A multi-agency task force trying to halt illegal development in the Santa Monica Mountains released two brochures Thursday: one to help builders follow the rules and another to help the public turn in those who don't.
At a news conference set against the same hills they are seeking to protect, 15 representatives of the Santa Monica Mountains Enforcement Task Force also unveiled a new 24-hour, toll-free telephone number--(800) 852-7550--to enable the public to report violators.
California Coastal Commissioner Madelyn Glickfeld, a task force co-chair, lauded the hot line and the brochures as additional weapons in the war against illegal development--a war the task force says it is starting to win.
"We're catching them earlier; we're stopping them faster," Glickfeld said, referring to developers who build either in defiance or ignorance of environmental regulations.
Prior to the task force's establishment two years ago, Glickfeld said the Coastal Commission each week was receiving more than five complaints of violations, ranging from excessive grading to illegal dumping to the construction of unapproved seawalls, from throughout the 150,000-acre area covered by the task force.
Now the number is down to two complaints per week, a trend Glickfeld yesterday attributed to the existence of the task force, a regional panel that includes representatives from 16 local, county, state and federal agencies, including the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the state Fish and Game Department.
Although the task force has no enforcement powers, it serves as a coordinating agency, providing a unified response to complaints of unlawful development in the environmentally sensitive region.
Several task force members stressed that developers no longer have the option of playing one agency against another.
"There's no more saying, 'the county made me do it,' or 'the Coastal Commission made me do it,' or the 'fire department made me do it,' " task force member Susan Friend said.
The brochures--to be made available at libraries, government buildings and other outlets--are titled "Obtaining Development Permits in the Santa Monica Mountains and Malibu Beach Area" and "Reporting Violations in the Santa Monica Mountains and Beach Areas of Malibu."
Each contains the names and phone numbers of participating agencies and uses a grid to help users determine which agency they need for a particular problem.
The toll-free hot line connects to the state Office of Emergency Services. Callers' information will then be forwarded to the appropriate task force agency.
So far, the task force's biggest catch has been John Downs, a Malibu man who used a bulldozer to illegally grade his Santa Monica Mountains property two years ago and dump tons of soil and debris into Malibu's Las Flores Creek.
Downs was fined $105,000 and was sentenced to 18 months in jail by Malibu Municipal Judge Lawrence Mira. Downs is appealing.