Private neighborhoods in Malibu may soon become just a little bit more private.

That’s following a unanimous city council decision on Monday, Sept. 23, asking city staff to loosen rules around how neighborhoods erect privacy gates.

Currently, according to existing code, only a “legally formed HOA” (homeowners’ association) may request permission to construct gates at the entrances to private neighborhoods, but the 5-0 decision will allow an “authorized HOA or Road Association” to request placement of an entrance gate, provided 80 percent of property owners in the neighborhood approve of the move. The language also specifies such gates and associated guard booths “shall not preclude access that is legally required,” an addition suggested by City Attorney Christi Hogin.

The measure will serve to permit some of Malibu’s neighborhoods with private roads (but that do not have established HOAs) to erect gates where they were otherwise not legally permitted—a hot-button issue in Malibu where neighborhoods are raising alarm bells over private neighborhoods being opened up to public access. 

An organized group of nearly 20 supporters of the code change spoke before council, or threw their support behind speakers, on Monday night, describing the need for gates, specifically the one currently in place in the Sycamore Park neighborhood. 

That’s where the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) purchased a plot of land to create a public access point, enabling members of the public—some speakers stated, from around the globe—to visit and gain access to an MRCA trail. When Sycamore Park constructed an entrance gate and guard booth, some residents in the neighborhood—part of the road association—began to receive notices of fines levied against them, as well as legal action from the MRCA’s legal team.

One member of that legal team, Oscar Victoria, spoke to council to urge them not to oppose the measure. According to Victoria, staff counsel for the MRCA, the authority has requested to join the road association but was met with silence.

“The MRCA has repeatedly requested to join the organization that is requesting for the gate to be instituted—with no response. So, the MRCA has no means to appeal, state its opinion, request records—there’s not even a board of directors that we can contact to voice our opposition to what they’re trying to do,” Victoria described. “So essentially, if the city accepts its proposed ordinance, it’s essentially saying that none of this matters. That the people can do whatever they want, they can affect any individual property owners that they don’t like, however they want, so long as they don’t indemnify the city and they maintain the gate. We think that position is untenable and it runs directly against the fiduciary duty of impartiality that the city council is supposed to represent.”

To that, Council Member Rick Mullen replied later in the meeting, that levying a fine of $15,000 per day to homeowners in Sycamore Park, “seems a little un-neighborly.” 

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