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Malibu Zoning Decision May Impact UC-City Deal By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Friday October 07, 2005

A recent California Appellate Court decision involving a City of Malibu zoning dispute could have a legal impact on litigation filed against Berkeley’s recent negotiated settlement with the University of California over the university’s Long Range Development Plan (LRDP). 

In the case Trancas Property Owners Association v. City of Malibu, the three-judge appellate panel reversed a Los Angeles County trial court’s ruling in favor of an agreement between Malibu and a private developer. The appellate judges said the agreement was invalid “because it impermissibly attempted to abrogate the city’s zoning authority and provisions.” 

Last month, four Berkeley citizens filed a lawsuit in Superior Court in Alameda County seeking to overturn the City of Berkeley-UC Berkeley LRDP negotiated settlement on similar grounds. The lawsuit was filed by Berkeley activists Carl Friberg, Anne Wagley, Jim Sharp, and Dean Metzger. 

The similarities between the Malibu and the Berkeley-UC Berkeley LRDP lawsuits are striking. Besides the fact that both involve allegations that the respective cities improperly gave away zoning authority to outside parties, both the cases also involve the settlement of lawsuits (in Malibu, the developer was suing the city while in Berkeley, the city was suing the university) in which the city councils made their decisions in closed session. 

In the Malibu case, the appellate judges ruled that “adoption of the agreement in a closed session council session violated the Ralph M. Brown [Open Government] Act ... even though the agreement included a settlement of litigation.” 

The Superior Court in the Berkeley citizen lawsuit would be required to follow the Malibu precedent unless there is a contradictory ruling from another appellate court in California or unless the California State Supreme Court rules otherwise. 

The roots of the Berkeley citizen lawsuit go back to last February, when Berkeley filed its own lawsuit against the university in state court, charging that the university’s Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) violated state law and would sanction a university building boom inside of Berkeley. 

Last May, after a series of private negotiations between city and university representatives over the university’s LRDP, the Berkeley City Council voted in closed session to approve an agreement with the university that called for, in part, the city’s dropping of its lawsuit. 

The terms of the settlement agreement were not released to the public before City Council’s vote and were only released after the university approved the agreement several days following the City Council vote. 


See Antonio Rossman’s analysis of the connection between the Malibu decision and Berkeley’s settlement with UC regarding the university’s Long Range Development Plan, Page Seven.