If any local government responsibility is apt to stir up the citizenry, it is planning; the review of zoning and building codes, and, generally, land use in the design of neighborhood character and the preservation of the environment.
It also is the prime source of wealth, for property owners, as well local builders and realtors,, and symbiotic facilitators, lawyers and lobbyists. And so in select cities where size and location marks status, as in Malibu, planning frankly has become a blood sport.
Certainly, all is not well at City Hall these days; as I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites. Witness the flurry set off by the admission by planning director Bonnie Blue at a recent council meeting that the department has fallen behind in both its reviews of policy and processing of plans.
This in turn prompted the challenged Blue to hurriedly propose several corrective actions, including the reassigning of staff and the hiring of a new planner to replace recent departures. These moves were doubled down by city manager Reva Feldman, who also announced hiring a deputy city administrator, at a salary of up to $190,000, to principally oversee planning and development.
The new city position has to have made Blue’s tenure tenuous, while cushioning the city manager from criticism for the planning imbroglio. It also no doubt will make for a crowded city manager’s suite and increased payroll and perks.
Meanwhile, whether adding and rearranging chairs in City Hall will correct the situation remain very much a question. One is hopeful, of course, but those familiar with the all to common government ailment of the hardening of bureaucratic arteries has to be skeptical.
I am, based on my investigative stints as a journalist with New York Times and New York Post, and oversight experiences in the public sector, including with the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. And having witnessed in my dotage Malibu’s 26 year history as a bovine city has made me downright suspicious.
Simply throwing bodies at problems doesn’t always work, and could actually makes the planning mess at City Hall worse, adding another layer to the bureaucracy, heightening the in-and-out basket shuffle, and generating countless do-nothing meetings.
More perhaps can be accomplished by a rededication of staff, letting them do their jobs without the city hall crowd trying to surreptitiously influence decisions.
And the problem actually goes beyond personnel, to the city’s the zoning and building codes, or more precisely, their constant compromise by an appeals process that should be made much tougher. Almost every plan is dibbled with because the city’s lax precedents encourages it, such as the 18 foot height limits forever being stretch to 28 feet.
These appeals frankly also are grist for political favors, friends of friends and lobbyists. City Hall perhaps need fewer back scratching bureaucrats and more rat traps.
Don’t get me wrong. I sincerely wish bolstering city’s planning works. Just think of my comments as a dash of salted skepticism.