A letter filed Friday by the Malibu Township Council, challenges the Malibu City Council's earlier decision to further negotiate a proposed land swap, based on allegations of Brown Act violations.
The Malibu Township Council (MTC), which functions as a government watchdog at the city, county and state levels, is against the proposed swap, which would allow the city of Malibu to gain ownership of 83 acres of Bluffs Park in exchange for Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC) control over 532 acres at Charmlee Wilderness Park.
The group alleges Mayor Lou La Monte and Mayor Pro Tem Joan House violated the Brown Act by meeting in secret with SMMC Executive Director Joe Edmiston in the lead up to the council's Jan. 14 decision to further explore the swap.
Lucile Keller, a member of the MTC board of directors, said the proposed swap seemed to deliberately avoid public input from residents and others.
"The council was repeatedly warned that its decision of January 14 failed to comply with state law, and was taken hastily, unsupported by verified fact and objective analysis of the loss, the harms and the public safety risks that attend its offer to give away Charmlee Wilderness Area," Keller said in a statement.
In a phone interview with Malibu Patch Sunday, House denied the MTC's allegations that she violated the Brown Act.
"I would be willing to take a lie detector test," House said. "Having respect for process and government is key to my even being there, having been a history teacher."
No Public Input
In the letter, the MTC objected to how the deal was initiated, without any public input. Mayor Pro Tem Joan House said previously that she thought of the idea, mentioned it to Mayor Lou La Monte and then together they brought it to Edmiston at a lunch meeting in early December.
"Many MTC and citizen comments objected to the secrecy the city shrouded the Parkland Swap negotiation in," the letter states.
At a follow-up meeting on Dec. 20, Edmiston's legal team and City Manager Jim Thorsen met to hammer out details, according to an email Edmiston sent out on Dec. 21.
The MTC objects to the meeting, which was undertaken "without any prior action taken by the City Council at a duly noticed council meeting, open to the public and public input."
The group alleges the council violated the Brown Act by holding the meeting in without public knowledge.
"This letter constitutes MTC’s formal demand that the City Council cure and correct all actions it has taken in violation of the Brown Act with respect to the Parkland Swap," the letter states.
Sibert's Knowledge of the Swap
The group also alleges that the initial talks surrounding the land swap involved a majority of the five council members -- La Monte, House and Councilman John Sibert.
The letter points to statements from Sibert at the Jan. 14 meeting that he knew about the proposed swap before Christmas.
The MTC claims that knowledge about the meeting is the same as finding out about the proposed swap and La Monte's and House's position, which they claim is a violation of the Brown Act.
The MTC asks the council to set aside its Jan. 14 direction to city staff to further explore the land swap, direct staff to abandon any further negotiations with the SMMC about the proposed swap and release all text and email messages exchanged between Sibert, House, La Monte and Thorsen about the swap.
According to the letter, the Malibu City Council has 30 days to correct any violations of the Brown Act.
The group says in the letter it has the "right to file suit for a judicial determination that the council’s actions giving the Parkland Swap the green light were taken in violation of the Brown Act’s open meeting requirement, and are null and void."
'They Will Lose This Case'
In an email to Malibu Patch on Friday, Edmiston denied any Brown Act violations.
"At no time have I spoken to a majority of the city council members, either together or individually," Edmiston said.
House said she was disappointed by the letter because city staff have not yet put out a full staff report to weigh the benefits of the swap.
"MTC has sued the city, sued the city, sued the city, and will cause taxpayers money and they will lose this case," House said.
She said she hopes the public waits to hear the full facts of the swap.
"We have said over and over again it is not a done deal. We have not seen the facts," House said.
Sibert and La Monte could not be reached in time for publication.
Allegations about a possible Brown Act violation emerged early on after the Dec. 21 email from Edmiston was leaked to the Malibu press.
In a Jan. 28 meeting, City Attorney Christi Hogin said the council did not violate the Brown Act.
"You have to initiate the discussion. That was the initiation of the discussion," Hogin said about the meeting between House, La Monte and Edmiston.
"This council has not gotten together and discussed it," Hogin said. "... At some point you have to initiate the discussion. At some point you walk home and say 'Honey, I've decided to quit my job.' And that was the initiation of the discussion."
Read the full letter from the Malibu Township Council above.