In a triumph for Malibu cityhood backers, a judge on Monday ordered Los Angeles County supervisors to set a June 5 incorporation election or risk being cited for contempt. County lawyers said that the supervisors will comply with the order.
"We're not arguing any more. The court has spoken," said Elwood Lui, an attorney representing the county.
Lawyers for incorporation proponents had asked Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs to cite the supervisors for contempt for having failed to obey her earlier order to set the election date by last Friday.
"I think they finally ran out of room to run," said Graham Ritchie, an attorney for the Malibu Committee for Incorporation, referring to county officials.
During the Monday hearing, Janavs ordered that a required incorporation hearing be concluded and that the election be set as the first order of business when the supervisors meet March 29. She also told county officials to give candidates for a five-member City Council until April 2 to file necessary papers with the county registrar.
Showing her displeasure with county officials for failing to obey her previous order, the judge scheduled a hearing April 4 to consider possible contempt citations in the event that supervisors fail to act.
"I assure you that if any deadlines are missed, we will have a special election," the judge said. "I'm not going to play around here."
Jubilant cityhood backers, who have been pushing for an election for more than two years, expressed confidence that nothing else will interfere with the election being held in June.
"I think they (county officials) played it out absolutely as far as they could, and they essentially admitted today that they'd reached their limit," said Walt Keller, co-chairman of the Malibu Committee for Incorporation.
A majority of supervisors have opposed Malibu cityhood for years, insisting that a sewer system--which they say is needed for environmental reasons--be installed there before cityhood takes place. They are afraid that unless the sewer system is under way before cityhood occurs, a new Malibu government will try to block it.
Although the supervisors began an incorporation hearing last Oct. 19, they voted 4 to 1 in November to indefinitely postpone a decision on the matter--thus putting off the hearing's conclusion--until construction permits for the sewer system are issued. The hearing, required by state law so that proponents and opponents can express their views, is the last step before an election can be set.
Many cityhood backers regard the county's sewer plans as a prelude to widespread development. Two pro-cityhood groups filed a lawsuit against the supervisors in December, accusing the county officials of violating a state law that sets a 60-day limit on the duration of a hearing before an election date is set.
In January, Janavs sided with the cityhood supporters in rejecting the county's argument that state law sets guidelines recommending--but not necessarily mandating--the 60-day limit on concluding the hearing. The judge gave the supervisors until March 9 to stop stalling and set the election.
Last month, after the county filed a court appeal of the judge's January ruling, Janavs lifted an automatic stay that would have otherwise prevented her from taking action until the appeals process was completed. The judge again ordered the supervisors to set the election.
However, the supervisors ignored the judge's order, instructing county lawyers to challenge her jurisdiction in the matter in a state appellate court. Last week, the state Court of Appeal refused to hear the county's appeal.