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Robings v. Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy

September 23, 2010


APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. Richard B. Wolfe, Judge. Affirmed. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. LC077488).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chaney, J.


Plaintiffs and appellants Herbert Robings, Rick Mullen, Ken Nilsen, the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association, and the Ramirez Canyon Preservation Fund (appellants) appeal from the final Amended Judgment of the Superior Court entered May 26, 2009, denying plaintiffs' challenge to certain acts of defendants Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, and the respective governing boards of those entities. We find no error and affirm.


The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Act (the Conservancy Act) became effective as of 1980 and was later amended. (Pub. Resources Code, § 33000 et seq.) The Conservancy Act designated the Santa Monica Mountains Zone, finding it to be "the last large, undeveloped area contiguous to the shoreline within the greater Los Angeles metropolitan region, comprised of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties," and declaring it to be "a unique and valuable economic, environmental, agricultural, scientific, educational, and recreational resource that should be held in trust for present and future generations . . . ." (Pub. Resources Code, § 33001.)

In the Conservancy Act the Legislature found problems existing with respect to the zone that it identified as beyond the ability of local government to effectively address. (Pub. Resources Code, § 33008.) To deal with these problems, the Conservancy Act created the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (the Conservancy) as a single governmental agency with responsibility for implementing a mandate to protect and preserve the Santa Monica Mountains Zone and to promote recreational, open space, park, and conservation purposes through the acquisition, development, and management of properties and awarding of grants to other governmental and nonprofit agencies with similar goals. (Pub. Resources Code, § 33200, subd. (a); City of Malibu v. Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (2002) 98 Cal.App.4th 1379, 1381.)

The Conservancy Act empowers the Conservancy to receive grants "from any source" in order to carry out its purposes and objectives. (Pub. Resources Code, §§ 33202, 33211, subd. (c).) It authorizes the Conservancy to award grants to governmental and certain non-governmental agencies in order to fund acquisition of sites for park, recreation, and related conservation purposes (Pub. Resources Code, § 33204, subds. (a), (c)); in order to restore areas that are adversely affecting or impeding orderly development, including the acquisition of property rights and interests in order to create buffer zones needed to control the character and intensity of development in the area (Pub. Resources Code, § 33204, subd. (b)); to fund programs specified in the Conservancy Act (Pub. Resources Code, § 33204, subd. (a)); to enter into agreements with local districts for the expenditure of the district's funds consistent with open-space purposes (Pub. Resources Code, § 33207.7); and generally to take whatever other measures are necessary for purposes consistent with the Act (Pub. Resources Code, §33211, subd. (c)). And it authorizes grants to local agencies "to carry out improvements, maintenance, acquisitions, or educational interpretation programs that directly relate to a project that [the Conservancy] is otherwise authorized to undertake . . . ." (Pub. Resources Code, §§ 33204.2, subd. (a); 33204.27, subd. (a).)

The Conservancy is authorized to coordinate and contract with the Department of Parks with respect to the recreation potential for any property acquisition. (Pub. Resources Code, § 33203.) And it is specifically empowered to enter into interagency agreements with resource conservation agencies in order to carry out its purposes and objectives. (Ibid.)

Proposition 50

In November 2002, the voters of California approved Proposition 50--the Water Security, Clean Drinking Water, Coastal and Beach Protection Act of 2002. (Wat. Code, § 79500 et seq.) Proposition 50 made $200 million available for appropriation by the Legislature for the protection of coastal watersheds, including the acquisition, protection, and restoration of land and water resources, and to cover associated planning, permitting, and administrative costs necessary to implement these objectives. (Wat. Code, § 79570.) Of these funds, $20 million was designated for expenditures by the Conservancy for the protection of the Santa Monica Bay and Ventura County coastal watersheds pursuant to the Conservancy Act. (Wat. Code § 79570, subd. (c).) Of that allocation, 10%--$2 million--was earmarked for grants "for the acquisition and development of facilities to promote public access to and participation in the conservation of land, water, and wildlife resources," specifically including training and research facilities for watershed protection and conservation activities, and nature centers that provide public access to outdoor experiences and conservation education. (Wat. Code, § 79571.)

The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority

In November 2004, the Conservancy entered into an agreement with the Conejo Recreation and Park District, joined soon afterward by the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District, to create the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (the Conservation Authority) under the Joint Exercise of Powers Act, Government Code section 6500 et seq. The agreement's express purpose was to "establish as a local agency . . . a legal entity separate from the parties to acquire, develop, and conserve additional park and open space lands . . . ." An additional stated purpose was to provide for financing, maintenance, servicing, and operations of capital acquisitions and improvements.

The Conservation Authority's governing board has four members, including a representative from the Conservancy and from each of the two member districts, and one at-large member. The agreement designates the Executive Director of the Conservancy to serve as the Conservation Authority's Executive Director, and the Conservancy's staff counsel to act as the Conservation Authority's acting counsel, until otherwise determined by the Conservation Authority's governing board. Under the joint powers agreement, the Conservation Authority is to carry out those purposes, furthering the work of public and private environmental agencies, "by providing the expertise of the [Conservation Authority] and its officers and employees to organizations that have compatible purposes to those of the [Conservation Authority]."

The Conservancy's Grant of Proposition 50 Funds to the Conservation Authority

In February 2006, the Conservancy passed Resolution No. 06-18, approving a $200,000 grant to the Conservation Authority pursuant to its statutory mandate to "[a]ward grants to state agencies, cities, counties, resource conservation districts, and park and recreation districts for the purpose of acquiring sites identified as necessary for park, recreation, or conservation purposes and for development of essential related public facilities." (Pub. Resources Code, ยง 33204, subd. (c).) On August 28, 2006, the Conservancy approved Resolution 06-66, amending the earlier grant in various respects and expanding it to $585,000. And on November 20, 2006, the Conservancy approved Resolution 06-84, further amending and modifying the grant pursuant to its statutory authority to protect coastal watersheds, including "acquisition, protection, and restoration of land and water resources and associated planning, permitting, and administrative ...

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