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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Judge Voids CCC Approval of SMMC Parks Plan on Procedural Grounds

• Camping Package Will Have to Adhere to Requirements

BY BILL KOENEKER

No sooner had Malibu city officials put out a press release trumpeting their win over the California Coastal Commission’s approval of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy’s park plan, which includes overnight camping, than the SMMC and Mountains Recreation Conservation Authority issued its own missive indicating the Conservancy and the MRCA will appeal the judge’s ruling siding with Malibu.
“We are not going to let the lawyers keep the people out of parkland that belongs to all of the people of California,” said Conservancy Chair Antonio Gonzalez. “This is a social justice issue, an issue of public access.”
However, Malibu municipal officials called it a matter of a state agency overstepping its authority.
“There are limits to the Coastal Commission’s authority and we are grateful for the court enforcing one such limit,” said Malibu City Attorney Christi Hogin.
What Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge John Torribio did last week when issuing his ruling after hearing both sides of the case was void the decision by the Coastal Commission, which granted the SMMC its parks plan.
The issue narrowly revolves around a little known and used provision called the override procedure. The Conservancy and the coastal panel and its staff invoked the override procedure for the Conservancy’s parks plan asserting Malibu had no authority over the matter.
However, the judge indicated the enabling legislation is a procedure designed for public works projects or energy facility development.
“The statute does not include the word ‘plan’ and should not be construed to mean it applies to a future public works ‘plan.’ The terms ‘plan’ and ‘project’ are not interchangeable.
“The Conservancy itself has characterized the amendment proposal as a public access enhancement plan. All other developments requiring an amendment to the certified LCP shall follow LCP amendment procedures of the affected local government and the commission,” the judge wrote.
“The court finds that the commission exceeded its authority in granting the proposed amendment using the ‘override procedure.’”
The court also ruled on the public notice required for review of the plan. The court opined that the parks plan documents and staff reports amounted to the equivalent of an Environmental Impact Report and should have a 30-day review as required by the California Environmental Quality Act.
“The commission acted in excess of its jurisdiction and did not comply with the strict notice requirements mandated by CEQA,” the judge added.
The court also ordered that the Coastal Commission require that specific “public works projects” be identified in any subsequent application.
Hogin said, “The Conservancy and the Commission basically teamed up to rewrite Malibu’s LCP as it would apply to the Conservancy’s several properties scattered throughout Malibu and tried to do it by invoking an obscure provision of the Coastal Act meant for energy facilities and regional public works projects. Hopefully, in the wake of the court’s ruling the city will be able to assume its role in the development of policies and work with the Conservancy to achieve our shared goals of public access, a world-class trail system and wonderful parks.”
The Conservancy initially submitted an application to the city for a Local Coastal Plan Amendment creating the Malibu Parks Public Access Enhancement plan overlay district, which would establish new land policies and development standards to supplant those of the current underlying zoning designation to connect trails to undeveloped SMMC’s properties in various coastal canyons in Malibu.
The plan also dealt with Ramirez Canyon Park, the former residential compound of Barbra Streisand, and the headquarters of the SMMC and current offices of its executive director Joe Edmiston, which is located at the end of a narrow, private road.
The city approved most, but not all of SMMC’s proposal excluding and not approving the controversial overnight camping proposed in the plan.
Unhappy with the city’s modifications to its plan, the SMMC proposed an amendment to the city’s modifications.
The SMMC proposed an amendment to the city’s certified LCP to incorporate the parks plan under the override procedure of the Coastal Act.
The application acknowledged that the Conservancy was not proposing a public works project or energy facility development, according to the court.
Nevertheless, the coastal panel approved the SMMC’s proposal over the objections of the city, ostensibly using the override procedure and rejected the city’s own LCPA.
Both the city and the Ramirez Canyon Preservation Fund, who was a party to the litigation, challenged the action as improper.
The court did not discuss the merits of the plan.

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