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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Council Clashes with Protesters Over Language of Brown Act Resolution

• City Attorney Accused of Not Taking Complaint Alleging Land Swap Plan Legal Violations Seriously

Tempers flared at this week’s Malibu City Council meeting, when Malibu City Attorney Christi Hogin convinced the city council to reverse itself and reconsider its response to Malibu Township Council’s allegations of state Brown Act violations “to possibly avoid litigation expense [and] appease MTC.”
Hogin recommended the council members rescind the action taken at the 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.
Her recommendation also included the council rescinding its action at the meeting of Jan. 25 in connection with declining to cure or correct in response to MTC's allegations of Brown Act violation.
However, another resolution was, by unanimous vote, promptly reinstated:
“After hearing public comment. 1) Direct the city attorney to negotiate agreements and implementing documents to effect land swap of Charmlee Wilderness Park for approximately 83 acres of Bluffs Park resulting in complete city control over all 93 acres of Bluffs Park, contingent on establishing that ball fields can be added to the state-owned portion of Bluffs Park and confirming that the county imposes fire safety measures on camping that would be applicable to Charmlee Wilderness Park; 2) Direct the city attorney to negotiate a resolution in the lawsuit over the uses in Ramirez Park; 3)Establish the Charmlee Wilderness Park/Bluff Park Land Swap Ad Hoc Committee of Mayor [Lou] La Monte and Mayor Pro Tem [Joan] House to work with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy  to resolve differences over the appropriate uses and development proposed at Corral and Escondido canyons. The city council will consider proposals generated from this direction at future council meetings.”
However, that resolution was never read into the record and it was only contained in an amended agenda. Most folks were using the regular agenda, which contained different language. Some in the audience cried foul.
“Read the resolution,” shouted Trancas activist Cindy Vandor.  “What are you voting on? I protest,” she shouted.
Council members were angered by the interruptions and said so. More shouts and murmurs were heard in the council chambers as the council refused to have the resolution read back to them and voted unanimously to approve the measure before them.
Hogin earlier explained what she was doing. “I’m not trying to play games. I am creating another defense to a lawsuit. That is my job,” she said.
An MTC counsel, Jessica Cheng, an associate attorney with Frank Angel’s office, said, “The cure is a sham. It does not let the sunshine in. The flippant tone of the city attorney is disappointing. This is important for the city. The least we can expect is the respect of the community,” she said.
On Tuesday afternoon, Angel’s office challenged the council's actions on Monday night and continued a demand to cure and correct violations of the Brown Act.
MTC had objected to Hogin’s recommendations saying the proposed correct and cure was 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. Angel said none of this would preclude MTC going to court.
In a staff report released last Tuesday afternoon the city attorney said it had come to her attention that MTC was 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 resources for the city’s priorities,” Hogin said.
Councilmember Laura Rosenthal said she had alerted Hogin to the fundraising. “We should be talking about the deal or not doing that. I understand MTC wants to slow it down. We do need more information,” she said, calling the Brown Act allegations merely a stalling tactic by MTC.
Councilmember John Sibert said, “It doesn’t make sense. I don’t want to argue the fine legal points. I hate to argue the fine legal points. We need to be gathering information. We still have not made any decision,” he said.
Councilmember Joan House, who earlier in the evening was questioned about a public records request—that she had no records to turn in, added that more information is needed and that the city was still compiling information.
In her staff report, Hogin explained why she was making such recommendations to the council.
“MTC seems dissatisfied with the city's response. In an effort to dissuade MTC from filing 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 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 doesn't 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.
“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.
Hogin attempted to explain further why she wanted the council to reinstate a previous resolution just rescinded.
“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.

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