Quote of the Day - The future, according to some scientists, will be exactly like the past, only far more expensive.
If you're a developer, this case reads like a nightmare. If you're an activist that wants to pull up the plank and stop anyone else from moving to California, you will likely take heart in the factual description in the beginning of the case. Certainly after reading the factual description, no one has any right to wonder about high housing prices in California. The case gives a solid blueprint why.
The property in the hills of Malibu has been in the development process for the last 20 years. Think about it. That was when Mikhail Gorbachev (link has sound) was the leader of the Soviet Union - while it was still known as the U.S.S.R. New Coke was released that year and immediately flopped. And if you're still unsure about how long ago that was, Keira Knightley was born and Yul Brenner died.
About twenty years before that, a developer friend of mine tells me, he wanted to build his house and get approvals from the City. He sketched his plans out on Saturday, walked into a local California planning department on Monday at 9:00 a.m., had his plans stamped approved by 9:30 a.m. and was pouring a foundation (which vests development rights in California) by 1:00 p.m. later that same afternoon. Hard to believe.
But back to our story. Trancas wanted to build some homes on its 35-acre parcel in Malibu and had been engaged in litigation over the approvals in and out of appellate courts and trial courts for the time it took Ms. Knightley to become a Pirate in the Caribbean (flash animation). Finally, when it looked like it would never end, the developer sought and obtained an agreement with the City of Malibu approving its development, only to be sued by neighboring property owners. They complained that the deal was cut behind closed doors in violation of the Brown Act, and that the City gave away its legislative power by agreeing not to have future zoning apply to the development.
Don't think it was a complete sweetheart deal for the developer, who agreed to dedicate 26.5 of its 35-acre parcel to the City for open space.
Even so, what led up to that agreement apparently pushed the appellate court over the edge, who agreed with the property owners and scuttled the development once more. The Court said that the City could do neither of those things - meet and agree behind closed doors or give up future legislative power.
Where does that leave the Trancas, the developer? Starting over. Despite the setback, the Court tried to throw a bone to the parties at the end of its opinion by saying, "Our conclusion that the [agreement] is invalid as presently cast should not be taken as disparaging either the values favoring settlement of disputes or in this case particularly, the public benefit that the city sought to reap through dedication of the larger Trancas tract."
In other words, we like the deal, we just don't like how you got there. There's got to be a better way that satisfies both the procedural requirements the Court wants to see followed and realizes the benefit of a large parcel of land dedicated to the City. Any suggestions?