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City Council Authorizes Appeal of CEPC/Harbison Case

City Council authorizes appeal of judgment in lawsuit: Citizens for Enforcement of Parkland Covenants, John Harbison v. City of Palos Verdes Estates, et al

Post Date:11/17/2015 1:45 PM

On November 10, the City Council unanimously approved joining in the appeal of the September judgement by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge regarding a lawsuit filed by John Harbison and an unincorporated organization called the Citizens for Enforcement of Parkland Covenants and against the City of Palos Verdes Estates, the Palos Verdes Homes Association and the owners of property at 900 Via Panorama.

The lawsuit challenged a 2012 settlement agreement among the City, the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District, the Palos Verdes Homes Association and the property owners. The agreement, among other things, preserved more parklands for the City. For further background on the benefits of the agreement, click here.

The appeal is based exclusively on the Council’s determination that the judgment is not in the best interest of the City’s residents.

The Council based its decision to appeal on two key aspects of the judgment:

Protecting residents’ rights. If left unchallenged, the effect of the judgment would be to confer special enforcement authority over City parklands and open space to Mr. Harbison and a private group. Though all the claims in the lawsuit related to a single parcel, the judgment goes beyond the relief sought by the plaintiffs and applies to all “similarly situated property owned by the City,” conferring on the plaintiffs the right to appear in court on 24-hours’ notice to force the City to remove immediately any “structure, vegetation, or object” encroaching on City parklands. No other private citizens have this discretionary right. This enforcement authority is a role properly reserved for City government, guided by common sense, fiscal responsibility, fairness and, importantly, community accountability and transparency.
Cost to taxpayers. As the judgment now stands, the City would be returning to court and paying legal fees each and every time Mr. Harbison and the private group utilized the powers granted in this court judgment. The costs for these multiple court appearances could be substantial. In addition, the judgment could impose on the City the cost of removing any and all encroaching structures, vegetation or objects in parklands. Under normal City enforcement procedures, these costs and actions would typically be borne and facilitated by the violator. This is not an abstract concern given that the plaintiffs have identified more than 80 such “structures, vegetation, or objects” throughout the City that they could seek to have removed at taxpayer expense.

The City has been and will continue to be fully committed to the preservation and protection of Palos Verdes Estates parklands and open space. Recent examples include these:
• Under the settlement agreement, the City acquired two additional parklands parcels (Lots C&D);
• The Bluff Cove properties have been demolished, leaving additional public park space;
• The City Council accepted a preservation easement for open space adjacent to the Malaga Cove School;
• Under the agreement, City Council retrained an open space easement over the Via Panorama parcel;
• The City successfully implemented a program to cause removal of encroachments along its border with Torrance, and;
• The City Council appropriated more funds to hire a Code Enforcement Officer to increase enforcement efforts for encroachments and code violations.

Enforcement and management of our parklands and open space begin with the open system of local government. On the behalf of all residents, we now look to an appellate court to protect our proven system of local control, due process and open decision-making, as well as to prevent potentially escalating and significant legal fees.

All relevant documents associated with this matter can be found on our website. We will continue to provide updates and look forward to maintaining communications with our residents on this important item.

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