MALIBU R.I.P.

“Stop the presses!” “Rewind the tape!” “Get out the edit knives!” Catherine the Great of Russia had her Potemkin Villages; de facto Mayor Reva Feldman is going to have her Malibu.

 The draft report of what was to be “a meaningful and independent review of the city’s performance in managing the response to the Woolsey fire “-to quote the Council’s original approval of the $50,000 study-is to get a rewashing by none other than the city manager’s office.

To allow some information “that could be updated or clarified “ is the phrase she hissed to an irresolute City Council.  Quietly acquiescing also was the review team of Management Partners. It obviously knows who signs the checks, as does a sadly compromised local media.

Reva claims the City’s emergency operations center was never closed; we also had a liaison at the shifting fire command center, and, perhaps most importantly, its payroll information was protected. These were some of the items Feldman wants to “correct.”. And that besides her staff working tirelessly, though on what remains is a question since the City also claims it had no authority to do much of anything. 

Bad enough that City Hall screwed up the evacuation, failed to advocate for fire equipment, or aid the people who stayed, and is now fumbling a dilatory rebuild effort while shamelessly congratulating itself and continuing to contract away most services to lap dog consultants.

So much for a reasonable expectation of service and established ethical norms promised under the council manager form of government. Not having effective checks and balances, and a discerning media hurts.

If you like me witnessed the fire that destroyed nearly a thousand homes in the city and canyons beyond, it is certain we will never forget, nor forgive the failures of the first responders and local government in the heat of the fire and after., and their feigned excuses.

But from my philosophical perspective, as I have written in the past, the flagrant failures are a reflection of concerns on a far larger stage.

Indeed, I feel they have political implications in communities almost everywhere, and are indicative of a breach of Jeffersonian democracy’s hallowed social contract between our public institutions and ordinary citizens, between the governing and the governed.

RIP Malibu as a self government.

MALIBU’S MOMENT OF TRUTH

The burning question for those who suffered the sorry bureaucratic bungling in the disastrous Woolsey Fire is:

What the hell City Hall can do to protect Malibu and, really, is it capable of doing so?

That question and many others should be raised in the upcoming City Council hearing when the long awaited report on the City’s response to the fire is scheduled to be aired in a presentation by the consultant team of Management Partners.

The report politely noted the City’s abject fumbling before, during and after the fire, in the chaotic evacuation, the shutting down of the Emergency Operations Center and in the confused communications that left the community stranded.

Questions of nitpicking and finger pointing protocol aside, the City screwed up, and continues to do so in the rebuild effort.

The report makes 53 recommendations to repair and improve the City’s emergency policies and programs, in anticipation of yet another disaster, be it a fire or earthquake.  It is, I feel, a reasonable start to the City beginning to respond to the local need for safety.

But frankly it is NOT going to happen, and the City will continue to wallow, as long as the local bloated bureaucracy is being manipulated by a wily city manager who was tested by the Woolsey Fire and found wanting.  Talk about a fox in the hen house.

Immodestly, a 54th recommendation is needed:

The establishment of an oversight committee, an emergency task force if you will, to begin to cleanup, reorient and revitalize City Hall, and take back Malibu for its residents.

What will the Council do? Will it asset itself? Stay tuned.

8.12.19

WOOLSEY FIRE RESPONSE

Malibu’s coddled city government failed its residents before, during and after the Woolsey Fire is the sad summary of a discerning reading of a welcomed independent review of the municipal response to the disaster.

The report is respectfully presented in professionally polite language that might assuage the apologists of the overpriced and under achieving City Hall, but its conclusions are clear: the fire found local government effectually powerless in the chain of command, unprepared to assist residents in the escalating crisis, and the city manager scattered.

 The report by Management Partners, a consultancy of experienced public servants, makes 53 mostly reasoned recommendations that I feel will need some tweaking and a little wishful thinking, a rededication of CERT and an obvious reorganization of Malibu as a councilmanic construct.

But most critical for anything to be hopefully initiated I feel a 54th recommendation is needed; immodestly no less than a clean sweep of City Hall beginning with the departure of the city manager, Reva Feldman, who at the least should have served the city as well as she served herself.

 The report should be a wakeup call for Council at its next meeting, Aug. 12th. At least it should be. 

LA TIMES: LACMA DESIGN A CALAMITY

Regarding Carolina A. Miranda’s “Remaking the Miracle Mile” [July 14]: A calamity perhaps is the word to describe the design process our Los Angeles County Museum of Art has been suffering for the last half dozen years, and let me stress that is our taxpayer-supported museum.

A catastrophe certainly will be the word to describe the museum if the $600- million- plus design becomes, as feared, the nightmare construct and a failed Southern California conceit, orchestrated by a self- aggrandizing art crowd.

I join the chorus of critics and taxpayers to urge the c ounty Board of Supervisors to stop feeding funds to what will be, by the time it is built, a one-billion-dollar mistake.

The board is poised to release $117.5 million for the calamity, having to date been wined and dined, and their egos massaged, by wily museum director Michael Govan. Talk about an edifice complex of a star-struck arts administrator and of what is ostensibly a public institution.

Meanwhile, the clearly overwhelmed Govan and over-his-head architect, Switzerland-based Peter Zumthor, have been putzing around with the design for what seems like dog years, the latest study inexplicably reducing the proposed gallery space, when obviously more is needed to house the collection. Less in this case is less.

As for the proposed design, it is no longer colored black as the muck in the adjacent tar pits, but it is still a biomorphic blob sprawling across Wilshire Boulevard. The galleries might be one floor, as Govan wanted, but the structure is ugly and awkward.

It is time for the county supervisors to bring this farce of a design process to a screeching halt.

Sam Hall Kaplan

Malibu 7.20.2019

The writer is a former Los Angeles Times architecture and design critic

MALIBU’S MYOPIC GOVERNANCE

The willful ignorance of Malibu’s governance is exasperating, exposed recently by the ill considered search to curb mansionization, the fumbling of the rebuild effort  in the wake of the disastrous Woolsey Fire and city hall’s false front.

Putting this into a  larger perspective, the muddle in Malibu can be sadly considered a local manifestation of what select pundits have described as a rupture of the link between the governing and the governed globally that has exacerbated no less than the crisis of climate change, the continued deterioration of the environment and the dispiriting economic disparity. I fear for my children and grandchildren.

However, there is a faint hope in our bubble of Malibu that we can do something to modestly begin to mend the rupture, specifically at the moment to pressure the conflicted City Council to kill the proposed square foot reduction ordinance approved last week by a confused City Planning Commission. That if you recall was despite the strong reservations by concerned residents who packed City Hall. You had to be impressed by the turnout and the heartfelt comments.

To be sure, many as myself are opposed and repulsed by mansionization, concerned that it would invite blatant commercial use as unwanted rehabs or obnoxious AirBnBs. But they also clearly recognize you can’t really codify  (8500 sq ft ?) what constitutes mansionization or a “McMansion,” as I can’t as a design critic immodestly cited by Wikipedia as a reference. I literally coined the phrase 30 years ago in a book review for the L.A. Times entitled ‘Out of Place: Restoring Identity to the Regional Landscape.’

In search of a measure rather than an arbitrary square footage that incidentally can be hid by good landscaping, I suggest the colloquial expression, “I know it when I see it.” That subjective phrase parenthetically was used in 1964 by United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, in attempting to define what exactly, constitutes hard-core pornography.

Of course, what the council should be doing, as it has repeatedly promised, is provide some needed oversight and light a fire under a sluggish city hall, and its bloated bureaucracy and cadre of consultants, manipulated by crafty city manager manager Reva Feldman. All else could be considered broadly as pornography.

MALIBU PLAN COMISSION CONFUSED

It was heartening to witness the public turnout at City Hall Monday night for the hearing on a proposed ordinance capping residential development.  

Though there was some understandable confusion concerning the flawed attempt to codify “neighborhood character,” most all speaking late into the evening expressed an obvious heart felt affection for Malibu.

But that made it all the more disheartening to witness, as the night wore on, the genuine homeowner concerns to be mostly ignored by a confused and at times contentious, supercilious Planning Commission.

The nit picking majority of commission eventually did painfully vote for a watered down version of the ordinance, exempting lots of less than an acre while demonstrating their embarrassing lack of planning knowledge, making several ad hoc additions.

Of course, what they should have done was simply hose down the ordinance, and tell the also neophyte compromised City Council to bury it, and instead direct the city’s planning staff to bolster its rebuild effort.

Despite its overblown PR effort, the city’s under achieving governance and over stuffed city hall staff is a muddle, suffering from a hardening of the bureaucratic arteries and in desperate need of surgery.

MALLEABLE, MUDDLED MALIBU

Being misanthropic Malibu, it will not be surprising if the city’s attempt to thwart tacky “McMansions” most likely will end up just feeding its bungling bureaucracy and frustrating a planning conscious public.

And given the city’s protracted politicized process, I suspect it also will fatten the suspect facilitators of deep pocket developers, and compromise whatever ordinance might be approved, as they have in the city government’s pathetic past.  

Yes, there is finally a report out from the city’s Planning Department recommending an amendment to the zoning code that may have the effect of possibly limiting square foot development of select projects in select residential zones.

The attempt to somehow institute an ill defined goal of neighborhood character is scheduled to be aired before the Planning Commission July 1st and presumably eventually by the City Council.

But after reviewing it, and despite being an adherent of neighborhood character, as an experienced planner and long time resident of Malibu, concerned for its preservation as a livable community, I reluctantly oppose the proposed ordinance.

Primarily I do so because I fear however limited it would only make the city’s rebuild effort more muddled, exasperate many of the burned out Woolsey fire victims of modest means, and further discourage their return, hollowing out the economic and demographic diversity of the city.

 And this while encouraging flipping, to no doubt the cheers of prevailing, ever-avaricious realtors.

Even if the proposed amendment to the dense zoning code somehow is clarified to address neighbor character, the problem that has plagued planning in Malibu since its founding persists.

Bluntly that is a mostly inept and lazy municipal government, conniving administrators and vain glorious, generally neophyte city councils. And this sorrowfully includes some good people whom I consider friends, but if truth be told who are not particularly politically or planning savvy.

No matter how noble the city’s mission statement, and how well intentioned the city’s codes may be, I feel they can be only as effective as are those who administer them.

As for the report, it does not in its own voluble wording address the findings requested by the council for site plan review and minor modification “that the projects does not adversely affect neighborhood character.” It is a bad read.

Not incidentally, it was written by a former city planning director and now a consultant; heaven forbid the city with its overblown staff headed by an overpaid city manager attempt to do any heavy lifting or heavy thinking. Our bean counters do love their consultants to the tune of millions of tax payer dollars that instead could be going to improved services.

What we have gotten is a lot of lip service from the City Hall crowd posing as friends of Malibu, all the while surreptitiously raising the fear that limiting development and square footage would limit price and profit. For this we must credit local rumormongers.

As I have stated previously, real estate value is based on location and neighborhood character, and that out-of-scale mansionization tends to diminish value. They also tend to be poorly detailed and in bad taste, and generally bad neighbors, earning the approbation of “McMansion.”

I first used the phrase back in the 1980s when as the LA Times Design Critic described the practice in Santa Monica of building the largest size house possible on a site, which led to a domino effect that ultimately compromised the character of neighborhoods and accelerated gentrification.

In Malibu, I recall too well a case years ago in which an over designed plan for a prime site on Cliffside Drive had been objected to by neighbors, but nonetheless was approved by the city after an emotional appeal by the owner.  He and his tearful wife pleaded that though possibly over designed the house nevertheless was the family’s dream, where they intended to live into the sunset. 

Within a year after completion, they flipped the house for a huge profit, and flipped off Malibu. There have been too numerous similar incidents, orchestrated by special interests scamming a malleable Malibu.

Yes, Malibu needs some tough codes to protect what is left of its “neighborhood character,” but what it really first needs is a committed and courageous City Hall.

WHITHER MALIBU

  It is no surprise that the Malibu City Council approved extending the contract with California Strategies, despite no public accounting for the more than $2 million it has paid the Sacramento firm over the last dozen years, and a violation of accepted municipal practices.

The extension was recommended by City Manager Reva Feldman, who continues to mesmerize and manipulate a susceptible, neophyte council to safeguard her sinecure while wily wrapping a somnolent city in a bureaucratic web.

To witness the last council meeting it seems forgotten was that our $300,000 plus a year de facto mayor Feldman failed to prepare the city for the Woolsey fire disaster, mismanaged the evacuation, abandoned the emergency control center when most needed, neglected to advocate in the civic chain of command for a local first response, and then chided those who stayed to fight the fire while praising her staff and herself for a job well done.

 We are talking here of gross malfeasances, further aggravated by the city’s lack of ethical public service norms, while the city manager hires staff and consultants such as California Strategies as foils.

Sadly for those who had cheered Malibu’s cityhood, there is no effective municipal checks and balances, nor council oversight, in particular its heedless fealty to Feldman.

 Perhaps the disastrous fire took the fight out of residents for a responsive and responsible local government, or maybe the hard fact is most who have the good fortune to live in Malibu really don’t care and don’t want to get involved.

 After all, what does City Hall actually do? Malibu doesn’t have its own police and fire departments or garbage pickup, nor can do anything about the traffic on the PCH. It does put out a lot of promotional press releases.

But frankly when it comes down to an explication, the Council is not much more than a self-important ceremonial construct, its commissions a local conceit. (Yes, I did serve, but we never built the playing fields or affordable housing, or instituted the view protection, that was and are still needed.)

 Let’s face it: Malibu has become a honey pot for bureaucrats, some of whom are committed to public service, but others who are self serving public serpents. And then there are the less than competent or caring office holders who seem to be tragically gaining in power globally. One wonders whither democracy, here in Malibu, and elsewhere?

TIME TO LIGHT A FIRE UNDER REVA

Time for Malibu City Council to halt the reflex approvals of the past, and start questioning some of the consultant relationships proposed by wily City Manager Reva Feldman.
Yes, the persevering overpaid, under achieving city manager who just told the municipal finance challenged council and her staff they must be frugal.
This is particularly needed in the wake of the disastrous Woolsey Fire and the acceding to the righteous request of waiving rebuild fees for resident victims. (And hopefully not for the real estate vultures waiting to snap up burnout sites.)
With this in mind, I have urged the Council to reject tonight’s item (3.B.11.) extending the contract with California Strategies, pending a transparent detailed accountability of the more than $2 million the city had paid it over the last dozen years.
This request has been made in the past, with, typically no response from the stiff upper lip City Manager, and a curt dismissal by the consultant.
In a long and questionable relationship with the city there has been no written report available to the public, of any indication of service, contrary to the best practices of municipal management.
One has to wonder what the firm has accomplished on behalf of Malibu other than glad hand and host select councilpersons and the city manager?

IF YOU CARE ABOUT MALIBU

If City Manager Reva Feldman was so determined rallying resources on behalf of Malibu in the disastrous Woolsey Fire as she is preserving her sinecure perhaps the present local quandary could have been avoided. Who knows?

If you happen to care, what we are sadly seeing at City Hall these dark post disaster days is a classic double defense of its questionable administration, the conscious construction of a bureaucratic bulwark by a wily city manager Feldman.

 And perhaps more sadly with Malibu suffering “fire fatigue,” it seems to be working.  It has been six months since Feldman failed the city and no criticisms have been forthcoming as of yet from a decidedly split, compromised City Council.

To be sure, it is waiting, as we all are, for the report of a well connected, perhaps too well connected, team of management consultants who are reviewing the city’s performance during the fire, and hopefully will address Feldman’s failures.

I added “hopefully,” given their indicated predilections otherwise cited by the indefatigable documentarian and local watchdog Paul Taublieb.  Will the report be a smoke screen?

Meanwhile, the city manager continues to laugh all the way to the bank, depositing her $300,000 a year salary and benefits, not bad for a neophyte pencil pusher with just three years chief ranking managerial experience.

Of course, that does not include her years as a fledgling under Malibu’s menace Joe Edmiston, of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. There no doubt he passed to her the apparatchik ability to haughtily ignore any criticism or critics.

Feldman’s first line of defense has been simply to be unapologetic, keep a stiff upper lip and not to take responsibility for having failed the city at its most crucial time during the firestorm, and pathetically continuing to fail it, while padding her payroll.

 Those who witnessed the city’s manager’s megaflop might be able to forgive her. That is if she admitted her failures, but they can’t forget her not preparing the city adequately for the disaster, mismanaging the mandatory evacuation, closing down the emergency control center when most needed, failing to advocate in the civic chain of command for a focused first response, and then dismissing and actually hampering those who stayed behind to valiantly fight the fire. 

Talk about grounds for dismissal!

No amount of bureaucratic obfuscation can hide the simple truth that if individuals such as a city manager and mayor had any sense of fidelity for their positions of trust, they should not be making excuses for their inaction and blaming others. Not apologizing also is just bad manners.

The second line of defense which we are now witnessing with a certain amusement is her obviously contriving awards for herself and staff from congenial consortiums, and taking credit for whatever half truths can be manufactured surrounding City Hall stumbling in the fire and after.

So for the State of the City, her fattened PR staff produced what I would label a public disservice video obviously at some expense in house, Now being played on the City’s social media and the City TV channel and available on-demand on You Tube, the slick video takes some egregious liberties from my perspective as an Emmy award wining reporter/producer.

Particularly sharp were the comments Taublieb, also an Emmy winner, included in an email to the city inquiring about the cost of the video. He added:

“BTW, the video is quite nice – great shots of fireman at work, but missing the ones of frantic homeowners waving at fire trucks riding by and refusing to stop and help!  and really love the coverage of the relief effort at pt. dume marine science and the boat relief – both efforts the city had nothing to do with and actually tried to stop!  or in reva’s words to me, “if you stayed behind you were not the responsibility of the city.”  but heh, we’re in the shadow of hollywood and taking credit for things you didn’t do is almost a local tradition!”

How will this farce of a City Hall end? I hope sooner rather than later, for I really don’t want to continue as town grouch, preferring instead to pursue cultural offerings, travel and tending my landscape.

But I also hate to witness my Malibu of many, long, loving years being hustled and compromised by greedy bureaucrats and special interests, orchestrating the sorrowful Woolsey Fire experience to their advantage.

5.25.19/6.1.19