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Councilman backs land-use lawsuit

By Kristin S. Agostoni, Daily Breeze
Posted: 12/12/2009 06:14:41 AM PST

A Redondo Beach citizens group that plans to sue the city for the right to vote on a harbor rezoning plan has stepped up efforts to raise money for the court fight.

In recent weeks, members of the group Building a Better Redondo have put out a call for help on the Web, written letters to newspapers and sponsored a full-page advertisement soliciting donations.

And among those encouraging people to donate is City Councilman Bill Brand, the harbor area representative who won his seat handily in March, not long after the passage of a slow-growth measure that requires a public vote on major land-use changes.

Brand, a strong backer of Measure DD, contends the harbor zoning map approved in spring 2008 requires a citywide vote, despite the fact that it was approved before the slow- growth initiative won at the ballot box in November that year.

He and others argue the zoning - which allows for 400,000 square feet of new development at the harbor - is not in effect because it has yet to be certified by the California Coastal Commission.

The issue came to a head in early October, when the council was discussing the state commission's recommended amendments to the zoning map and Coastal Land Use Plan, which establishes development standards for the area.

Although City Attorney Mike Webb has said the Land Use Plan is subject to a citywide vote, he maintains that the previously approved zoning map is not, based on language within the ordinance and the way Measure DD was written.

In a letter last month to the Daily Breeze, Brand reiterated his contention that the public should have a say on the zoning permitted at the waterfront and urged residents to "set aside a few bucks this holiday season."

"So how are Redondo residents going to get their day at the polls?" he wrote. "By getting their day in court. That's right, we, the citizens are going to have to sue our own city, forcing them to follow the laws we voted to enact."

The councilman's involvement in the fundraising drive is encouraging for his supporters, who believe they've gained a strong voice on the council. Yet others question his dual role as an elected official and activist advocating a lawsuit against the city.

Brand, for one, maintains he just wants to ensure the slow-growth initiative - Measure DD - is followed as he believes it should be.

"When DD passed, a couple of council members said, it's the (city) charter now, and we're going to follow it," Brand said. "And they're not following it. If I have to do this by myself on the council, I will."

Brand's decision to back a lawsuit against the city he represents is not unheard of, but is nonetheless unusual, said Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies.

"It's happened rarely before," Stern said. "It puts him in a very awkward position, obviously."

And while the councilman shouldn't be denied a chance to fight for what he believes in, Stern said, his involvement could pose problems because it limits his presence in closed-

door meetings on the issue. Brand, at the city attorney's recommendation, so far has recused himself from a handful of those special sessions.

Nonetheless, Brand's supporters say they admire the fact that he hasn't backed down on an issue he spoke passionately about while campaigning for office.

Building a Better Redondo member Melanie Cohen, who has been helping with the campaign drive, said she agrees the zoning changes should go to a vote of the people.

Cohen, like other residents in District 2, wants a say in how much and what kind of development should be permitted at the waterfront. She and others argue the zoning map is the critical document that defines what can be built in the future.

With Brand, "What you see is what you get," Cohen said.

"He came to my door when he said he was going to run," she said. "We don't want any large-scale development without this vote....As far as I'm concerned, he's doing the right thing."

Building a Better Redondo President Jim Light said the group feels it has an advocate on the council.

With Brand's help, members have raised $33,500, some of which already has been spent on upfront legal fees. Light said the group has about $19,000 of the $30,000 it needs to file the lawsuit.

Light counted more than 100 donors, and said a new effort is under way to find 2,500 people to pitch in $25 apiece.

Still, others find the councilman's support of a court fight to be contrary to the job he was elected to do.

"Essentially, he's funding a lawsuit against the taxpayers, which are the people he represents," said King Harbor leaseholder Maryann Guthrie. "If it's not illegal, I feel it's an ethical violation."

Guthrie, president of MCL Marina Corp., said she understands Brand is passionate about the harbor zoning map going before the electorate. But she said she doesn't respect the way he's going about it and doesn't believe Brand represents everyone in his district.

"We deserve better," she said. "What we deserve is a councilman who listens to both sides."

Much of the debate over zoning has focused on the future of the aging Redondo Beach Marina leasehold, which Decron Properties purchased in 2008. Decron previously mentioned plans on its Web site for a $100million overhaul that included new restaurant, retail and office space.

But Decron President and CEO David Nagel said the company took that "working draft" offline because community members misinterpreted it. He said he is surprised by both the community's reaction to the revised zoning - which reduces the amount of development permitted compared with the now-defunct Heart of the City blueprint - as well as Brand's support of a lawsuit against the city.

"It's shocking to me," Nagel said. "It's just shocking that he'd do it."

Councilman Steve Aspel, who sits next to Brand on the dais, also criticized his approach. And Aspel said he's surprised to hear residents' objections to the 400,000 square feet of new development permitted under the harbor zoning plan, which some members of Building a Better Redondo praised as a compromise when it was approved.

An earlier recommendation from the city's planning panel suggested an extra 557,000 feet of public and private amenities for the harbor.

"I think it's just ridiculous," Aspel said of the potential lawsuit. "Right now, I see him being ineffective up there (on the dais) because he's not going to get support from other council members....Governing is different from campaigning."

Brand, though, maintains that an election would be the most effective way of hearing what residents think of the council's rezoning plan.

"That's what the people want," Brand said. "It's just a vote, ultimately."

Some Web Comments to this article:

Bravo Bill Brand!

Nothing Brand is doing should come as any surprise to anyone -- except perhaps the fact that he is one of a rapidly dying breed: elected officials who actually do what they promise, and stick to the campaign agenda that got them elected.

We need more Bill Brands in all levels of government -- but the only way that's likely to happen is if we all get firmly behind the one we have.

Let your support of Bill Brand be heard loud and clear, and send his fellow Councilmembers the message that their refusal to properly represent their constituencies will no longer be tolerated!

A contribution to Build a Better Redondo makes an *infinitely* better Christmas gift than <yawn> just another department store item (that will likely only get returned)! ;-)

Attaboy Bill
Torrance, CA


No man in the wrong can stand up to a man in the right who keeps coming on.-Texas Rangers motto.
Thank God
Los Angeles, CA


It's about time that a city councilman in Redondo isn't a real estate developer. We've been sodomized for years by the city council, beginning with the Heartburn of the City where the council spent MILLIONS brining in consultants to override the will of the people. During Heartburn of the City, I personally went to the EIR meetings and had consultants tell me my positions were wrong and that it didn't matter anyway because the city was going to do whatever it wanted.

And let's not forget the city pissing away $100K on a vote recount because the sitting councilmen "lost" on an initiative.

I'm cautiously optimistic that someone finally has our best interest at heart, and not that of real estate developers.

We'll see, time will tell.
North Redondo Resident


I didn't move here (Artesia & Aviation) to see time shares built up on our beach. Nor can I deal with more traffic than what we already have.

The city must be afraid of the people's wishes and desires. They must know we would not support this plan. Otherwise, why wouldn't they just let the vote happen?
Donate to the Cause
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NOW is the time to help with a great local cause. Finally the citizens have a way to effectively be heard on big development, instead of crossing their fingers on a candidate who says he's for 'controlled growth.'

Send in a little, $25, and be part of history....
Building a Better Redondo
602 South Broadway Unit B
Redondo Beach, CA 90277
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