The City of Malibu can regulate the use of land owned by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, the Second District Court of Appeal has ruled.
Although state agencies are typically exempt from local land use control, the court determined the state law that created the Conservancy keeps in tact the local police power.
At issue is the use of a 22-acre ranch that Barbara Streisand donated to the Conservancy in 1993. The residentially zoned property on Ramirez Canyon Road in the City of Malibu contains five houses. The ranch has become the headquarters of the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority and serves the site of many revenue-raising events for the Conservancy, such as weddings, bar mitzvahs, and conferences.
In 1999, the city filed a lawsuit seeking a declaration that the Conservancy was not immune from local regulation. The city also sought an injunction against commercial use of the property until an alleged violation of the California Coastal Act — alteration of a streambed on the property — was resolved.
Ventura County Superior Court Judge Kent Kellegrew ruled for the Conservancy. Judge Kellegrew based his decision on Government Code § 53090 and § 53091. Those sections say that a "local agency" must comply with city and county building and zoning ordinances. And they define local agency as "an agency of the state for the local performance of governmental or proprietary function within limited boundaries." Kellegrew ruled that the Conservancy was not a local agency.
The appellate court ignored the Government Code sections and instead looked to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Act (Public Resources Code §§ 33000-33215). The court cited § 33008, which states in part, "[I]t is necessary to enact the provisions of this division as a complement to the full exercise of the police power of local governments. … Nothing in this division shall supercede or limit a local government's exercise of the police power derived from any other provision of existing law or any law hereafter enacted."
The Conservancy argued that the act — which cites substandard lots, incompatible uses and other land use problems — was intended to divest cities and counties of their land use control because piecemeal planning contributed to the problems. The Conservancy argued that the act's use of the word "complement" was intended to "encourage teamwork" among local governments and the Conservancy.
But the court read the statute differently. "Use of the word ‘complement' with ‘full exercise of the police power' indicates a legislative intent to augment and enhance the City's ability to regulate Conservancy property rather than to restrict this power in any way," Presiding Justice Arthur Gilbert wrote for the Second District, Division Six. "The Conservancy's interpretation of § 33008 ignores a significant portion of the statute."
In a modification to the original opinion, the court pointed to the act's legislative history as further support for the court's interpretation. "As just one example, the floor statement by the Act's legislative sponsor, then-Assemblyman Howard Berman, states that the proposed statute would ‘not … damage home rule in land use matters in the Santa Monica Mountains,'" Gilbert wrote. Berman went to say the act contained "no limitation on local jurisdictions' police powers."
The Conservancy presented other arguments — that the city's ability to regulate land use would render the Conservancy's power illusory, and that the court's reading was in conflict with other parts of the act — but the Second District rejected the contentions.
The court did not decide on the alleged violation of the Coastal Act. The Coastal Commission is reviewing that matter.
City of Malibu v. Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, No. B151606, 02 C.D.O.S. 4165, 2002 DJDAR 5269 and 2002 DJDAR 6664. Filed May 14, 2002. Modified June 13, 2002.
For Malibu: Christi Hogin, city attorney, (310) 939-1636.
For the Conservancy: Robert McMurry, Nossaman, Guthner, Knox & Elliott, (949) 833-7800.
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