NEW YEAR’S EVE MUSINGS AND MEMORIES

This being the last day of the year, the journalistic tradition is to do a wrap with a snappy summary of hi lights, and low lights, of the past 12 months, a sort of print Auld Lang Syne.

The song happens to be an ancient Scottish tune; penned by the poet Robert Burn about two friends remembering, “auld lang syne,“ the English translation being “times long past.” It is unabashedly sentimental.

Well frankly, as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites everywhere, I don’t feel particularly sentimental about 2016.

The year for me is clouded by the warped election of Trump, a shameless, narcissistic con man, who given his abominable appointments and dimwitted tweets threatens our precarious world.

Time to become more parochial, lose myself in culture, host the children and grandchildren, indulge the dogs, tend the garden, and try to be hopeful.

Certainly hopeful was the local election in Malibu with a majority of the candidates pledged to a more livable and democratic city. I just trust the new council will not fall, as several past council have, into a self deluding trap set by a servile staff and special interests.

Forgive me this holiday season, but time has made me a skeptic, as well as being an unrepentant liberal. Sing a song of auld lang syne; I quote an article I wrote 38 years ago for the L.A. Times:

“Malibu as a way of life is in danger of becoming extinct, its fabled privacy, proud independence and delicate ecology threatened by inevitable change.”I continued: “Nature, greed and government are seen as the major menaces to Malibu,” which I described as a 27 mile long or so wide strip of sparkling beaches, sinuous mesas and stark hills,”

Loved it then; love it now.

The article was written in the aftermath of the Agoura-Malibu fire of Fall 1978 that raced down Trancas Canyon and jumped the PCH to turn several home on Broad Beach to ash. The only thing certain about Malibu, said a fire chief then, is that it will happen again.

For those of us that have known Malibu for decades, it has, several times. Living here makes one particularly sensitive to the smell of smoke, the wail of fire engines.

The article also reviewed the bane PCH traffic had become, as well as the rising real estate prices that were making Malibu more and more exclusive, a weekend retreat for the very wealthy, and less neighborly. We’re talking 1978, so you know where I come from.

The article continued with a litany of concerns, but also included a passionate resolve by residents to continue the good fight to preserve Malibu. It indeed has been continuing these 38 years, and I expect will continue into next year, I hope.

 

 

HUNTINGTON’S ART AND GARDENS BECKON, DESPITE THE TRAFFIC

The sprawling Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens for me is always a serendipitous delight; always some unexpected, captivating art pieces, artifacts, exhibits, and plantings, to be discovered and appreciated. And so I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites everywhere.

To be sure, the Huntington is very much more than a museum, especially its ever-changing landscaped setting of native, and exotic plantings. Indeed, one can easily get happily lost in its 120 acres of gardens gracing its 207acre grounds.

By the way, it being winter it is the Camellia season, and time also for the aloes to raise high their torches.

Though once a scholar there, combing its library and marvelous photo collection for my book, “L.A. Lost & Found,” I do not get to the San Marino campus as often as I would like; the traffic these days being daunting.

Nonetheless, I recently set aside a day to go there, before an exhibit entitled Van Gogh & Friends closes on January 2. Forgive me, I know, I’m one of those bourgeois critics still reveling in Impressionism.

The exhibit is engagingly selective, featuring three representative Van Gogh’s on loan from the Hammer, in particular his evocative painting Hospital at Saint-Rémy.

Lending the exhibit context are singular works of his contemporaries, including Monet, Cezanne, Gauguin and Toulouse –Lautrec. And being in the Huntington’s principal art gallery, I had to glimpse for the umpteenth time Thomas Gainsborough’s Blue Boy.

Then it was on to the Huntington’s newest attraction, a modest addition to it American art galleries, designed by architect Frederick Fisher in his functional modern style. I loved the light and space, seamlessly flowing into the existing galleries.

The feature exhibit there on display through March 20 is a selection of photographs by Edward Weston, to illustrate a special edition of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.”

The photos were taken on what turned out to be a tumultuous cross country trip the aging Weston took with his wife Charis Wilson, cut short by the beginning of World War Two. The subject might be different from Weston’s signature landscapes and nudes, but the genius is still there to be appreciated.

There also were other pleasant surprises: a smartly well stocked and welcoming gift shop, and a refurbished restaurant, with a tasteful and reasonable menu. Both continue the gracious tradition of the Huntington, a Southern California’s treasure.

 

EMERGENCY DISSERVICES WORRIES DISASTER PRONE MALIBU

If you live in Malibu, really live 24/7 and not just visit on weekends, you have to be alert to the city’s vulnerability to natural disasters: the fires, floods, rockslides, earthquakes and tsunamis.

And if you do, you should be alert to the city’s emergency service coordinator, Brad Davis, being on medical leave, and City Hall’s make-do coverage, if that, under the recently appointed city manager Reva Feldman. Who said the job was going to be easy.

This has been of particular concern in Malibu, where there seems to be almost daily traffic congestion from accidents that plague PCH and the feeder cross-mountain roads.

But, because of the drought conditions, more worrisome to many have been the several red flag fire warnings that have gone up because of Santa Ana weather conditions of rising temperatures and high winds.

Indeed, a red flag went up the day Davis took leave, with apparently no one left in City Hall to monitor events.

And coincidentally, according to sources, this left the city without representation at the county’s Great Shakeout Earthquake Drills on October 20th. Some 3,526,672 people reportedly participated, none from Malibu.

There also was a fire up Corral Canyon, beyond the city line but where in the past some disastrous blazes have raged through and down into Malibu.

The fire thankfully was under control in 20 minutes and totally out in an hour, due to the quick action by the LAC Fire Department. According to CeCe Woods, the Local editor-in-chief, city manger Feldman minimized the fire, noted that it was confined beyond the city line, and added that the quick response negated the need for notification.

However, if you live in or near Malibu and smell smoke, you do like to know what is happening, or what happened.

As for the fire next time, or whatever disaster strikes, we would think, hope, there will be an emergency service coordinator on duty or living nearby at the ready. And if not there for whatever reason, a backup is.

This is Malibu, Reva, or Mayor Lou, where when it comes to natural disasters, excuses or explanations, however coached in bureaucratic babble, don’t cut it.

 

 

TEMPERED HOPE FOR A NEW CITY COUNCIL

With a new majority taking control of the City Council dedicated to a more transparent and responsive city hall, you have to be optimistic that the days of we-know-best backroom politics has ended in Malibu, at least for the next few months.And so I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU, select websites everywhere, and in The Local
 
The political consortium of the experienced former Mayor Jefferson Wagner, the battle tested local fire captain, Rick Mullen, and, we hope, a more attentive Skylar Peak, meant what they said while campaigning:
 
That they will resist the temptations of ever solicitous developer bearing gifts, a subservient staff and the perks of city office, to protect and preserve Malibu’s singular seacoast charm.
 
But as much as I admire the slate – you have to cut them a little slack for going through the trials and tribulations, nay the embarrassments, of a local election –you also must be concerned. The experiences of an octogenarian journalist have taught me to temper hope.
 
How else could you put into perspective the election of Obama followed by the election of Trump, of Kennedy and Johnson, followed by Nixon.
 
And meanwhile, in our misanthropic Malibu, I sadly note that many talk the talk of the city’s enlightened mission statement, but walk and the walk of the not-in-my-backyard crowd, or like Simple Simon simply follow the direction of friends and special interests, seemingly oblivious to their hypocrisies.
 
Indeed, I am haunted by the observation of Malibu’s respected first mayor, Walt Keller, when reviewing the parade of politicians that followed him, something happens to them once they take office.
 
“It’s really strange,” he said at a council meeting earlier this year marking the city’s 25th anniversary, and to me later. The ex-mayor explained that it has been his view that once elected and taking a seat on the dais, they all of a sudden think they know everything, and stop listening as they should be doing, and start talking, too much. And, of course, the city suffers.
 
And then there are a few dudes who have stayed in the surf too often on a cold day, and are sadly impaired.
 
This prompts me to suggest that perhaps we should direct council members, and the critical commissioner they are to appoint, and also reappoint, to hold their remarks at public meetings to 3 minutes. After all, that is what they restrict those who testify at City Hall hearings to do and then they expect the audience to sit through their ramblings.
The self-aggrandizements, the exchanging of plaques and platitudes of politicians, call for some sort of controls, a timekeeper, a sergeant at arms, or someone with an itchy finger on a foghorn.
 
Also needed is an inspector general, or an ombudsman. Indeed, now that a curtain has been lifted at City Hall certainly someone to review some of the actions of the past councils and how Malibu might have been compromised by former council members and staff.
 
It’s a thought for this holiday season, a gift of sorts to City Hall.
 

MALIBU NEEDS AFFORDABLE HOUSING

With only a few days left for public comment on the proposal for a memorial park in Malibu, I have moved the item to the front burner of local planning concerns, and so I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites.

Therefore, my continued review of what I have labeled the Trancas Field Follies will just have to wait. There is time, since it seems the fate of that site in West Malibu has been sent to staff Siberia, while the city continues discussions with the Coastal Commission concerning the Bluffs Park plans.

No doubt both items will be put off until the a new council is seated next month, with a new majority promising to look closer into the city’s planning process, and the need for more transparency and improved community outreach.

Certainly needed for a second look and more public comment is the pending proposal for the memorial park and cemetery on a prime site at the northeast corner of PCH and Malibu Canyon Road.

The original plans for a luxury hotel there having been rejected, the new plans propose a two story chapel, a number of free standing mausoleums, 4,000 crypt internments and 29,00 burial plots, and ,of course, the necessary visitor parking .

Maybe it is the reluctance to speak ill of the dead, or raise questions of internment, but no one seems inclined to take exception to the plans. The only comment heard so far is that funeral corteges may exacerbate traffic on the PCH.

\Though sensitive to these issues, I am frankly more sensitive to the need for affordable housing for Malibu’s work force and seniors.

And further, from a land use point of view, the memorial park’s would make for an infinitely better residential development. Indeed, the 27 acre site could be masterly designed for perhaps 200 or so two story town houses in a well landscaped setting with striking views.

The site is in walking distance to the Civic Center, shopping, the library, Legacy and Bluffs parks , the beach, the proposed college extension, and accessible public transit. Score it a ten on the planning scale.

By workforce I am specifically referring to our public school teachers, first responders, city employee, shop clerks, waiters and waitresses; all those who toil and lend life to Malibu.

Most live beyond the 27 miles of scenic beauty that is Malibu, and must commute long distances to work, which of course adds to the traffic on the dreaded PCH.

And then there is also the need for senior housing for those increasing long time residents, many of our neighbors, who no longer can afford and maintain their now too large homes here, but want to stay in the Malibu they have roots in and love.

Not only is affordable housing good land use planning, I feel as I’ve said before, it is the moral, right thing to do.

I also like to think that the affable and inventive developer of the memorial park , Richard Weintraub, would be open to the alternative, though I’m not sure he or any developer would want to suffer the controversy a proposal for affordable housing is sure to stir.

Nonetheless, in a community that hosts and cares about all forms of life, the sea and mountain lions, dogs, cats, birds, and turtles too, in backyards and beyond, should care about the people who serve them, and their aging neighbors.

Let us plan with our heads, and also our hearts.

 

 

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FOR THOSE WHO LOVE STEPHEN SONDEIM

If you love the much honored and revered composer and lyricist Stephen Sondeim, as I do, you should hurry to the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills for the production of “Merrily We Roll Along,” before it closes December 18th.

It may not be as stirring and memorable as Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music” and “Sunday in the Park with George,” among others

But as I comment in my review on public radio 97.5 KBU, “Merrily” is still Sondheim, and has a sting that prickles long after the bows are taken to a well deserved applause.

And, to be sure, you can see and hear the flaws that marked “Merrily,” in its debut in 1981, and crashed after only 16 performances. The book based on a 1930s play by the legendary George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart and written the late George Furth moves awkwardly from the present to the past, in the musical 1978 back twenty years .

It traces the demise of the collaboration of a success obsessed composer, played perhaps too convincingly by Aaron Lazar – it makes him unlikable – and an idealist playwright, played with an appealing passion by Wayne Brady. A Greek chorus of an abiding friend is played by an edgy Donna Vivino. It does make for a stew of a soap opera of sorts.

But then all becomes a hazy back story and flimsy structure for the captivating songs, delivered with an appealing verve by Brady, an aching quality by Lazar, and a pitch perfect professionalism by the accompanying cast.

They all moved well in and out of shadows in sensitive lighting and on a modest yet imaginative set designed by Dane Laffrey.

As for the direction, the flawed book and structure no doubt was a challenge to Michael Arden, as I might add they obviously were way back when to the celebrated Harold Prince.

The musical does have a lot of musical parts and disparate characters, and the stage at times does get crowded, and confusing. And, yes, the ill-fitting, and for a few, not flattering costumes are distraction.

But the score by Sondheim transcends, and makes for a wonderful evening’s entertainment. Go see it if you can.

 

THE TRANCAS FIELD FOLLIES

A clarion call was sounded for Trancas Field at a meeting this week at City Hall that attracted some 80 residents, as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU.

Topographically, the Field northeast of Trancas Canyon Road and the PCH is an open 35-acre sloping site of mostly scrub brush, offering striking views of Zuma beach and the ocean.

Politically, the field for most nearby West Malibu residents has been a planning and development battleground. For a succession of developers, it has been a swamp.

Whatever plans were put forward over the years for whatever density and design, they were vociferously opposed by residents and dutifully opposed by a parade of Malibu city councils and their legal counsels.

Let them fiddle with the commercial development of the much more valuable Civic Center. But Trancas Field was sacrosanct, and the feeling at the meeting this week was that it still most definitely is.

The buzz there was quite audible, fed by the fact that the City announced that earlier in the day it had completed the purchase of the site for $11 million plus dollars, after decades of legal wrangling,

 

The meeting was supposed to be a workshop reviewing a host of alternatives. These included keeping the field open and undeveloped, to erecting a host of facilities.

 

Proposed for consideration were the construction of centers for seniors, cultural and nature venues, various playing fields, from football to baseball, and a ubiquitous skate board park.

 

There was no workshop, other than asking the unvetted participants to pin a green dot for a yes, or a red dot for a no, on a series of proposed uses pictured on display boards. Confusion ensued.

 

It seems the distribution of dots was not monitored particularly well, and the voting could not be accurately tallied. The boards ended up looking very much like a kindergarten project.

 

In particular, when the picture of a skate board park at first had attracted a flood of red no dots, several youngsters reacted somehow getting sheaths of green dots, and bullet posting them in equal numbers

 

An informal count of the dots tallied over 100, 20 or so more than those in attendance. So much for the workshop.

 

Instead, a skittish Reva Feldman, the city manager, moved on to soliciting comments from the milling crowd. Most were passionate pleas to keep the field open and undeveloped, nothing that would compromise the natural setting and attract unwanted visitors, noise, and crime.

One brave soul suggested housing. And a few added to me that it should be for local seniors like themselves, who want to sell their homes, indeed need to sell their homes, but want to stay in Malibu.

Feldman said the comments and questions would be taken under advisement, and would await the fate of the proposal for Bluffs Park. She added the Coastal Commission was now reviewing with the city alternative plans that included a wish list of facilities, including a skateboard park.

As for the question, what will happen to Trancas Field, stay tuned. The controversy is just warming up.

 

 

THE QUEEN REIGNS AT THE TAPER

A taste of Ireland is being served straight up at the Mark Taper these days, with a kick of a raw Irish whiskey, compliments of the playwright Martin McDonagh, and so I comment in a review for public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites everywhere.

You’ll smile, and shudder, whatever, for if you love the power of theatre, the language and the immediacy, of life being unveiled before your very eyes, the brilliant revival of McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane is not to be missed.

But be forewarned, it’s very Irish, not the “top of the morning to ya”, Irish, but “may the devil swallow you sideways” Irish, full of insight and scorn, the constant conflict of love, hate and freedom and family.

The set, the actors and actresses, the witty and wicked dialogue, you feel transported from the Taper in a familiar downtown L.A to the Abbey Theatre in dour Dublin.

And then on stage it is a cave of a cottage in the dank town of Leenane, in the hill country of Connemara, in far western Ireland. The lighting is dim, the details bare and depressing, right down to a dirty sink filled with dirty dishes.

A hard rain is falling outside, its drumbeat at times drowning out the dialogue, spoken with appropriate bile, in front of an old television set that drones on and on. Here feeble and frail in a rocking chair we meet Mag, the mother from the hell, spewing commands her to seemingly dutiful daughter, Maureen, scampering here and there, simmering.

Of note, Marie Mullen, who nearly twenty years ago, in the original production on Broadway, won a best actress Tony for her portrait of the daughter, here plays a scowling Mag. Talk about a tour de force.

As the mother, she is a lethal mix of the maternal and malicious, lonely, leering, domineering; yet you somehow you feel sorry for her, trapped as she is in a rocking chair.

The daughter is played by Aisling O’Sullivan, with veiled ferociousness of a conflicted trapped animal. As for a plot, Maureen, unmarried, fortyish, living at home chained to her mother, has a chance to break free, and into the welcoming arms of suitor, to be whisked off to beckoning America.

I wont tell you more, but be prepared to be shaken, as I was.

The Queen at the Taper reigns at the Taper through December 18th. And if you go, have a tea before you go to calm the nerves, and after the bows are taken, perhaps go for a shot of whiskey.