• Majority of Panel Wants It Sent Directly to City Council •
BY BILL KOENEKER
In a surprise action called “shocking” by the applicant’s consultant, the City of Malibu Planning Commission on Tuesday night voted 3-2, with Commissioners Jeff Jennings and Ed Gillespie dissenting, to take off the agenda a scheduled hearing for the proposed La Paz shopping center/office complex planned for the Civic Center.
“It doesn’t belong on the agenda,” said Commissioner Joan House, who made the motion to strike the hearing from the agenda.
Municipal planning officials had put the matter before the commission once again after a previous panel had made recommendations to the city council about approving a scaled back version, but giving the thumbs down to an expanded version that included a City Hall and a development agreement.
Some commissioners indicated the applicant was, in effect, getting a second bite from the apple, because the staff insisted the revisions to the project, which include a new wastewater system, were not enough to warrant recirculation of the environmental documents, but enough difference to require the commission to once again review the project.
However, House and Commissioners John Mazza and Regan Schaar said the planning panel had spent hours and several hearings on the matter and urged that it be forwarded to the council.
Assistant City Attorney Greg Kovacevich insisted the commission should review the matter saying it was not doing its job.
Initially, Jennings asked Kovacevich what would be the consequences, if any, of the commission taking the hearing off the calendar.
The assistant city attorney did not answer the question and said, “You can’t decide you don’t want to do your job,” but later when it became clear the planning panel was moving forward with the House motion, he indicated the city possibly could be exposed to litigation because of the commission action.
At times, the deliberations became a matter of panelists debating with Kovacevich about what the commission could, or would not do.
Later, the applicant’s representatives were allowed to speak. “I am shocked that there would be any attempt to squelch [the public hearing]. We need to speak to the specifics,” said Don Schmitz, a land use consultant hired by the applicant.
Jennings argued the matter should be heard by the commission. “We have a revised EIR. It is our job to decide. It is a changed EIR. I don’t know what is going on here,” he said.
Then the opponents’ attorney was allowed to speak. Alan Block, who is representing Eric and Tamara Hughes Gustavson, the owners of property next to the proposed commercial complex, said the planning commission has no authority to reconsider its prior resolutions, or change its prior recommendations to the city council.
He said the city’s municipal code did not sanction the hearing.
Both Schaar and Mazza had reiterated that position, saying it was the staff determination to bring the matter back to the planning commission and the council had never directed such a move, and in fact had voted that the previous council would not hear the matter, but rather the newly elected body.
However, the attorney for applicant Stanley Lampor said the commission’s action would create a conundrum for the applicant, since the council had before them the older plans and not the revised project.
“It is a strange position. This is the only way we can proceed. This is the only way to go through the process,” he added.
Block said he disagreed. “It is the same project, the same staff report. It shuld not be here [before the commission],” he added.
House, who was attending the meeting via teleconference call from Boston, seemed to weary of the continual debate and began to insist for a call for the question, meaning it was time to stop talking about it and take a vote. Eventually, the commission did so.
From the get-go, La Paz has followed a somewhat different path, given that the alternative proposal was handled as a separate project, and the staff’s determination that the commission would not use its authority to act on any aspects of the projects but simply make recommendations to the city council.