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Bundy Gate Still Closed

By Ann K. Williams, Staff Writer

November 22 -- Despite a unanimous vote at the last City Council meeting to open the City’s gate to Santa Monica College’s Bundy campus parking lot, the gate is still closed as both parties have become seemingly paralyzed by yet another failure to communicate.

College Interim President Tom Donner likened the bewildering misunderstanding to a family dispute gone bad.

“It’s like trying to collect money from within your own family,” he told the Lookout Monday.

And as both parties argue about the terms of their latest temporary agreement, the Council will meet in closed session Tuesday night to assess the potential risk to the City should the College decide to sue for its claims to an easement connecting the campus lots to Airport Avenue.

That easement is at the heart of the present impasse. The motion passed at the November 8 Council meeting required that the College waive its claims to the easement before the City would open its gate.

What both parties can’t agree on is whether or not the required waiver was supposed to be temporary or permanent, a distinction that wasn’t clarified in the motion or at the meeting.

“There’s no such term” as temporary waiver, City Attorney Marsha Moutrie said Monday. “That’s a tolling agreement. I believe a waiver is permanent.”

Attorney Chris Harding had a different take.

In a letter he wrote on behalf of the College to the City dated November 10, he said that Mayor Pro Tem Herb Katz told him immediately following the vote that Katz intended the waiver to last only for the term of the agreement, which will end in late June.

“We were under the impression the waiver would be in effect as long as the agreement is in effect,” Donner added.

A temporary agreement would carry a temporary waiver, and if the access agreement was extended or made permanent, “the waiver would continue down that same road,” Donner said. The waiver would become permanent if the City and the College entered into a permanent agreement, he – and Harding’s letter – said.

Further complicating matters is Harding’s contention in a letter dated October 26 on behalf of the College to the City Attorney that the statute of limitations on the College’s claims to the easement could run out in February 2006.

In that letter, the College asked the City to agree to a tolling agreement extending the College’s rights beyond the statute of limitations, so that they could work together “cooperatively” to find a “long term solution uncolored by threatened or pending litigation.”

It was this letter that led the Council to insert the condition calling for a waiver of the college’s claims to the easement in their November 8 motion.

“If they hadn’t sent the letter before the meeting,”, it probably wouldn’t have crossed the council members’ minds to add the condition about the waiver, a City official who asked not to be named said Monday. “That letter felt like a threat.”

“This is not a threat,” Donner responded. “There’s no reason to be creating a legal problem.”

The college had to protect its interests in order to “fulfill its responsibility to the taxpayers,” and the October 26 letter represented “the easiest way to do this,” Donner said.

He added that he had discussed their plans with Assistant City Manager Gordon Anderson as far back as last October, and had told him “we’re not trying to start a lawsuit.”

The letter, which predated the November 8 meeting by almost two weeks, wasn’t meant to be connected with the temporary agreement to open the gate, Donner said.

But inferring from the remarks of several council members during the meeting, it appeared that some of them had just read the letter for the first time that night in closed session, and they suspected it was part of an orchestrated show of force by the College to get its way.

As it stands now, it appears that the City is waiting for the College to make the next move.

The City is ready to get started right away improving the roadway so they can open the gate, according to the City official. All they are waiting for is for the College to vote to indemnify the City for the use of the easement and agree to the waiver, he said.

They may have to keep waiting while the top leadership of both institutions changes hands.

The College Board of Trustees met Monday night in closed session to work on selecting a new President. They plan to announce their choice at their next public meeting on December 5.

Meanwhile, the City expects to introduce a new City Manager Tuesday night.

Officials from both institutions are hoping the new leaders will be able to cut through the bad history that's plagued these negotiations and come up with a permanent solution to the Bundy problem.

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