LOCAL GOVERNMENT: DOES ANYONE LISTEN?

“Council, Planning Commission Wonder: Is anybody listening,” was the front page headline in the Malibu Times, topping a story in which city leaders bemoaned that few residents attended what they thought was a critical hearing on the fate of the civic center.

Whatever, their concerns are grist for my latest city observed commentary, heard on KBU and everywhere on radiomalibu.net.

“We need to figure out a way to get a lot more people involved,” stated Mayor Rosenthal, in particular the noted design professionals she knew lived in Malibu,

The front page headline of the Malibu Surfside News simply stated in bold face, “Help Wanted,”

This prompted me to talk with several talented architects I know whether they were interested in volunteering. Trading candor for anonymity, all replied that though concerned with the drift of planning in the “bu they loved, they hesitate to become involved

“It is not that we are not listening. It is that the city doesn’t listen, or frankly doesn’t understand the issues, ” declared an internationally respected “placemaker“ whom I have had the pleasure to work with on some imaginative projects,

Over lunch, as is his style, he casually rattled off several ideas for a more livable Malibu that no doubt would cost the city big bucks in consultant fees and staff time if proffered privately.

When I asked him, as I did others, why he didn’t donate his time, he reminded me of my experiences, in particular, as a volunteer advocate of view protection. He suggested I recall what happened: that it might serve as a cautionary tale. I agreed.

It should be noted that if the city staff at the direction of past partisan councils would have enforced existing codes, a view restoration and preservation ordinance would not have been needed, just civic resolve.

But they hadn’t, and eight years ago Malibu overwhelmingly approved a referendum calling on the city “ to adopt an ordinance that would require the removal or trimming of landscaping in order to restore and maintain primary views from private homes.”

A city appointed task force of which I was chair and included several experienced attorneys. We reviewed ordinances of similarly challenged cities while weighing comments of local stakeholders with varying prejudices and perspectives.

It was a time consuming effort by volunteer residents, and for naught. The committee’s recommendation in the form of a professionally crafted ordinance was deep sixed; the council wasn’t listening, at least not to the committee it had selected, but rather to special interests, as is its practice.

Nor was the present Council listening when told by planning savvy residents that vertical landscaping should not count as open space and dated traffic studies were flawed.

And recently it didn’t even bother asking more knowledgeable residents if a structure can or should be erected on the county’s Zuma Beach for several months to house a pricy private photo exhibit. Of course, they would have told the council it legally can’t and shouldn’t.

Indeed, these failures raise the issue of civic responsibility and municipal oversight, prompting the questions “what for, and for whom, local government” and whether Malibu as a municipal conceit no longer is a viable democratic construct?

But is anyone listening?

 

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hallkaplan

Parallel careers as an urban planner and a journalist, principally at present airing commentaries on pubic radio 99.1 KBU.FM The many arrows in my quiver have included Emmy award winning reporter/ producer for local Fox Television News, design critic for the Los Angeles Times, urban affairs reporter for The New York Times, an editor of The New York Post, contributor to various popular and professional publications, news services and broadcast outlets, including Reuters, NET, NBC, CBS, NPR and the BBC. Founding editor of the East Harlem (NY) Independent. A diversity of professional positions and consultancies in the private and public sectors, (Metro, Disney Imagineering, Howard Hughes, M. Milken, NYC Educational Construction Fund, US Comptroller of the Currency etc,) assorted academic appointments (UCLA, USC, CCNY, Art Center etc.), and always open to new challenge. And let us not forget fashioning sand castles and acting on 90210, crafting TV docs, design reviews, master plans. Books: "The Dream Deferred: People, Politics and Planning in Suburbia," "L.A. Lost and Found," an architectural history of Los Angeles, "L.A. Follies," a collection of essays, and co-author of "The New York City Handbook." Writings have appeared in academic texts, commentaries on the web, scripts for TV, and wherever, latest the Architects Newspaper, The Planning Report and Planetizen.

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