or exemption for senior citizens and those on fixed incomes.
“This doesn’t provide what 60 percent of the people voted for,” he said.
Mazza said he much preferred what he called the “basic guts of the PV ordinance,” such as a mediation paid for by the public and process where the issue, if not resolved would go to the planning commission and it would be appealable to the city council.
Jennings said the city would be creating a right that does not exist and he felt uncertain about the efficacy of mediation “By creating a right that does not exists favors the claimant,” he said.
Mazza said some folks will not go along with it and others will say,” Ok it’s the law now,” he said.
Jennings countered, “It is only the fight that creates the costs,” he said.

Malibu Lagoon Project Critics to Get Their Day in Court in October

• Judge Lambastes Bureaucratic Snafu and Grants Stay to Allow for Arguments on the Merits

BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN

The Malibu Lagoon Restoration and Enhancement Project, scheduled to break ground on June 1, is on hold. San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith issued a stay on Friday at the preliminary injunction motion hearing.
A lawsuit filed by the Wetlands Defense Fund, CLEAN and Access for All is scheduled to be heard in October, but even if the case is dismissed, the stay effectively prevents the project from proceeding for a full year, since the permit issued by the California Coastal Commission restricts the work to the summer months, to reduce the potential impact on the area’s wildlife.
The minutes of the hearing state “the court’s tentative findings are there is a CEQA issue,” and that “ a prima facie case under three of four allegations.” The judge also cited an administrative issue: the fact that the Coastal Commission did not deliver the administrative record for the lagoon project to the court, as requested in February.
The judge reportedly indicated that there was a probability or the petitioner’s prevailing on the merits because of the failure to consider any alternatives other than the no project alternative, despite finding that the petitioner’s arguments were “rather vague.”
He is said to have asked how there could be could be a hearing without the administrative record, and indicated it poor public policy for an administrative agency to make it impossible to have a hearing due to the absence of essential documents.
Deputy District Attorney Susan Austin blamed the situation on understaffing and underfunding, but reportedly concurred that the situation was less than ideal.
California State Parks representative Suzanne Goode told the Malibu Surfside News “Normally in a preliminary hearing the administrative record isn’t called for.”
Heal the Bay’s Mark Gold did not concur.
“You ask how could that have possibly occur? Well, it did. The decision wasn’t based on the merits. The merits were almost irrelevant. It’s embarrassing that the administrative record wasn’t there,” Gold told The News on Monday. On Tuesday, Gold blasted the Coastal Commission for the omission.
“Why is it that the Coastal Commission can go to extreme measures to permit rock rip-rap that destroys Malibu Creek stream banks and a horse ranch in the middle of Stokes Creek, but they can’t even get their act together enough to prepare an administrative record for an 11-0 Coastal Commission vote on a habitat restoration?” Wrote Gold.
“The [Attorney General’s] lack of understanding on the detail of the project was stunning. Not only did she admit that she had never read the record, she fell upon the understaffed and underfunded cliché. I’m sure State Parks and the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission would have been glad to help putting together the information for the administrative record, but they weren’t even utilized in the process. Heck, they were barely even consulted with in the process. The Coastal Commission and the AG’s office walked into the final without ever cracking a book! Based on this colossal screw-up, what choice did the Judge have but to grant the stay?”
The Wetland Defense Fund’s Marcia Hanscom said the project’s opponents are waiting for the judge’s order to be released and will be focusing on preparing for the October court date. “We’re looking forward to reading the order,” Hanscom told The News.
“We’re relieved for the birds and animals,” she said. “There’s so much life being born right now.”

Housing Element May Be Next Major Arena for Public Debate on Planning

• Organization Forms to Offer Alternatives to Rezoning

BY BILL KOENEKER

On Monday night, the Malibu City Council got a little preview of the public’s reaction to the staff’s proposal for the housing element.
The discussion and the scoping meeting is this Wednesday after the Malibu Surfside News went to press.
Officially, it is called the General Plan housing element update, which city officials say will “establish new policies, goals and programs for the entire city.” The municipality also plans to develop a “program to upzone a limited number of parcels to accommodate the city’s required housing needs as determined by the Southern California Association of Governments [or SCAG].”
Steve Rucker, president of the Malibu West Homeowners Association, urged the council to postpone preparation of the Environmental Impact Report “until we can have a discussion on this.”
The scoping meeting is the first official public hearing for the consultants, Rincon Consultants, Inc to start work on preparing an EIR.
Malibu West resident Lynn Norton said she had several suggestions for providing affordable housing beside upzoning properties. She suggested the city permit mixed-use zoning by allowing residential units within commercial zoning for affordable housing and spreading it across citywide.
The upzoning, Rucker said, is “an incredible gift to developers.”
Rucker endorsed the mixed- use concept and also talked about the city creating an inventory of second units and granny flats for inclusion into any kind of affordable housing plan.
Another Malibu West activist, Cindy Vandor, said the city council “has inherited a housing element mess.”
Vandor suggested the city challenge the numbers provided by SCAG.
She questioned how the small population gain during the last 10 years in the city could make Malibu’s numbers climb from 14 units required to the current 441 units of affordable housing posed by SCAG.
“Without the correct data, postpone the EIR. What is there to study?” she said.
The state requires that housing elements be updated and certified every five years to reflect the most recent trends in demographics and employment that may affect existing and future housing demand and supply.
More public workshops are planned including what is called a draft update and EIR public hearings.

Publisher’s Notebook:

• Malibu Week in Review •

BY ANNE SOBLE

The critics of the Malibu Lagoon project got what they wanted in the form of a year’s delay on any construction and four months to polish their contention that “the project destroys the lagoon in order to save it” before they go back into the courtroom. But heads are still shaking at how this all played out.
That the California Coastal Commission staff, veterans of complex legal morasses who have taken the craft of utilizing documentation to an art form, could have neglected to provide the deputy attorney-general, as well as the court, with the administrative record pertinent to the issuing of a stay is mind-boggling to many.
Not only did the commission staff have three months to prepare the administrative record, just in case the matter somehow had been overlooked, there was a second reminder when the original court date was rescheduled.
Even taking into account that many of the state agencies have not entered the modern electronic communication era, someone should have been able to put files in a box and transport them to the DAG and the judge.
Not surprisingly, given the local penchant for conspiracy theories, there are whispers that this might not have been a bureaucratic blunder, accompanied by conjecture that there is a reason the CCC staff didn’t want the administrative record subjected to legal scrutiny.
Nonetheless, the end result is that project critics have the time they require to refine their concerns in a legal context. The judge has indicated where their case has strengths and weaknesses. They now have to move past the polemic of their campaign to prevent a major physical alteration of the lagoon area and hunker down to a methodical parsing of the California Environmental Quality Act and the Coastal Act for the legal wherewithal to send the project back to the drawing board.
*****
I was pleased to hear from several people who are considering the use of raptor (avian predator) poles as a means for varmint control. One email indicated that a father and his children constructed a pole over the weekend. They purchased the materials over the hill for about $60, and set up the finished product in their backyard. The second night the pole was up, one of the youngsters spotted an owl through the window. His father said the boy was so excited, he ran outdoors, which, of course, frightened the owl away. But it and others will visit, and a natural cycle is now in place.
*****
There already is quiet discussion among some in the business community about how small local businesses might be categorized for some form of a municipal retail formula ordinance and possible rent discounts and other benefits. Among information often required by the Small Business Administration and other public agencies with benefit packages are legal verification of ownership, proof of residency, state and federal tax returns—business and personal, payroll tallies, insurance and worker compensation coverage, ADA compliance, etc. Other issues, as the city explores protecting local businesses, include the requirements for eligibility for special treatment and whether there are quid pro quos.

Mother of Mitrice Richardson Has Filed a Second Lawsuit against Los Angeles County

• This Week’s Action Targets LASD Handling of Her Dead Daughter’s Remains

BY ANNE SOBLE

The mother of Mitrice Richardson, whose body was found 11 months after she went missing following her release from the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station in September 2009, told the Malibu Surfside News this week that “a second lawsuit was filed against Los Angeles County on Monday that is unrelated to the merits of [her existing] lawsuit.”
The action filed in Superior Court by attorney Leo Terrell on behalf of Latice Sutton alleges that Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department personnel mishandled the removal of Richardson’s remains from the remote Malibu Canyon site where they were discovered in August 2010.
The skeletal remains were stumbled upon by state park rangers checking out a former marijuana grow that was located about seven miles from the Lost Hills Station.
The county coroner’s office has said publicly that LASD officers were told not to disturb the remains, and has gone on record that their actions interfered with the coroner’s review, which was unable to determine a cause of death for Richardson.
Sutton is seeking unspecified damages, alleging negligence, as well as intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
The new lawsuit also describes other LASD behavior and procedures that are alleged to have compromised the overall investigation of the case.
Sutton and Richardson’s biological father Michael Richardson (the pair never married) have consolidated lawsuits now awaiting trial.
These earlier court actions allege LASD personnel failed to get necessary medical attention for Mitrice Richardson, who may have been experiencing a bipolar episode, and released her just after midnight on Sept. 17, 2009, from the Lost Hills Station, despite what are described as obvious indications that she was mentally distressed.
Richardson, 24, a Cal State Fullerton honors graduate, had been taken into custody after being placed under citizens arrest by the manager at Geoffrey’s restaurant where she reportedly exhibited bizarre behavior and was unable to pay an $89 dinner tab.
Subsequent analysis of diaries found in her car’s disorderly contents indicated that she might not have slept for as many as five days and had become disconnected from reality.
LASD video footage of Richardson in custody appears to demonstrate that she encountered problems trying to make out-of-area telephone calls on a station phone before she was released alone on foot, without her cell phone, purse or other belongings, which deputies had required her to leave in the impounded vehicle.

First Malibu Author’s Poetic Chronicle of ‘Happy Days’ Remains Relevant for Residents

BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN

It’s never been selected for the One Book, One City-Malibu reading list, and the suggestion that the remodeled Malibu Library be named after Malibu’s first literary resident was dismissed with derision by a previous city council, but “Happy Days in Southern California” still paints an evocative depiction of Malibu in the 19th century and provides a portrait of its romantic and deeply religious author, Frederick Hastings Rindge.
Rindge was the fourth owner of Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit. He and his wife May Knight Rindge purchased the 13,330-acre Spanish Land Grant in 1892. They later expanded the ranch to 17,000 acres.
Rindge’s book “Happy Days in Southern California,” published in 1898, provides the earliest in-depth account of life in Malibu, although finding facts amongst the flowery and sometimes archaic language and philosophical and historical digressions can be challenging.
The City of Malibu’s website calls the ranch “a working cattle and grain-raising ranch which through the many years of the Rindge dynasty was to become one of the most valuable large real estate holdings in the United States,” but Rindge only resided at the ranch for a few years before fire destroyed the ranch house in 1903. He died in 1905, at the age of 48, before a second house could be built. And even when he enjoyed being a gentleman farmer, the family's primary residence was in Los Angeles.
Rindge, who inherited an impressive family fortune from his father, moved to California in 1882. He Rindge invested in water, electrical utilities and oil, founded the Conservative Life Insurance Company, and served as vice-president of the Union Oil Company, and as a director of the Los Angeles Edison Electric Company.
According to an article by Daphne Abeel published in Harvard Magazine, Rindge contributed large portions of his fortune to Harvard, his alma mater, and the town of Cambridge, MA, where he was born.
“[Rindge was the] most important individual benefactor [of Cambridge] Abeel wrote. “Between 1888 and 1890 he funded the construction of (and sometimes also bought the sites for) the city hall, the public library, and the Manual Training School, a vocational school for boys (now part of Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School). Besides his exclusively civic gifts, he made a major contribution to the building of Harvard-Epworth Methodist Church, adjacent to Harvard Law School.”
A high school, two streets and a public housing project are named for him in Cambridge. He specifically requested, however, that his name not appear in the buildings he endowed during his life time.
“[Rindge] specified that his own name should not appear anywhere on the buildings, but he emblazoned the walls of the library with the Ten Commandments,” wrote Abeel. He also composed an inscription for the entrance to the city hall: “God has given Commandments unto Men. From these Commandments Men have framed Laws by which to be governed. It is honorable and praiseworthy to faithfully serve the people by helping to administer these Laws. If the Laws are not enforced, the People are not well governed.”
In California, Rindge invested in subdivisions and developments in Playa del Rey, Stockton, and in the West Adams District, where he commissioned an imposing French Chateau-style home for his family, completed in 1903. He was president of the Maclay Rancho and Water Company, which opened the door for development in the San Fernando Valley.
If Rindge had lived, Malibu may have ended up with a very different character. He envisioned the coast as an “American Riviera,” that would “rival France and Italy,” although he wrote that “...it seems best to keep Zuma as a park, and to tell the axe and plough to keep off the sycamore and alfilaria, so you can come, kind reader, and see it as it is. Zuma! To be in your presence makes one happy; it makes one feel like singing “God grant that peace may ever be/In Zumaland beside the sea.”
“Happy Days in Southern California” is, at least in part, a California real estate advertisement aimed at New Englanders, but it is an advertisement written by a man with a deep love for the product he was promoting, and he didn't gloss over the negative aspects of life in Southern California.
Rindge describes historic droughts in 1863, 1877 and 1897. “I have heard men say with a sigh, ‘It was the dry year of ’77 that broke me. My sheep all died,’” wrote Rindge. “In November 1863, there was a regular downpour, and it did not rain again until November 1864; and in consequence, dead cattle covered the ground from Monterey to Southern California.”
In 1897, “Word came from Ventura today that a man up the valley shot all his range horses rather than see them die, for he could not sell them...they are taking horses to the soap-works and selling them for two dollars and a half. The hide is worth a dollar and a half, the tail 50 cents and the balance is valuable for soap and land dressing.”
“No one who has not lived through the long summer and autumn California months can understand how welcome the first rains are...One can almost see the thirsty soil look up to the sky with smiles of gratitude. The dust flies in anger because its reign has ended. Long live the rain!”
Rindge also provides a grim picture of wildfire. “...the flames do not stop. The death wind has three days to blow, and it does not dream of ceasing. To the farmers and the mountaineers the vibrating air is sounding the death knell of their hopes,” Rindge wrote. “Oh for the power to write a ‘Ramona’ book to arouse sentiment against our forest fires. What legislator will frame a prohibitory law against thus firing brush? How great the prison penalty to be!
Rindge describes his Serra Canyon residence, named “Laudamus Farm,” as “A farm near the ocean, under the lee of the mountains, with a trout brook, wild trees, a lake, good soil, and excellent climate, one not too hot in summer.”
There are descriptions of a handful of pioneers and mountain men, including Andrew Sublett, who “had his arm broken by a grizzly bear in Malibu Canyon” in 1854, and an old beekeeper and trapper, who made his own furniture out of foraged wood and the skins of wild badgers and lived off the land.
Rindge has a keen eye for the natural world. He describes “the snowy line” of dolphins “ploughing the water in foaming furrows….Sometimes they are visible right in the wall of a breaking wave,” he wrote, a sight that still delights beachgoers.
Rindge describes wildflowers, mountain vistas, springs and streams and hidden canyon waterfalls, including Solstice and Escondido falls. He also describes long rides across miles of empty Malibu shore, kelp pods “crackling and popping” under the wheels of the carriage, and the beauty of the pristine mountains.
A portion of the book is devoted to Rindge’s historical perspectives, including the assertion that Point Dume, which he called “Duma,” was a corruption of the Chumash word Zuma-abundance, In contrast to later writers who attributed the name to Father Francisco Dumetz.
The author occasionally digresses into philosophical discussions-at one point he diagrams heaven's relationship to the earth, but he also has a sense of humor.
“Of course the sea serpent visits,” he wrote. “When I saw him last he was a long, mast-like log with a cross-piece rising out of the water like a long neck and head. I was ready to be certain it was alive, until I found it was not. At another time the serpent consisted of a great mass of seaweed...which rose and fell on the rolling of the sea enough like a serpent to declare that you had seen one-almost.”
Rindge’s love for his ranch and appreciation for the natural world it encompassed is evident throughout the work.
“Happy is the man to whom nature has not lost its charm,” wrote Rindge. “Unhappy is he who, enslaved and engulfed by ambition, mammon, care, or pain, cannot listen to nature and enjoy the sounds of her songs.”
“Happy Days in California” is available as a facsimile reprint, complete with art nouveau cover, from the gift shop at the Adamson House Museum. A poorly scanned but mostly legible version is available from various sources online as an e-text.
LOCAL COLOR—Published in 1898, “Happy Days in Southern California” is part real estate advertisement and part hymn of praise for Southern California in general and Malibu in particular.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Governor’s Revised FY Budget Proposal Calls for Sale of Ramirez Canyon Park

• Conservancy’s Site Is Described as ‘Underutilized’

BY BILL KOENEKER

It is just a one-line mention in Governor Jerry Brown’s revised budget 2011-12, but it has caused more than a ripple in Malibu and elsewhere.
The revised budget proposes the sale of what it calls underutilized state properties and is simply described as “the Ramirez Canyon property in Southern California.”
However, it is the home of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and consists of the offices of its executive director Joe Edmiston.
“These properties serve no state function and should be sold off,” a press release about the budget states.
While Edmiston could not be reached, the Conservancy issued a statement by the chair of the SMMC, Antonio Gonzalez, concerning the proposal to sell off the property.
“I recognize the difficult fiscal situation the state of California faces. When all the facts are known, I think it is likely that the state will reconsider the proposal to sell off Ramirez Canyon Park to pay down the debt,” he said.
Gonzalez went on to say since the park was donated and is surrounded on three sides by National Park Service land belonging to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and the fact that the California Coastal Commission’s zoning of the property is for park/open space use “it is likely that these development restrictions could markedly affect the price the state could receive for the park.”
The SMMC chair elaborated on what the Coastal Commission had approved for the Conservancy’s plan for the canyon park.
“[It] included overnight camping for disabled persons. Day use picnicking, hiking trails that provide a critical link in the Coastal Slope Trail, special outreach programs for people with disabilities, seniors, and others with special needs who can’t be accommodated in a traditional park setting and restoration of the environmentally sensitive habitat in Ramirez Canyon Creek.”
Officially known as Ramirez Canyon Park, the five-building compound which is not open to the public except on special occasions, was donated by Barbra Streisand in December 1993.
The 22.5 acre donation was originally intended as a think tank for environmental causes and was to be called the Streisand Center.
However, neither Streisand nor the Conservancy nor the state set up any kind of trust to maintain the five residences, gardens and grounds.
Without funding, the property, which was acquired by the Conservancy through a complicated tax write-off, was being maintained through tax dollars.
The SMMC ran into problems with neighbors when it attempted to utilize the property for money- making enterprises including weddings, photo shoots and movies.
The state agency and the neighbors have been in protracted battle since.
The SMMC has ceased all public activities including garden tours since.

Lagoon Project Critics Prep for Court Date

BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN

Opponents of the State Parks Malibu Lagoon Restoration and Enhancement Plan,, which is scheduled to begin draining, dredging and reconstructing the western portion of the Malibu Lagoon on June 1, will have their day in court in San Francisco on May 20 in an attempt to prevent the project from breaking ground.
The preliminary injunction hearing was originally set for May 9, but was delayed to allow transfer to Judge Ernest H. Goldsmith, who reportedly has more experience and a more comprehensive knowledge of California Environmental Quality Act issues.
Project opponents Marcia Hanscom, whose Wetlands Defense Fund and CLEAN, and Steve Hoye, whose public access advocacy organization Access for All, filed the request, are requesting the injunction to halt constructing until the lawsuit they have filed against the project is heard in the fall. The California Coastal Commission, which granted the permit for this project, issued a notice to this city this week of an amendment to the permit.
In the interim, an amendment to the California Coastal Commission approval for the project has been approved by CCC executive director to “Remove the existing, approximately 800-ft. long chain link fence along the southern property boundary; revise project plans to delete approximately 800-ft. long perimeter wall/barrier along the southern property boundary and construct a new approximately 800-foot long, three-foot-wide, dirt/gravel—surface maintenance corridor along the southern boundary for the purpose of maintenance and security patrols.”
The new path “will be located in an area where development(including a perimeter wall, berm, and grading) has been previously approved and, thus, no additional removal of any native vegetation will occur as a result of the proposed changes.
Although the change may leave some Malibu Colony residents with a “maintenance corridor” in place of a backyard fence, the amendment is considered “immaterial,” according to the document, and the permit will be “modified accordingly” if no written objections are received within ten working days of May 9 notice.
More information on the amendment is available by calling the coastal agency at 805-585-1800.

Preliminary Results of USGS Study Indicates Birds Are Bacteria Source

• Civic Center Area’s Septic Systems Appear to Be Functioning Adequately According to Scientists

BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN

It apparently will not impact the Regional Water Quality Control Board’s mandate for Civic Center sewers, or a State Parks plan to drain, dredge and reconstruct the western portion of the Malibu Lagoon, but the preliminary results of an extensive United States Geologic Survey study indicate that Malibu’s Civic Center-area septic systems are successfully removing human-specific bacteria and are apparently not to blame for lagoon contamination.
“Fecal indicator bacteria, or FIB, sometimes found in the Malibu Lagoon and the near-shore ocean water, may not be the result of human waste contamination,” states a summery of the preliminary results of a new USGS study, released this week.
The announcement rocked the audience when a preview of the study was presented to the Malibu City Council last month at a meeting packed with lagoon project opponents. The official report was released this week with extensive analysis of the research collected by a USGS team headed by research hydrologist John Izbicki.
“The concern that FIB might be coming from residential onsite wastewater treatment systems prompted the City of Malibu to request a USGS study to discover the source of the occasional presence of FIB,” the press release on the study states. “Tests show that FIB concentrations routinely exceed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency public health standards for marine recreational water in Malibu Lagoon and occasionally exceed those standards at several Malibu beaches.”
“To reach sensitive receiving waters, such as Malibu Lagoon or the near-shore ocean, treated wastewater must first move through the underlying shallow groundwater. The absence of FIB is consistent with changes in the abundance and type of microorganisms indicated by preliminary analysis of genetic data that would be expected from a combination of filtration, sorption, death, predation, and other factors,” the findings state.
“Data collected for this study indicate that fecal indicator bacteria and human-specific bacteroides, an indication of human fecal material, are high in samples from within onsite wastewater-treatment systems; however, they are generally absent in samples from wells, even though many of the sampled wells contain water having a wastewater history,” wrote Izbicki.
According to the preliminary results of the study, “scientists suspect possible sources of FIB to the ocean are kelp accumulated on the beach, discharge from Malibu Lagoon to the ocean, or movement of water from the lagoon through the sand berm separating the lagoon from the ocean.” More specific results are anticipated once the study is complete, the press release states.
The study, which involved sample collection from numerous test sites, “utilized a combination of isotopic, microbiological, and chemical techniques,” the report states.
“Isotopic techniques identified the source of water and identified when groundwater discharge to the lagoon and ocean were occurring. Microbiological techniques used DNA and other biogeochemical compounds to determine if organisms associated with human waste were present in groundwater, Malibu Lagoon, and the near-shore ocean. Chemical techniques used compounds associated with human use such as cholesterol, cosmetics, and plasticizers to determine if water had a history of human use.
Study findings also appear to indicate that the berm that separates the lagoon from the open ocean during the dry season may be more permeable than previously realized, allowing contamination to leach through the barrier even when the breach is closed.
“Direct discharge from Malibu Lagoon to the ocean during the April sample period was a source of FIB to the ocean, and movement of water from the lagoon through the berm separating the lagoon from the ocean was a source of FIB to the near-shore ocean during the July sample period at low tide.” the document states.
“Enterococci concentrations in Malibu Lagoon commonly exceeded the USEPA single sample standard for marine recreational water during the July (dry season) and April (wet season) sample periods. Enterococci concentrations decreased during the July sampling period as high tides and large waves caused ocean water to flow over the berm into the lagoon. During this time, enterococci concentrations decreased to low values during the mid-afternoon, possibly as a result of photoinactivation by ultraviolet radiation in sunlight. In contrast, during the April sampling period, enterococci concentrations in the lagoon varied with the daily tidal cycles, as ocean water having low FIB concentrations entered the lagoon during high tide and water having high FIB concentrations exited the lagoon during low tide six hours later.
The preliminary finds warn that “data collected as part of this study need further interpretation before final conclusions can be drawn.
“In particular, statistical analysis of genetic data (T-RFLP, Phylochip), molecular data (PLFA), and chemical data needs to be completed to fully understand how these complex data sets relate to FIB occurrence and sources in this complex hydrologic setting.”
“Enterococci concentrations were lower at Surfrider Beach and Malibu Colony Beach than in Malibu Lagoon,” the study finds. “In general, enterococci concentrations were higher at Surfrider Beach than at Malibu Colony Beach, especially during low tide in April when water from the lagoon discharged directly to the ocean near Surfrider Beach. Enterococcus concentrations at Malibu Colony Beach were higher at high tide in the summer than at low tide when groundwater discharge was greater.”
“Each year, over 550 million people visit California’s public beaches,” the press release concludes.
“To protect beach-goers from exposure to waterborne disease, California state law requires water-quality monitoring for FIB, such as enterococci and Escherichia coli, at beaches having more than 50,000 yearly visitors.
“FIB are used to assess the microbiological quality of water because, although not typically disease causing, they are correlated with the occurrence of certain waterborne diseases.”
The complete preliminary report is available online at http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2011/1091

Shopping Center Owner Sells Parcel Wanted by Some Municipal Officials

• Real Estate Mogul Is Now the Owner

BY BILL KOENEKER

The possible acquisition of a Point Dume parcel for a possible city/private sector venture, including ballfields and a parking lot is off the table after Malibu city officials were advised the property has been sold.
In an email sent to the city, Zan Marquis, who had recently purchased the 11-acre site, informed municipal officials he had sold the property to Donald Sterling, who recently purchased the adjacent acreage known as Vital Zuman, the former Fig Tree Ranch.
“I have not given up on the shopping center. I am not going to sell it. I have not given up on the parking problem. I have given up on coming to terms with the city on this property,” said Marquis.
The shopping center owner explained that he paid $2 million for the vacant land, which is zoned rural-residential, and declined to say what he sold it for to Sterling. When asked if he knew or was told why Sterling bought the property he replied, “He said he had no plans.”
Marquis said he did have plans for the property but could never seem to come to terms with the city.
He said when he had approached one of the city council’s subcommittees there did not seem to be a favorable reaction.
He said the impression he took away from various meetings with the staff and in other closed session negotiations was that the city was interested in processing the required zoning to allow parking only if the city would end up as an owner interest.
City officials had been meeting with Marquis for several months over the parking problem at Point Dume Village which he owns.
Planning officials had explained to Marquis that he needs to acquire more parking in order to expand his shopping center.
Marquis had gone to a council subcommittee to find out how the city might be open to some kind of rezoning, but members told staff to hold back on that approach since it would involve citywide zoning changes.
Some council members pushed for the city to acquire the property and the closed door negotiations began.

State Parks Plan for Nicholas Flat and Pond Approved by Coastal Commission

• Last-Minute Request for Continuance Was Turned Down

BY BILL KOENEKER

An eleventh-hour request by wetlands activist Marcia Hanscom to continue the California Coastal Commission hearing on trail plans and other so-called “ improvements” at Nicholas Flat and Pond were turned down last week by the staff and panel which approved State Parks’ plans.
It is sure to upset some visitors, who have treasured the upland portion of Leo Carrillo State Park as a untouched bit of wildlands.
The Department of Parks and Recreation successfully sought a coastal permit for “habitat restoration and access upgrades” to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act along the Nicholas Pond Trail.
Plans call for the construction of a 72-square foot pond overlook, 4262 cubic yards of grading, installation of two pedestrian bridges, creation of an ADA parking space, converting 1430 feet of existing ranch road to trail, removal of 945 feet of road-trail, re-routing 1050 feet for trail, reconstructing 490 feet of trail, removing existing culvert and fill to restore natural stream profile of San Nicholas Creek.
The commission staff, which recommended approval of the proposal with seven special conditions, told the commission there was no new evidence that suggested the matter should be continued.
The CCC staff report notes the project includes the encroachment of development within the protected zone of oak trees. Though minor, the project also includes the removal and transplantation of many oak saplings.
“It will have the effect of creating more trees on the site,” the planner told commissioners.
“The proposed project site may contain archaeological resources, but most of the site is disturbed,” he added, noting, the project is conditioned to have an archaeological monitor and Native American consultant on-site during ground-disturbing activities.
The pond overlook would be located on the southwest edge of the pond to meet ADA standards, according to the CCC report.
A 65-foot free-spanning bridge will be constructed over San Nicholas Creek to create a continuous, ADA-compliant trail to the pond, according to the commission report.
A second bridge, 45 feet in length, will be constructed over a side channel of San Nicholas Creek to replace an existing dirt crossing, according to the report.
The site is located within what is called the Nicholas Flat Natural Preserve, described as a largely undeveloped 600-acre area in the northeast portion of Leo Carrillo State Park
The commission report states that individual homesteads were formed in and around the north and west portions of the park in the 1880s through the 1890s and evolved into a community of small cattle ranches in the 1920s and 1930s.
State Parks demolished the complex of ranching structures in 1985.
Archaeological sites at Nicholas Flat, according to the report, include a large habitation site with multiple bedrock milling stations and several lithic features.
Local oral history says there is rock art that is buried in a rock shelter under the pond and a Native American cemetery feature may have been located nearby.

PR Representatives Finally Agree to Make Public the Names of New Trancas Country Market Owners

• Wal-Mart Progeny Is No Stranger to the Media Spotlight

BY BILL KOENEKER

Joann Killeen of Killeen Furtney Group, the public relations firm, which represents the owners of the Trancas Country Market, indicated categorically that Bill and Nancy Laurie “have no ownership interest in the property,” but did confirm that, through a series of LLCs, Paige and Patrick “Bo” Dubbert have a management interest.
Here is how it goes: The owner of the Trancas shopping center is Zuma Beach Properties, LLC. Zuma is owned by Thrasher at Malibu, LLC. The manager of Zuma is Dick Thomas.
Many of the LLCs owned or operated by the Lauries are managed by Dick or Richard Thomas. Ken Karasiuk oversees the real estate development for the owners. The managers of Thrasher are Paige and Bo Dubbert.
Now who is Paige Dubbert? She is described as a descendent of the Walton family, the heirs of a vast Wal-Mart fortune.
Websites, news articles and various publications state that she is the daughter of Bill and Nancy Laurie.
Paige and Bo Dubbert, who reside in Los Angeles, according to various publications, last made the news when they were married in Columbia, Missouri, where Paige was raised.
Before that, Paige Dubbert made national headlines when the University of Missouri named a new sports arena after her and then a week later removed the name of the Wal-Mart heiress after a scandal ensued when Dubbert’s roommate accused her of reportedly paying the roommate to write school papers and complete other assignments at the University of Southern California. Dubbert subsequently surrendered her degree.
Patrick Dubbert is also from Missouri and is from Jefferson City where his father is the CEO of a collection of masonry and landscaping firms known as Midwest Products Group.
Nancy Walton Laurie is the daughter of the late Bud Walton, the brother and business partner of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton.
At Bud’s death, she and her sister, part-time Malibu resident Ann Walton Kroenke, who along with her husband Stanley Kroenke own the Malibu Colony Plaza, inherited a stake in Wal-Mart now said to be worth billions of dollars.

SMMUSD Super’s New Salary Set at $230,000 Annually

• Well Above Statewide Average

BY JULIE FULMER WALLACH

Sandra Lyon, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s incoming superintendent, will earn $230,000 per academic year, plus benefits. An academic year consists of 222 days of a calendar year.
According to the proposed contract, Lyon will receive $900 per month for a cell phone allowance; 24 days paid vacation; relocation allowance of $12,000; and a coach for her first year at the district, to be hired by Lyon. Lyon comes to SMMUSD from Palmdale Unified School District where she serves as chief leadership officer. Prior to her employment in Palmdale, Lyon was superintendent of the one-school Hughes-Elizabeth Lakes Union School District, where it was reported that her starting salary was $110,000 per year at the 400-student district. SMMUSD has 11,600 students and 1500 certificated and classified employees.
Statewide, the average salary for a superintendent in a large district with an average daily attendance of 5000 or more students is $198,563, according to California Department of Education data. By comparison, a beginning teacher in a large school district earns, on average, $42,810 annually.
Lyon’s proposed contract will be brought in front of the board at the upcoming meeting this Thursday, May 19 at 6 p.m., District Administrative Offices, 1651 Sixteenth Street, Santa Monica. Public comments will be heard at the meeting.

Chamber Head Offers Apology on Formula Retail Ban Comments

• A Council Subcommittee to Study It and Other Options

BY BILL KOENEKER

The head of the Malibu Chamber of Commerce has apologized for a letter she sent out advising members to attend a formula retail meeting at chamber offices on Thursday, May 19.
Chamber CEO Rebekah Evans said that there were objections to her wording in an invitation that a “formula retail ordinance could shut down all business.”
“This is seen as inflammatory and untrue,” she wrote in a second missive to members and the local media.
Evans said she wanted to apologize “for the choice of wording and would like to make a correction stating that the proposed ordinance has the potential to ‘impact’ all business.”
The call to arms from Evans came after last week’s city council meeting when Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich sought and got support for her proposed retail ordinance from some of the public, who have seemingly been moved to action by the Trancas Canyon nursery eviction.
The council ultimately decided to turn it over to a council subcommittee, which was directed to look not only at the retail formula ban, but other devices to help keep Mom and Pop businesses in Malibu.
Evans noted since there is no proposal on the table at the moment “There’s no way to debate the positive or negative impacts, so a scenario where all business in Malibu would shut down may not be completely true, however, it could have an impact on every business with a formula retail ordinance.”
Evans said that is why the chamber is sponsoring a meeting on the issue at 10 a.m. in the chamber office. She said chamber members will also be sharing information about what happened to the proposed ordinance during the past years when it was brought to the table on several occasions.
Longtime opponent Malibu Country Mart shopping center owner Michael Koss appeared at last week’s meeting and has personally attended almost all of the other hearings and meetings on the matter during the past several years. He has continuously maintained his staunch opposition to any such law.
“This would be bad for Malibu during the most severe economy. The retail chain ban would have a negative effect,” he said.
Koss complained the proposed ordinance had been vetted at several workshops and turned back by several city councils.
The shopping center owner insisted chains can offer the best goods and lowest prices.
Other small business owners said chains would put them and others out of business either immediately or in a few short number of years.

Publisher’s Notebook:

• Poison Peril in One of Malibu’s Parks•

BY ANNE SOBLE

Someone has taken it upon themself to act as the secret exterminator of gophers in Trancas Park. Whoever this is puts poisoned gopher bait on the park grounds. They have to be stopped before a child, dog or any other living thing is harmed in the process.
This behavior is not only environmentally unconscionable; it is against the law. To endanger animals on public property is a misdemeanor, but it would be a more serious offense if a dog or child is endangered.
According to Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station Sgt. Vivian May, this person, or persons, is breaking city and county laws (§12.08.200 and §17.04.470 respectively). If anyone knows who it is, or sees someone placing gopher poison around Trancas Park, they should report this to Lost Hills. Only the City of Malibu can authorize use of chemicals on municipal property.
This serious issue came to the forefront when Malibu City Councilmember Jefferson Wagner announced at a recent council meeting that he has found discarded gopher bait wrappers several times during a two-month-plus interval at the city park. Wagner says, “We have no idea who is doing this,” and he adds that he has attempted to get his colleagues to take action but they have not done so.
Wagner proposes placing a few raptor poles, aka predator poles, in the park to attract owls and other birds that will put their hunting skills to work, thereby balancing nature in a safe way. Other communities use this method of rodent control successfully. The mobile poles reportedly cost about $2000 each, which is a small price to ensure that a park created for children and dogs is not a toxic threat.
Whoever is placing poison bait in the park may misguidedly think they are being helpful by trying to prevent gopher holes that might cause someone to trip and injure themselves. But the self-appointed exterminator may not be aware that, after gophers ingest the poison, they often push the bait canisters out of their tunnels, which is where Wagner says he has repeatedly found the gray tubes with red writing on them. A dog might encounter the tubes and think they are toys, or a curious child might pick one up.
Whoever is doing this appears to be unaware of the repeated public entreaties to stop using rodenticides because of the terrible toll they take on local wildlife in the form of secondary poisoning. The gopher eats the poison, and then is consumed by a crow, coyote or bobcat; and soon species up and down the food chain have succumbed to an agonizing death.
One is loathe to think that there is premeditated malice connected to the placing of poison in the park. However, malice may be an inherent subconscious component in all wanton destruction of living things.
The potential for tragedy in Trancas Park should be a warning to anyone considering the use of rodenticides on any property in Malibu. There is no environmental problem that cannot be resolved safely, humanely and in harmony with nature.

Coastal Commission Workshop May Foreshadow Land Panel’s Actions

• Controversial Development Package Prompts Close Look at Subject of Parcel Ownership

BY BILL KOENEKER

The California Coastal Commission held a workshop last week ostensibly to discuss single economic parcel theory and assessing what is also called unity of ownership and how a takings claim could be involved.
Experts were chosen from all over the country to participate in the half-day session. The public was allowed to speak and ask questions after the presentations.
What is behind it all are the pending applications for five homes planned for the upland area above Sweetwater Mesa.
Both the public and the Coastal Commission, after years of secrecy, knows one of the owners is David Evans, also know as The Edge, a guitar player for U2.
Now however, he and his representatives insist there are four other owners in partnership. No other names but the LLPs have been revealed to the public or the commission.
The workshop focused initially on what the experts called piercing the veil of corporate secrecy.
How do you know who owns what when property titles are buried in a pile of corporate names or partnerships?
How can regulatory agencies find out who or what they are dealing with when the real owners refuse to reveal themselves or others involved in ownership?
Experts explained that the courts are reluctant to get involved unless there is a very good reason to compel identities.
Professor Eric Talley, co-director at UC Berkeley Center in Law, Business and the Economy at the University of California at Berkeley talked about corporate law, veil piercing, and single economic parcel theory.
One reason the courts will respond is if there is enough evidence to show that the corporate entity is trying to avoid obeying the laws.
Many examples were given about other reasons and case law cited about how the courts ruled “on piercing the veil,” and what evidence was shown to the courts pointing to how a law was being skirted by such activity.
So could the commission consolidate parcels for purposes of regulation, if their separate owners engaged in some degree of coordination of land acquisition, financing, development or use, or had other economic or social relationships that might justify the agency to find unifications of the parcels in one ownership.
That was how the question was posed in a press release issued on Professor Steven Eagle of George Mason University School of Law in Virginia after his appearance at the workshop.
Under the single economic parcel theory, only one residence might be allowed on the five parcels, as opposed to five separate homes that the various separate owners otherwise would be entitled to construct.
What followed was a discussion about the takings clause, a partial takings and how regulatory restrictions can sometimes be interpreted as takings.
Eagle noted that under federal and California law regulations which go too far in depriving landowners of the use of their parcels are considered takings, entitling the owners for just compensation for their losses.
He reviewed the case law under which some courts had consolidated separate legal parcels belonging to the same owner for takings purposes, however no court has consolidated parcels where their legal ownership was separate, according to Eagle.
There was also much discussion on what the experts called the single economic parcel theory.
Eagle argued that adoption of such a policy would result in a reduction of socially beneficial cooperation among neighbors.
Eagle urged the commission to consider a threshold test to refrain from the practice unless it could be shown that their coordination exceeded that normally existing among neighboring owners.
Agreeing, Malibu land use consultant Don Schmitz, was quick to point out he thought there could be unintended consequences about such an analysis. “Adjacent lots used for ancillary or smaller structures won’t be allowed. It will discourage road improvement among neighbors, relocation of aboveground utilities and common access.
A member of the California Chamber of Commerce said it would be a terrible incentive for property owners, that there were unclear legal theories
Attorney Stanley Lamport said what the real issue was about trying to get around a takings issue. He said ownership is key. “If there are two lots and one owner, linkage matters,” he said.
“If there are two lots, separate owners, it is a takings to consider it a single ownership,” he added.
He noted that in California there is a presumption of ownership. “If there are two entities with different ownerships, the partnership is presumed to be separate ownership,” he said.
Some of the experts chimed in and said what distinguishes neighbors’ cooperation from a partnership is the partnership is working for a profit.
Another expert said the courts will look at people, who play games or are playing the system behind LLP or corporate ownership.
CCC Executive Director Peter Douglas said the idea is not trying to strike out in a new direction or make new law. “There are efforts to camouflage ownership to increase profits. There is a potential of commonality of ownership to increase profits at the expense of coastal resources. We hope it is a rare occurrence,” he said.
There seemed to be a consensus among the experts when the questions was asked, “Is there a baseline or threshold before looking further into the matter?”
There should be further questions asked, What does it look like? Is there a likelihood of a takings? Are there suspicious circumstances? The commission can ask for evidence. Is the evidence above and beyond what he adjacent owners do? The burden is on the applicant.
To some observes, given that both Schmitz and Lamport have been the representatives of Evans for some time, he discussions may have just been an opportunity for both sides to lay out the groundwork for a possible Evans vs. CCC takings lawsuit.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

City Council Upholds Pot Permit and Denies the Challenge to Its Approval

• Members Initially Deadlocked on Vote

BY BILL KOENEKER

The Malibu City Council heard two appeals filed by the same appellant over a permit for a medical marijuana dispensary at its meeting this week.
The council approved the applicant who was approved by the planning commission, and denied the appeal of that application.
Subsequently, the council denied the request for a permit of the applicant/appellant who was turned down by the planning commission.
The applicant/appellant, who was denied a permit for a medical marijuana dispensary at a planning commission meeting had appealed the panel’s decision and at the same time the applicant/appellant, Twin Lyons Wellness Center, had also appealed the planning commission’s decision granting a permit to Malibu Collective Caregivers after the commission had approved the permit.
Councilmember Jefferson Wagner recused himself from the proceedings, and upon prodding by Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich, explained that Lyons Wellness Center would rent space in his building, if the permit was granted to Lyons.
The two applicants were vying for one permit of two allowed citywide. The other permit was granted to PCH Collective several years ago.
The city’s ordinance only allows two operating pot pharmacies in the city.
Councilmember Lou La Monte was adamant that the location of MCC was not safe and should not be approved. “There is a parking issue. Am I the only one that thinks this is a bad idea? It is a very bad idea,” La Monte said.
“I have the same concerns as Lou,” said Councilmember Laura Rosenthal. “Is [MCC] really the one for Malibu? It is too small. It is a dangerous area with ingress and egress.”
However, Conley Ulich said, “I feel we must approve this. It was addressed by the planning commission and the staff.”
Mayor John Sibert agreed. “It went through the process in planning and the planning commission. I see no reason to overturn this.”
The council voted and reached a deadlock on a two to two vote.
The council was told that the effect of the tie was that the motion failed and the approval of MCC by the planning commission would stand.
“I ask you to keep deliberating,” said City Attorney Christi Hogin.
The council did so and continued to debate the matter for some time until Rosenthal said she would change her vote if the council agreed to more conditions and restrictions on MCC.
When the dust settled, the council sought to keep the MCC dispensary closed on the weekends and could only operate Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and not offer any delivery service. The vote was 3-1 with La Monte dissenting.
The second appeal went more quickly when Hogin explained there were no more permits to grant and the council was now compelled to deny another one.
Twin Lyon reps were asked if they might challenge the matter in court.
They indicated that all options were on the table, but no decision had yet been made.


Lagoon Project Hearing Postponed as Date Nears for Construction to Start

• New Judge Reportedly Is More Familiar with CEQA

BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN


The preliminary hearing for an injunction motion to prevent work from beginning on the State Parks’ Malibu Lagoon Restoration and Enhancement Project that was scheduled for Monday of this week in San Francisco was cancelled.
“We have been moved to another courtroom with a new judge who is more familiar with California Environmental Quality Act,” emailed restoration project opponent Marcia Hanscom, whose organization, the Wetlands Defense Fund, is one of the plaintiffs in the filing.
“Our lawyer is in touch with the clerk of the new judge [the Honorable Ernest H. Goldsmith], urging the need for a hearing ASAP,” Hanscom told the Malibu Surfside News.
Observers say that timing is crucial, since the project is scheduled to break ground in June, although injunctions have been granted at the eleventh hour in other CEQA-based cases.
The project, which involves draining, dredging and reconstructing the western portion of the lagoon and removing one of two beach accesses has received all of the necessary permits and approvals to move forward in June.
However, the project has attracted a groundswell of opposition from residents, surfers, environmentalists and public access advocates, leading to a lawsuit and the injunction currently awaiting a new hearing date.

SMMUSD Chooses Palmdale Official for Superintendent

BY JULIE FULMER WALLACH

Sandra “Sandy” Lyon was appointed as the new superintendent by the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board of education at a special meeting Monday. She will begin the post on July 1.
Lyon will replace current superintendent Tim Cuneo, who will retire after two-and-a-half years with the district.
Board member Laurie Lieberman welcomed Lyon to “our crazy district,” and said that Lyon “fits the description of what the community asked for in a leader.”
The new superintendent served as the chief leadership officer of the Palmdale Unified School District for the past two years. Prior to that, she served as the superintendent/principal of Hughes-Elizabeth Lakes School District.
Vice president of the board Ben Allen commented, “I’m thrilled to welcome Sandy Lyon to our school district. We had a very strong pool of candidates, but were so impressed by Sandy’s combination of experience, leadership, warmth and vision.
“Everyone who knows Sandy sings her praises, and I know that she’ll make an exceptional superintendent for our district.”

Proposal to Temporarily Locate Skate Park on the Bluffs Meets Opposition

• Tai Chi Student Raises Issue of Boarders Using Up Parking

BY BILL KOENEKER

The first voice of opposition was heard at a Malibu City Council meeting this week about the possibility of the city's skate park relocating to Bluffs Park.
Malibu resident Hope Berk said she and her fellow attendees at a Tai chi class object to the skate park being placed in Bluffs Park because of the limited parking.
“We support a skate park, but not at Bluffs Park,” said Berk, who told council members that a beach park might be a better location.
Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich said she got the message loud and clear from Berk. “We are put in a hard position, but you make a valid concern. We would double the parking. We will not have any loss of parking,” Conley Ulich said.
Councilmember Jefferson Wagner said the skate park is a valuable element. “We are aware of it,” said Wagner, who talked about another parking problem at the Bluffs Park where weekend bicyclists and others park cars at the park while Little leaguers and their parents are looking for parking spots.
The Papa Jack Skate Park is being removed from a vacant Civic Center parcel where a shopping center is planned
Steve Soboroff, who heads up the Whole Foods in the Park proposal, said he would contribute $25,000 to help facilitate the move.
Soboroff had previously given a termination date, but extended it to October.

Publisher’s Notebook:

• Retail Tinkering in Malibu •

BY ANNE SOBLE

The current clamor for greater government control of the Malibu retail sector raises the specter of arbitrary composition formulae, rent control and price setting that should be cause for local deliberation and concern.
The city’s major foray into the commercial retail arena has resulted in a mini-mall that is so disliked by many local residents that they are talking about boycotting it. Isn’t this “voting with one’s feet” a better way for a community to affect commercial composition?
And isn’t this what Malibuites have already done with their shopping patterns, according to city and U.S. Census data? These patterns had begun changing long before many of the smaller, so-called Mom and Pop businesses started closing their doors.
Major among the changes is the pronounced shift toward traveling to shop at the same big box stores that many residents say they don’t want moving to Malibu. Locals complained publicly about the limited inventory and higher prices of smaller businesses. Many of these business owners said they were already losing ground long before shopping centers started changing hands at artificially inflated prices and the new owners wanted to recoup their investments.
I knew many of these business owners personally, and many said that if they had local support, they could have kept pace with rising rents. But all the recent heartfelt outpourings to the contrary, they said that most residents in the community did not support them financially.
Is what’s going on now a case of “You don’t know what you’ve lost ’til it’s gone?” Or is it that Malibuites who return home with carloads of groceries, clothes and holiday gifts, courtesy of the savings and convenience of mass purchasing, also are voting with their feet?
People cannot expect shopping center owners to subsidize marginal businesses if the people clamoring for those subsidies are not patronizing those businesses regularly. One of the owners of a small local business that closed down eight years ago, who still lives in Malibu, told me, “I loved my shop. It could still be open, but the same people who came to my free events were not buying my merchandise because it might cost a little less elsewhere. There’s a lot of hypocrisy here.”
A list of businesses that supposedly have been driven out by larger competitors and high rents that is currently circulating in Malibu has to be looked at carefully. Many of the businesses that are listed were shuttered because of their owners’ decision to retire, get divorced, move elsewhere, change professions, or they just were not doing well. Some of them shut down quite a few years ago before the current adverse economic factors.
If residents want more government oversight of the retail sector and the possible creation of a kind of welfare system for marginal businesses, they might consider the adage, “Be careful what you wish for, you might get it.” The City of Malibu already has strong planning and zoning mechanisms, including the conditional use permit process, that could enable an interested and active public to play a role in determining future retail mix.
A well-balanced business marketplace that meets the needs of the local community has to answer to the marketplace of ideas. If Malibuites want to upend the market economy, they have to be willing to support businesses that can’t succeed on their own with more than slogans.

City to Complete Move to New Malibu Digs This Weekend

• Ocean Views and Spaciousness Await

It will soon be moving day at Malibu City Hall, according to municipal officials who announced last week that the move into the new city hall will take place over the weekend of May 12-15.
The former city hall will shut down at noon on Thursday, May 12, and will remain closed through May 13, after which its fate is still to be determined.
The city's telephone system will be down Thursday afternoon, May 12, through Friday, May 13, as communication equipment is moved and reinstalled.
City hall will reopen for business on Monday, May 16, in the new offices at 23825 Stuart Ranch Road.
Effective May 16, city hall business hours will be: Monday through Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
City Hall will be closed on Monday, May 30 for Memorial Day.

L.A. Bicycling Activists Speak Out at Public Safety Workshop

BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN

Approximately 20 people—an almost equal number of city representatives and members of the bicycling community—gathered on Saturday morning at city hall, for the City of Malibu Public Safety Commission’s workshop on bicycle issues.
“We’ve been talking about this workshop since the beginning of year,” Safety Commissioner Chris Frost, an avid cyclist, said at the start of the meeting. “[Our goal is to] make the cycling environment safer for everyone. I want people to walk out of here feeling there’s a basis for moving forward.”
Biking advocates used the workshop as an opportunity to explain some of their Pacific Coast Highway safety concerns to the public safety commission and two members of the city council.
“You don’t have street sweepers, and when you do they don’t sweep the shoulder,” said cycling activist Eric Bruins, who routinely bikes to work from Culver City to Malibu.
“Debris gets swept there. The fog line is clearest part,” Bruins said, explaining that even tiny pieces of broken glass and debris from landslide activity can make the shoulder unsafe for cyclists.
“There may be design issues with the shoulder, even if it appears clear,” Bruins said.
Bruins also indicated that there are areas on PCH where cyclists have no choice other than to move into the right lane.
“The reality is when I’m riding I expect people to come up behind me to see me...If I’m riding on the fog line, there’s a lot of ambiguity.
“You don’t know if you’re going to fit. A lot of people don’t know where the right side of their car is. As a cyclist, if for whatever reason the shoul der isn’t clear, I need to make it clear to the driver behind me that they aren’t going to fit. I have to move farther left. I have to take the lane. I'm sticking out arm. I'm moving over in a predictable manner.”
The biking advocates presented data from 2005-9 that supports their contention that bicycle-related accidents on PCH occur more frequently in through areas, rather than at intersections. Rear-ending and sideswiping incidents account for the largest number of serious accidents, according to the data presented.
Commissioner David Saul raised the issue of bicyclists riding through red lights on PCH. “How do we get out word that cyclists have to follow the law?” he asked. “Failure to stop at signal is a ticket. I don’t know how many they're writing, it’s hard to track.”
“The law is the law and you can’t selectively choose what works for you,” said Jay Slater, spokesperson for Velo Club La Grange, one of California’s largest and oldest cycling clubs.
“Just like cars, some cyclists, like some motorists, choose to [run lights],” Slater said. “We talk about it constantly. It's on our website that we follow traffic laws, but we're not able to police it. One-hundred-percent compliance? Forget it. It’s never going to happen. It's up to the law to enforce it. It is what it is. You’re not going to go out with fishing net and catch everyone who runs a red light.”
“It’s better since we’ve been talking about it,” replied Commission Chair Carol Randall. “And if [word] gets out there, if people understand why it’s a concern…”
“Cyclists tend to have an independent spirit,” Bruins said. “We’re riding in a hostile environment.” Bruins indicated that it makes a difference to cyclists to know that stopping at a red light enables residents like Randall to exit a driveway safely, rather than just knowing that stopping at a red light is the law.
“One common mistake is the talk about the cycling community. There is no cycling community,” said Ted Rogers, who maintains the bicycling blog Biking in LA.
Rogers called it a “common misconception” that deaths occur from cyclists running red lights. He said that there have been 27 cyclist deaths this year in California, “not one killed this year running red lights or violating signal.”
“I want to make it really clear that when you see a guy blow a light he’s an individual, he doesn’t represent ‘the cycling community,’” Slater added.
Jennifer Klausner, executive director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, said “We are more connected then ever through the Internet, blogs. We network to the extent that we can. Cycling is on a total upswing right now. Gas is more expensive, there’s a health crisis, cycling is very cool among kids, individuals who don’t belong to a club. There’s a huge influx of new cyclists. If the feeling is that its getting better [on PCH] than we’re doing really well. Cycling population is growing exponentially.”
“Blog sites like Ted’s and La Grange reach cyclists,” Slater agreed. “When it goes viral that’s the best way to reach the public.”
The bicycling activists commended sharrows—painted rode-sharing arrows that remind motorists to respect bike traffic—that were recently installed on Thousand Oaks Blvd.
“Sharrows are a relatively new safety bike facility device,” Slater explained. ‘They’ve done several test areas. Hermosa Beach. Take a look at the way they’ve done it, 100 percent right. [It has an] outside door zone where car doors open, black and and white signs with a little bicycle picture say bicycles have use of the lane. The people who live down there love it. As soon as they see a cyclist they move to the right. It is literally the perfect example.”
Bicycling activists also praised new legislation in the City of Los Angeles that would make harassment of bicyclists a crime.
Slater described proposed California legislation that would give cyclists the legal right to cross over a double line by as much as three feet, “as long as it is safe.” The bill has passed out of committee and will be before the senate soon, he said.
The intersections at Las Flores and Cross Creek were pointed to as unsafe for cyclists, The eastern stretch of PCH got low marks as well, largely because of the number of parked cars cyclists must navigate.
Drivers are looking for what's in front of them,” Bruins said. My job is for them to see me as soon as possible. If I get into the lane earlier and farther then there’s no panicking. You often see a car, a space, a car. It's safer for me to just stay in the lane. The active unsafe thing is the merge.
“I want to minimize the number of times I merge until the hazard is past. I need to take lane at the intersection to prevent vehicle from passing me and turning in front.
“One of the only advantages we have is that we are going slower, have more time to maneuver,” Slater said. “The [most dangerous] things for me is getting right-hooked or doored. East Malibu is the most problematic area of PCH-not only doors to worry about, but people who park diagonally.
“We end up in traffic lane all the line. When people are standing there with the door open we shout ‘door,’” Slater elaborated, adding that cyclists are here to stay on PCH. “There isn’t an alternative,” he said. “There isn’t a coast [bike] route.”
“Every road is a road where you should expect to find bicyclists,” said Klausner.

Most Parents Want the School that Is Best for Their Children

• The Public School versus Private School Debate Is Really about School A versus School B

BY JULIE Fulmer WALLACH

The national system of formal education began at the end of the nineteenth century when education reformers argued that a free public education could create good citizens, unite society, and prevent crime and poverty. At the same time, private, non-denominational and religious schools flourished. Education, once reserved for the wealthy, became available to children of every socio-economic status.
According to U.S. Department of Education statistics, 11.4% of students nationwide attend private schools. Public and home schooling make up the difference. In Malibu, parents have mixed views on public and private schools; it is common for parents to switch between the two during their children’s academic careers.
Although local school officials, both in the public and private sector were contacted regarding their thoughts on the subject, Malibu parents were the only group that responded to the Malibu Surfside News about perceived differences and criteria in choosing between public or private school.
Roohi Stack, a parent with two children enrolled in Malibu public schools shared, “The reasons we decided to go to Malibu High [from Point Dume Elementary] are the distance and academics. I didn’t want to commute 90 minutes away and be so far from the kids. Additionally, it would be a long and tiring day for all of us if we were commuting to a private school. There would be no point living in Malibu and I would probably move.”
Stack said, “The matriculations from MHS have been excellent. The school sends kids to the top 20 universities every year and 50% of the graduating class goes to UCs, which are highly competitive schools. The honors math program, I know kids going to private schools and they don’t have an honors math program. And the music program…my daughter is in orchestra and she plays violin every day.”
A parent who wished to remain anonymous shared the reasons in sending her children to a private school in Thousand Oaks. Her children had attended elementary school in Malibu, but her decision to send them to private for middle and high school had to do with classroom ratio; more athletic opportunities at a younger age; early exposure to discover their passions; and, the academic opportunities to discover their passions.
Regarding academic curriculum, she said, “From an elementary school academic standpoint, private school has proven to be at least one grade ahead many areas of curriculum. For example, one of my children is working on fractions and word problems in the third grade.”
She and her husband “don’t like feeling so vulnerable to the state of California’s inability to manage their funds,” adding “the district is and always will be driven by the needs of Santa Monica and they just want our Malibu tax dollars. Malibu’s needs have always been secondary…Webster and Pt. Dume [Elementary] are run and funded more like mini-private schools,” adding, “As far as I can tell, MHS has done a wonderful job maintaining high academic standards.”
A report conducted by the US Education Department in 2006 compared federal math and reading test scores between public and private school students. The results were comparable, with each sector showing mediocre scores in both subjects.
A parent whose children both attended Webster Elementary School said, “We know MHS is a top public school but realize that as a public school, it needs to address the needs of all children. In public school, there are children who don’t want to be there or are a distraction. Oftentimes, this is where the teachers need to spend their time, trying to keep everyone on track. Some people question why private instead of public when our public school is so good. When it comes to college, the question of private versus public doesn’t seem to be as divisive. So why should it be any different for middle school and high school? In this competitive, global environment we feel a good education is a critical component to success.”
Malibu High School’s matriculation list for this year’s graduating class includes various Universities of California and California State Universities; Baylor University; University of Chicago; Columbia University; Cornell University; New York University; University of Virginia; and Washington University in St. Louis. Other local, private and liberal arts schools are mentioned and can be found on the Malibu High School website.
Viewpoint School’s class of 2010 college acceptance list includes all of the above-mentioned schools and Caltech; Yale University; Stanford University; and Emory University in addition to others that can be reviewed on Viewpoint School’s website.
Some parents have chosen to pull their children from public schools in the wake of recent budget cuts. A parent who wished to remain anonymous said, “I don’t trust the school system to handle my money, especially now. I pay taxes for public schools but it’s mismanaged. Even though I shell out all of this money [in taxes], I would rather pay for private school and know where my tuition is going.”
The National Center for Education Statistics compiled data to help answer how public and private schools differ. Nationwide, 63 percent of public and 37 percent of private schools employed staff with academic specialist or coaching assignments. Seventy-three percent of public elementary schools had staff with academic specialist or coaching assignments compared to private elementary, at 37 percent.
Ethnic composition of students enrolled in public schools was 58 percent non-Hispanic, White, 20 percent Hispanic (regardless of ethnicity), 16 percent non-Hispanic, Black, 4 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, and 1 percent American Indian/Alaska Native.
Among private schools, ethnic composition was 74 percent non-Hispanic White, 10 percent non-Hispanic Black, 9 percent Hispanic (regardless of race), 6 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, and 1 percent American Indian/Alaska Native.
As of the 2007-08 academic year, average class size was 20 students in public school and 18 students in private.
A parent who wished to remain anonymous shared her thoughts about enrolling her children in Malibu’s public school. “If I lived in a different community where the teachers, parents, and administrators were not invested in my child’s education, or if my child’s life were in danger by attending public school, then I would have to consider private schooling or a different educational option. None of this exists here in Malibu.”
Major deciding factors in choosing public or private school include the needs of the student, finances, class size, and commuting time to and from school. Views might be different if there was a kindergarten-twelfth grade private school within the Malibu city limits.
Whatever the choice, data show that one is not necessarily superior.