My Malibu continues to reel and roil, in the wake of its worst fire ever, with an estimated 600 plus homes destroyed, its landscape scarred and ashen. And I expect it will be for sometime, as I comment this week on public radio 99.1 KBUU and select websites.
Emotions are raw: in the public social media, they range from rants to reasonable, and incidentally in need of filtering; at meetings, from personal to self promoting, and in private conversations, confiding, sad. Disasters do seem to spawn demigods.
The outpouring, I feel, is a collective healing process, with people speaking from their hearts, sharing individual experiences and grief. It resounds, like a wind driven surf rolling onto Malibu’s beckoning beaches.
You listen, and nod your head in sympathy. For an octogenarian who has had a ringside seat as a journalist at too many natural and man-made disasters and debacles, the pain witnessed however is forever raw, each new tragedy, hurting and haunting.
It is also understandable that there be a rush to judgment;
that the government infrastructure failed them; standing defeated on a front
lawn, hose in hand but no water, and the hoped for fire engine with its brave
first responders, not there, homeowners were naturally depressed, as they watched
their houses and all its possession and memories go up in flames, felt the
heat, tasted the ash.
No wonder they want to know what the hell happened, from the early hints that the fire far to the north west was uncontained, and with the Santa Anas blowing hot and heavy, just might make it to the 101 freeway, and possibly jump, creating a real threat to Malibu.
This should have triggered the city’s CERT volunteers, cleared communication channels, to coordinate with first responders, and stand ready for emergencies. And when it was determined that the unprecedented mandatory evacuations should be ordered, determine whether they be phased, with the more threatened neighborhoods evacuated first; that additional lanes heading out of Malibu be dedicated and policed, that adjoining cities be alerted and made accommodating. And what was our novice City Hall doing besides clucking?
This and so many other questions are being asked, including problems getting supplies to those who stayed, and joined others, to form fire fighting brigades in several neighborhoods, valiantly saving homes . And all this while reportedly being discouraged not to do so, and disparaged, if quotes repeated in passion are to be believed.
It is therefore understandable that anger be expressed and retribution pursued. Indeed, as one witness, an experienced officer of the court, declared, “let there be blood,” which another civic activist added, bluntly, the city hall be burnt and all in it fired. “They were useless.”
Emotions aside, the questions raised need to be addressed, and not by the current city administrators, adept as it is at excuses, or their favored cozy consultants, or by others accused or party to the charges of malfeasance.
Needed is an independent hard nosed panel, a tribunal of sorts, a little Hoover Commission, to review events, seek answer to the many questions, and most importantly, explore what lessons can be learned, and what recommend actions should be taken.
This should involve a critical eye on those whose sworn jobs are, first and foremost, in the words of enabling laws, “the health, safety and welfare, of the public”, and, yes, that includes some hard questions for city manager Reva Feldman, and others in the city hall chain of command.
From a long range perspective, the tribunal could prompt a redefining and possibly no less than a restructuring of the municipal Malibu, sensitive to the city’s frail landscape, the rising challenges of climate change,, and the healthy, growing civic consciousness of its residents, born of the fire.
Though let me add a cautionary note: that it is imperative the tribunal, or whatever entity is organized, involve seasoned, reflective persons, committed to transparency and rational, reasoned solutions. It’ll be a shame if the good will and civic concern generated by the disaster be dissipated in a rush to judgment and aggrandizement.