The Board of Supervisors, without realizing that the county is listed as a defendant in a lawsuit challenging the jurisdiction of the California Coastal Commission, agreed last week that it would become a plaintiff in the suit.
Although the county cannot become a plaintiff now that it is a defendant, the mix-up should not prevent the supervisors from helping Quaker Corp. and Michael T. Ghosn win the suit against the Coastal Commission, said Joseph Gughemetti, their attorney.
When the county "concedes that the plaintiffs are right in this issue, whether they are technically plaintiffs or defendants really wouldn't matter," said Gughemetti, who added that he is looking forward to the county's technical assistance in the litigation.
The lawsuit, filed in September, involves 432 acres near the intersection of Mulholland Highway and Las Virgenes Road owned by the Quaker Corp. and Ghosn.
The property owners have for many years sought permission from the commission, which historically has protected thousands of acres of coastal area, to develop the land.
The plaintiffs are seeking to scale back the commission's five-mile-wide Malibu coastal zone, which environmentalists predict could trigger widespread development of the hills and canyons.
The plaintiffs and the county insist that the commission's jurisdictional boundaries were drawn too far inward and seek to reduce the zone by 6,000 parcels.
The supervisors voted 4 to 0 to enter the litigation. Supervisor Kenneth Hahn was absent.
When they voted, however, the supervisors were unaware that the plaintiffs' attorney had this week named the county as a defendant in the suit. Bill Pellman, a senior assistant county attorney, said late Tuesday that no official notification had been received that the county is a defendant.
At Supervisor Mike Antonovich's request, the board on June 30 instructed the county counsel to explore whether it would be feasible for the county to join the plaintiffs in the planned litigation.
Gughemetti had warned the board that, if it did not become a plaintiff, it would be named in the suit because it approved the Malibu land-use plan that relied upon the disputed coastal-zone boundary.
"The coastal act provides that the coastal zone shall be limited to the first major ridge line or five miles inland from the ocean, whichever is less," Antonovich said at the meeting Tuesday.
"The current boundaries include areas well beyond this limit that clearly have no coastal significance. A lawsuit has been filed challenging these boundaries, and I believe we should assist the plaintiffs in this effort," Antonovich said.
County Counsel DeWitt W. Clinton said the county will ask the court for permission to submit a legal analysis, maintaining that the commission used improper criteria in drawing maps outlining the coastal zone.
Coastal commissioners say the boundaries always have been a favorite target for developers who dislike the commission's building restrictions.