Monday, May 14, 2012
Court Rules for Malibu in Dispute With Coastal Commission
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Coastal Commission exceeded its authority by approving amendments to Malibu’s local coastal program over the city’s objections, at the behest of two state agencies, the Court of Appeal for this district has ruled.
Div. Eight Thursday affirmed a Los Angeles Superior Court judge’s ruling in favor of the city, saying the amendments were unauthorized because the California Coastal Act only allows such changes to undertake a public works project or energy facility development, not to influence policies on such matters as public access to parks.
The city has been doing battle with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority—a joint powers authority that includes the conservancy and local parks districts—for several years over management of four park properties owned by the conservancy within the city.
Local Coastal Program
The Coastal Act, which was passed in 1976, requires every local government in the coastal zone to prepare a local coastal program, including a provision that will “assure that maximum public access to the coast and public recreation areas is provided.”
Malibu, which was incorporated in the early 1990s, did not prepare and submit an LCP, and in 2000 the Legislature enacted a law requiring the commission to adopt a plan after a public hearing and consultation with the city. The commission adopted the plan in 2002.
The case ruled on Thursday by the Court of Appeal came about after the conservancy asked the city to amend the LCP to add land use policies and development standards, in part so that the conservancy could develop the four park properties. The city, while expressing support for the conservancy’s goal of better parks, and accepting many of its proposals, adopted an LCP amendment that the conservancy did not support.
The conservancy urged the creation of a “Malibu Parks Public Access Enhancement Plan Overlay District,” setting standards which the court characterized Thursday “as providing greater public access but as less protective of coastal resources than those in Malibu’s LCP amendment.”
Malibu’s amendment, for example, permits overnight camping in only one of the parks—Ramirez Canyon Park—and only at three campsites, and authorizes closing of the parks in time of high fire risk and flash flood warnings. The conservancy wanted overnight camping in two other parks, elimination of permit requirements for the campsites, and camping at Escondido Canyon and Corral Canyon parks without advance reservations.
It also wanted a policy of prohibiting camping, rather than closing the parks entirely, under adverse conditions, and to eliminate most of the city’s restrictions on amplified music in Ramirez Canyon Park.
In June 2009, the commission rejected the LCP amendment and certified the conservancy’s overlay district as an amendment, with some revisions. In July of last year, however, Judge John Torribio granted the city declaratory and injunctive relief, saying the override procedure of the Coastal Act did not apply because the overlay district was a “plan” and not a public works project.
Justice Elizabeth Grimes, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the trial judge’s interpretation of the statute, Public Resources Code Sec. 30515, was correct.
No ‘Relevant Authority’
The statute, Grimes noted, allows the commission to amend an LCP over the local government’s objection at the request of a “person authorized to undertake a public works project or proposing an energy facility development.” The commission’s argument that the commission may amend a plan other than to allow a specific project, the justice said, is unsupported by “relevant authority or rational explanation.”
The jurist elaborated:
“We conclude that the override provision in section 30515 is meant to prevent a local government from standing in the way of the development of a public works project or an energy facility that would meet the public needs of an area greater than that encompassed in the local coastal program that were not anticipated when the LCP was certified. The Conservancy’s overlay district does not serve that purpose but instead substitutes the land use policies and development standards of the Conservancy and the Coastal Commission for those of the city, in contradiction of the legislative mandate preventing the Coastal Commission from ‘diminish[ing] or abridg[ing] the authority of a local government’ as to ‘the precise content of its land use plan.’”
Attorneys on appeal were Supervising Deputy Attorney General Jamee Jordan Patterson for the Coastal Commission and the conservancy, Steven H. Kaufmann and Ginetta L. Giovinco of Richards, Watson & Gershon for the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority, and City Attorney Christi Hogin and Gregg Kovacevich of Jenkins & Hogin for Malibu.
The case is City of Malibu v. California Coastal Commission (Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy), 12 S.O.S. 2246.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company