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Wednesday, April 03, 2013

City Attorney Reverses Herself on MTC Brown Act Violations

• Community Group’s Attorney Says Legal Pullback Is Not Sufficient to Address Its Concerns

BY BILL KOENEKER

In what is being perceived by some in the community as a complete legal turnaround, City Attorney Christi Hogin is recommending that the city council reverse itself and reconsider its response to Malibu Township Council allegations of state Brown Act violations “to possibly avoid litigation expense.”
Hogin is recommending that at the regular council meeting next Monday, members rescind the action taken at its previous meeting on Jan. 14 directing her to negotiate agreements and implement documents for the land swap by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy of acquiring city-owned Charmlee Wilderness Park for 83 acres of state-owned Bluffs Park.
The recommendation also includes the council rescinding its action at the meeting of March 25 in connection with declining to cure or correct in response to MTC’s allegations of Brown Act violation.
However, MTC attorney Frank Angel said the proposed correct-and-cure is only directed at one item of the letter MTC sent to the city. “The letter also requested five additional items,” said Angel, that the city attorney has ignored, and he added, “I will be at Monday night’s meeting to address this.”
Angel said none of what transpires at the April 8 meeting precludes MTC going to court.
In a staff report released Tuesday afternoon, the city attorney said it has come to her attention that MTC was engaged in fundraising to bring a lawsuit over its allegations.
“The purpose of the recommendation is to appease MTC’s demand for a cure or correction arising from its allegations of a Brown Act violation and potentially avoid wasteful and distracting litigation. If successful, this would save the city approximately $20,000, allow the city to focus its attention on matters of substance and reserve public resource for the city’s priorities,” Hogin wrote in a staff report.
“MTC seems dissatisfied with the city’s response. In an effort to dissuade MTC from filling expensive, distracting and dividing litigation, the city council may take the action MTC requests by ‘rescinding’ the Jan. 14, 2013 motion. This ‘cure’ allows the city to respond to MTC’s demand without agreeing to MTC’s interpretation of the Brown Act or conceding any violation.”
Angel said Hogin’s recommendation does not address other aspects of the MTC letter. He said the council may rescind the action taken on Jan. 14 concerning the swap, but indicated that Hogin is recommending that the council immediately take up the same agenda item with little public input.
“We said let the public see the records and let the public have more information. Direct the city manager to suspend land swap negotiations. We said take a timeout, let the public discover what is in the city’s files. That is most important,” he added. “This does not do any of that.”
Hogin, in her staff report, wrote that the MTC has demanded that the city set aside action directing the city attorney to negotiate on the city’s behalf and forming an ad hoc committee to assist her with the project.
“MTC makes this demand based on its accusation that the city council held an illegal meeting in violation of the Brown Act because Councilmember John Sibert was aware that the mayor and Mayor Pro Tem Joan House were advocating that the city council consider a proposal to swap Charmlee Wilderness Park for the portion of Bluffs Park owned by the state
“This item also resubmits the opportunity to direct the city attorney to negotiate on the city’s behalf with respect to a proposed land swap, settlement of the Ramirez Canyon park lawsuit and with respect to the SMMC and Mountain Recreation conservation authority’s plans for their Corral and Escondido canyon properties and to form and appoint the ad hoc subcommittee. At the time of this writing, we have nothing new to report with respect to those items. The prior staff reports are on file with the city clerk,” the city attorney responded.
“Of course, I emphasize that the proposed land swap was not ‘shrouded in secrecy’ as MTC erroneously claimed. To the contrary, the proposal has been discussed by the council in open and public meetings. While not required by the Brown Act, the city may choose to cure or correct the action as mended by MTC. The city attorney recommends that the city council take the recommended actions.”

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