Malibu Township Council Presents Formal Demand to City Council to Set Aside Parkland Swap

This afternoon the Malibu Township Council, Inc. (MTC) delivered a letter to the Malibu City Clerk, including a formal demand under California’s open meetings law, the Brown Act, that the City Council nullify the action it took at its regular meeting on January 14, 2013, directing the City Attorney to negotiate a swap of Charmlee Wilderness Area for the 83 acres of Malibu Bluffs Park currently owned by the State of California.

Weeks before the City Council met in open meeting on January 14, a framework of this deal had been secretly negotiated by Mayor Lou La Monte, Councilwoman Joan House and the Executive Director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, Joe Edmiston. Also prior to January 14, the City’s and the Conservancy’s legal teams secretly hammered out details of the deal. The Conservancy, a state agency, currently exercises jurisdiction over the State’s 83 acres of Bluffs Park. The City already owns another ten acres of Bluffs Park, the site of ball fields, the Michael Landon Community Center and public parking. By the swap, the City would cede ownership of its entire 535-acre Charmlee property for the State’s 83 acres of Bluffs Park.

A key provision of the Brown Act prohibits a majority of members of legislative bodies, like the City Council, from secretly committing to decisions or discussing future agenda items outside of a properly noticed, open and public meeting, so that the people they represent have a chance to witness the making of decisions of public concern and have a meaningful opportunity to offer citizen input. The 11-page letter submitted by MTC cites several violations of the Brown Act’s open meeting requirement. (See attached letter, pp. 1-10.) The act requires complainants to “clearly describe the challenged action of the legislative body and nature of the alleged violation.” A demand to “cure or correct the action alleged to have been taken in violation of [the open meeting requirement]” must be stated.

MTC’s cure-and-correct demand includes a request that the City Council “direct the City Manager, the City Attorney and all subordinate staff and consultants to forthwith suspend all Parkland Swap-related work, including all negotiations with the SMMC….” (See attached letter, pp. 10-11.) MTC also requests that all swap-related public records, including emails and text messages, be preserved and made available for public inspection, in compliance with the California Public Records Act.

“The City Council’s offer to give away Charmlee Wilderness Area appeared to deliberately avoid public input from residents and other public stakeholders,” said Lucile Keller, a member of the MTC board of directors. “The council was repeatedly warned that its decision of January 14 failed to comply with state law, and was taken hastily, unsupported by verified fact and objective analysis of the loss, the harms and the public safety risks that attend its offer to give away Charmlee Wilderness Area,” Keller added.

In enacting the Brown Act, the State Legislature declared that the actions of city councils and other local government boards and commissions must “be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.” The Legislature further declared:

“The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”

The law allows the City Council 30 days to cure and correct its violations of the Brown Act and to inform MTC in writing of its decision. Within 15 days of MTC’s receipt of the council’s written notice of a decision to cure and correct, or a decision refusing to cure and correct, MTC has the right to file suit for a judicial determination that the council’s actions giving the Parkland Swap the green light were taken in violation of the Brown Act’s open meeting requirement, and are null and void.