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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Initial Meetings about Controversial City Land Swap Raise Questions

• Municipal Officials Apparently Do Not Recall Session Reportedly Held at Malibu City Hall

BY BILL KOENEKER

An email written by Joe Edmiston, the executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, on the details of the negotiations between conservancy officials and Malibu municipal officials over a parkland exchange is viewed by critics of the swap as somewhat of a smoking gun.
“Yes, it is a copy of the email,” Edmiston emailed to the Malibu Surfside News, confirming he wrote the email.
It appears that what Edmiston’s email states about the initial meetings between himself and city officials is different than what critics say they heard at the last city council meeting from council members.
The email has been repeated in various private party email threads where it is being referred to as “the cart before the horse.”
The subject heading metaphor is a reference to Edmiston’s recollection of two initial meetings where two council members met and then a subsequent meeting at City Hall where the staffs of the SMMC and MRCA met with municipal management long before the matter reached the full council for deliberations.
“Mayor [Lou] La Monte and Mayor Pro Tem [Joan] House asked to meet with me at my office, which we did,” Edmiston emailed The News, confirming the first part of his oft-shared email.
Both La Monte and House told a nearly full house at council chambers last week that is just what they did. “It was not Joe’s idea, it was mine,” said House. “I told the mayor.”
Edmiston’s original email goes on to assert, “By the end of the meeting, we had the framework for a comprehensive solution to many of the issues between Malibu and the SMMC.”
Last week, House was quick to point out to the public that apparently Joe had gotten ahead of himself and the city with that statement.
But what appears to be a completely different recollection than that of the two council members is what Edmiston wrote next in his original email, “Yesterday [Thursday, Dec. 20] our full legal team (Attorney General plus our two outside counsel firms and Mountain Recreation Conservation Authority staff counsel) and that of the city plus the city manager met for two and half hours to hammer out the details. I am happy to report that this meeting was successful.”
In Edmiston’s email to The News, he recalled, “The subsequent meeting was held at City Hall.”
The public heard nothing of this meeting from city officials last week, though privately there was already talk from critics about how the staff could have moved so quickly or at all if no decisions had been made by more than two council members.
Former Mayor Walt Keller, one of the founding city council members of the city, in a letter to the editor asks, “Why was this [subsequent] meeting not mentioned or discussed in the agenda report, and when was the city manager  and staff (presumably the city attorney) attendance at this meeting authorized by the city council?”
Keller goes on to say that two and half hours represent considerable city staff time and expense and that city policy and state law require direction to staff to be authorized by at least three council members.
Because of the state’s Brown Act law, cities, county and state officials must decide in open deliberations and in an open forum about the direction of their policies and decisions, except in a limited number of circumstances such as personnel and litigation.
City officials have taken pains to insist that only La Monte and House were with Edmiston when the city’s idea for a land swap was first offered and that they were the only ones to know.
The other three council members took even greater pains to deny they knew anything about the land swap, except what they read in the press, and had not discussed the matter among themselves, despite the Malibu City Hall session.

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