The Santa Monica and Malibu factions of the school district’s separation committee are like teenage lovers: They’re back together to talk about breaking up.

The two sides have resumed discussions about the creation of a Malibu-only district following a break sparked by the filing of a lawsuit that Santa Monica negotiators believed was obstructive.

The negotiations committee’s meetings on May 24 and May 31 were the first such gatherings since the mid-April filing of a lawsuit that challenges the City of Santa Monica’s voting system. The plaintiffs are seeking district-based elections, arguing that the current at-large model violates voting rights.

The Santa Monica negotiators had called for a pause because the plaintiffs included Advocates for Malibu Public Schools, a community group advocating for a separate Malibu school district. The Santa Monica negotiators were also unhappy that the plaintiffs were being represented by attorney Kevin Shenkman, a member of the Malibu negotiations team.

AMPS has withdrawn from the elections lawsuit, according to SMMUSD spokeswoman Gail Pinsker. Shenkman, meanwhile, is no longer part of the Malibu negotiations team.

Shenkman was replaced by Makan Delrahim, who was introduced at the May 24 meeting. Delrahim, an attorney with the firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schrek, previously served as a deputy assistant attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice. He has also taught law as an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University.

Delrahim joins Malibu Mayor Laura Rosenthal and business executive Manel Sweetmore on the Malibu side of the negotiations. Tom Larmore, Debbie Mulvaney and Paul Silvern are representing the theoretical Santa Monica district.

The six-member committee was tasked by the school board to resolve financial and other obstacles to separation, a longtime goal of Malibu parent activists. Teams were originally chosen in January.

The issues to be resolved include the division of cash assets and voter-backed bonds as well as the protracted battle over chemical testing and cleanup at Malibu schools. The district has spent millions of dollars on consultants and legal fees since the discovery of polychlorinated biphenyls at the Malibu High School campus more than two years ago.

Santa Monica negotiators would like to see the PCB lawsuit dismissed. Malibu advocates have suggested they would take responsibility for future remediation and indemnify the Santa Monica district for any future claims related to chemical contamination in Malibu.

The committee was initially given a 60-day timeframe with a possible extension, and it was determined during the May 24 meeting that the recent pause would not count towards the 60-day allotment.

The separation negotiations committee is hoping to come up with an agreement that will be “politically viable and acceptable to the decision-makers along the path to unification,” according to minutes from the May 24 meeting.

The negotiators are scheduled to meet every Tuesday evening for the month of June. All of the meetings will be held at Malibu City Hall except for the June 21 talks, which will be held at SMMUSD headquarters.

jeff@smdp.com

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