The City of Santa Monica has just received the legal bill for the gigantic lawsuit it lost when it resisted breaking up the city council into separate, distinct council districts. Currently, all city council members are elected citywide and the plaintiff lawyers maintained that this process effectively disenfranchised thousands of Latino voters in Santa Monica. The plaintiffs filed suit and after three years of very contentious litigation, with the City of Santa Monica represented by the venerable and capable law firm of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher and the plaintiffs represented by several attorneys with lead counsel Kevin Shenkman, won and the city of Santa Monica lost.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys have just submitted their bill for attorneys fees and costs, as is permitted in this kind of a lawsuit, and they are asking for $22 million in attorney fees and $1 million in reimbursement for out-of-pocket costs that have already been expended. The plaintiffs’ attorneys estimate that the city spent $13-$20 million in defending the case, but the city hasn’t yet released those numbers. The city has, of course, appealed.
The reason I’m bringing this up is to illustrate what happens when a city gets stupid and does something that effects a large number of its citizens without giving it much thought. In Santa Monica’s case, all the council wanted to do was to protect their own council jobs and they were willing to chance spending millions of public money to do just that.
Malibu is embarking on a similar perilous mission in the name of stopping large homes from being built and blocking changes to individual neighborhoods. Whatever they come up with in this ill thought out adventure is guaranteed to cost many homeowners a significant portion of the value of their homes so you have to ask yourself the following question: Is it worth $250,000 to you to keep your neighborhood exactly as it is now? How about $500,000, or perhaps how about $1 million? These are the kinds of amounts you will lose in the value of your homes when the council downzones all of us.
They presently have the votes to do it. It was a 4-to-1 vote, with only Karen Farrer voting “no” that set this all in motion. No matter what they come up with, it is guaranteed to end up in court and there is no such thing as a cheap lawsuit anymore. In Santa Monica, the plaintiffs spent $1 million in expenses alone, which means expenditures out-of-pocket for expert witnesses to testify, travel costs, reporters’ bills for depositions and to copy records, etc.
This lawsuit will be every bit as expensive and every bit as futile. In the Santa Monica case, the plaintiffs billed a total of 8,400 hours over three years. As an example, I don’t know what the City of Malibu spent on the Measure R ballot proposition (to try and stop the Park project with the Whole Foods Market) and the subsequent lawsuits, but I suspect it was very large. I remember being reassured by many proponents of Measure R that it was perfectly legal and the city could vote to not allow the Whole Foods shopping center to be built. After a long and expensive legal fight, the City of Malibu lost, as many sensible lawyers had predicted, and the center was built. I went to the opening the other day and saw people who swore they would never go there buying a takeout lunch. I remember people saying if they built the center, it would be the end of the Malibu world as we know it.
Well, it’s not the end of the world nor is it the end of Malibu as we know it. It’s just a nicely designed new shopping center with a market in it and a bunch of small-sized space for local stores. All that hype was just that-hype!
I’m not suggesting there be a lawsuit in Malibu because we have a disenfranchised local Latino population, but the idea of breaking the council into districts and electing people from different parts of Malibu may not be a bad idea. After all, Malibu is a city that’s 21 miles long and about 1-2 miles deep. Some parts of our city are relatively urban, some very rural and we all have very different sets of problems. It’s clear that the council has a mindset that seems to be considering parts of Malibu and ignoring other parts. Perhaps one size doesn’t fit all and we should have districts. It’s something to think about.