A Malibu developer has joined county officials in asking a judge to dismiss a lawsuit by Malibu cityhood backers who want to force the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to set an April cityhood election in the seaside community.
An attorney for the Adamson Companies told Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs last week that if Malibu incorporates before the county installs a regional sewer system there, it could wreck the firm's plans to develop a $60-million seaside hotel.
"We need the sewer system in order to proceed," attorney Thomas K. Houston said. "If some future city government should succeed in opposing it, we would face the prospect of having to start all over."
Cityhood supporters, many of whom have long regarded the county's sewer plans as a recipe for extensive development, have sued the supervisors in a bid to force them to set an April 10 election to let voters decide on incorporation.
The incorporation advocates have accused the supervisors of violating a state law that allows them 60 days from when they began hearing the cityhood matter to conclude the hearing as a final step before setting an election. Although the supervisors began hearing the matter Oct. 19, they voted 4 to 1 last month to indefinitely postpone a decision on incorporation until construction permits are issued for the sewer system.
The lawsuit asks the judge to force the supervisors to finish the hearing, which would clear the way for the supervisors to set an election.
Judge Janavs indicated that she may rule on the matter this week.
A lawyer for the Malibu Township Council, one of two pro-cityhood groups filing the lawsuit, called the Adamson Companies' intervention on the county's behalf "inappropriate."
"It's interesting that they've come out of the shadows and made an open declaration that they're carrying the ball for development interests in Malibu," attorney John B. Murdock said. "But we think it's inappropriate for a corporation to attempt to block the setting of an election that affects registered voters."
In a related development last week, a Malibu real estate broker took a different approach in opposing cityhood backers. A lawyer for John Corrodi asked Janavs to prohibit the supervisors from setting an election until there are reasonable assurances that the sewer system will be built.
"My client's interest is in seeing that the sewer system goes forward," attorney Dan Corey said. "His is not an opposition to cityhood per se."
As proposed, the 20-square-mile city would stretch from Topanga Canyon to Leo Carrillo State Beach along Pacific Coast Highway and nearly one mile inland.
In approving a bid by Malibu residents to vote on cityhood, the Local Agency Formation Commission in May stipulated that the county be allowed to retain control over the sewer system for up to 10 years after incorporation.
However, county officials, fearing that a newly elected Malibu government would mount a legal challenge to that provision, want to make sure that a sewer they consider adequate is under way before Malibu residents vote on cityhood.
Last month, the state Coastal Commission approved a sewer plan that opponents said would result in a sewer system 25% to 40% smaller than what the county had insisted upon. But county officials have said it could take a year before the commission approved the construction permits.
The Adamson Companies received approval from the county and the Coastal Commission four years ago to build a three-story luxury hotel on 28 acres in the civic center area of Malibu, but the approval was predicated on construction of the sewer system.
Despite the commission's scaling back of the county's original sewer plan, the firm has said that its hotel plans can still be accommodated by a smaller system.
However, under terms of its approval, if the project is not built within five years, it is subject to a new round of approvals from both the county and the Coastal Commission, and the firm is concerned that, in the event of cityhood, the chances of approval a second time could be reduced.
Both lawyers for cityhood supporters and the county expressed optimism about the suit's outcome.
"We think the facts and the legal arguments are on our side," Assistant County Counsel Bill Pellman said. "We see it as a question of looking out for the interests of the entire county or a minority of people in Malibu who have been extremely vocal."
BACKGROUND The pro-growth majority on the Board of Supervisors has resisted Malibu incorporation efforts for years, and now insists that an extensive sewer system be approved before a cityhood election can take place. Many Malibu residents believe that the sewer system would simply open up the coastline to extensive development, and regard incorporation as the most effective way to limit growth.