Highlands Eldercare Facility Process Disputed
By SUE PASCOE
Opponents of the proposed four-story, 64,646-sq.-ft eldercare facility in the Palisades Highlands, which received a Coastal Development Permit from the City of L.A. in April, appealed that decision to the California Coastal Commission.
On July 11, at its monthly meeting in Santa Cruz, the Coastal Commission agreed with the City, letting the decision stand.
However, a group of Palisades residents felt that the process leading up to the Commission’s decision was not fair, starting with improper notification of the Santa Cruz meeting.
On Monday, June 25, the CCC staff mailed empty envelopes to appellants. There were about 170 appellants, split into three groups: 1. Pacific Palisades Residents Association; 2. Attorney Robert Flick and; 3. Attorney Jonathon Klar and his wife Maria.
According to the CCC’s website, when staff realized the mistake, new envelopes were mailed out, this time with the notice about the July 11 meeting.
On July 8, Flick sent the following email to CCC staff: “I received from the CCC an unsealed empty envelope. No notice was enclosed or otherwise provided.
“Based upon my empty envelope, adequate notice of a hearing was not furnished to me with respect to my appeal.
“I again request that any pending hearing be postponed until such time as proper notice is provided.”
In a follow-up July 9 email, Flick wrote, “I just heard from another appellant that a CCC hearing will occur on this matter this coming Wednesday, July 11. I am a separate, independent appellant and would have appreciated hearing the information directly from you.
“Of course, I strenuously object to the hearing going forward this week. I did not receive adequate notice and cannot attend the hearing. I am shocked that the Commission would allow the hearing to proceed based on the staff’s incredibly shabby and deficient job of notifying interested parties. This is a shameful denial of due process.”
On July 10, Klar also wrote an email to the Commission: “Please take notice that we join in the demands of all other 170+ appellants in this case that the July 11 hearing be continued to the next available meeting of the Commission following the proper re-noticing of the hearing and publication of all required documents filed or considered in this matter by the Commission.
“Going forward would not only violate the Commission’s own rules and procedures but would violate the fundamental rights of all appellants to due process and equal protection guaranteed by the United States and California Constitutions.”
Resident and appellant Marc Jackson called the CCC on July 6 and told staff that not all appellants had received a notice. At least 20 other appellants also sent emails to the Commission stating that fact.
The CCC staff admitted that they made an initial error with regard to noticing, but that a subsequent notice “had gone out well before the July 2 deadline.”
Appellants wanted to know why the appeal hearing could not be postponed to August, when the meeting will be held in Redondo Beach?
The law states that the Coastal Commission must hold a hearing within 49 working-days after the appeal is filed. Rony Shram, the eldercare facility applicant, could have waived the 49-day period, but chose not to, according to the CCC.
Staff told commissioners: “Regardless, appellants who have raised noticing issues are fully aware that the hearing would be scheduled for the Commission’s July hearing, and have previously indicated their issues with the project as part of their submitted grounds for appeal which were fully addressed in the staff report. Thus, the hearing on this item has been adequately noticed and the views of all appellants have been provided to the Commission.”
Two of the appellants, Flick and Klar, were not able to make the meeting at Santa Cruz because of lack of noticing, and an appeal most likely will be filed.
At the hearing for the 82-room facility (59 for assisted living care and 23 for Alzheimer’s/dementia), none of the commissioners questioned the City’s traffic and parking report, which approved plans for only 66 parking spaces.
PPRA President Sarah Conner pointed out that since this would be a “luxury” facility, parking spaces for doctors, additional caregivers, cooks, janitors and visitors should have been factored in—that to allow overflow parking on the street would take away parking space that is currently used for the two parks and hiking trails adjacent to the facility: Topanga State Park and Santa Ynez Park.
The Coastal Act was passed to ensure that the public has access, not only to the coast/beach, but also to park lands. Conner said that people think that since the Highlands is 2.5 miles from the beach, the Coastal Act does not apply.
“It does, because of public access,” she said, noting that the CCC staff report failed to address the access/parking to the trails and they also discounted the view of the building from the trails.
“Why didn’t they [CCC] require the project to put up story poles,” Conner said in an interview. “Then we could see if the view was impacted. The public has a right to walk on a trail and not see a 45-foot building.”
Appellants did not understand why the City’s report was not analyzed from a Coastal Law perspective. “They accepted the City’s recommendations without question,” Conner said.
Klar wrote in comments to the CCC, “This is the very reason for the Coastal Appeal — to avoid a rubber stamping of the APC (area planning commission) decision by requiring the appellants to prove a substantial abuse of discretion. The No Substantial Issue determination was intended only to weed out frivolous appeals, which ours clearly was not.”
At the hearing, the group of appellants received five minutes total to state their case and the applicant also received five minutes.
Commissioners Steve Padilla, Ryan Sundberg, Robert Uranga and Mary Luevano all reported ex-parte communications.
Luevano noted she received a text from Councilman Mike Bonin on Monday, July 9 around 2:30 p.m. “He just wanted to let me know he is in favor of the project and most people in the community are in favor of it and that we need it.”
An Our Change.org petition was sent to Bonin on April 13, with more than 1,300 signatures on the PPRA petition opposing the project.
I twice asked Bonin how many people had contacted him in support of the project, first by email on July 15 and then in person on July 21, when he was on a hike here in the Palisades. He said he would let this reporter know.
Additionally, on July 19, a story in the San Luis Obispo newspaper The Tribune (“Pismo Councilman Erik Howell Fined for Transparency Violations”) reported that “Coastal Commissioner Erik Howell was one of five current and former commissioners fined in a judge’s ruling last month for violations of transparency rules.
“San Diego County Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor’s decision to fine Howell $3,500 on July 12 comes after a two-year battle over a lawsuit filed by Spotlight on Coastal Corruption (SOCC).
“SOCC, a nonprofit organization formed to protect the California coast, filed the lawsuit August 2016, against Commissioners Howell, Martha McClure, Wendy Mitchell, Mark Vargas and Steve Kinsey.
“The lawsuit charged that Howell violated Public Resources Code requirements at least 96 times, Kinsey 140 times, McClure 82 times, Mitchell 120 times and Vargas 150 times. In the end, the commissioners had to pay $3,500, $30,300, $2,600, $7,100 and $13,000, respectively. (Howell and Varga still serve on the CCC.)
“The judge in his decision questioned the Coastal Commission’s makeup, saying it’s ‘clear to the court that Legislature needs to consider the current and future viability of the Commission as it is presently constituted. Specifically, the court sincerely questions whether the mandates of the Coastal Act — the protection of natural resources with due respect for property rights — can be efficiently carried out with transparency and participatory openness using a part-time unpaid volunteer board that meets three days a month.’”