TO REBUILD OR NOT

For those who lost homes in the Woolsey Fire and are contemplating whether to rebuild, there will be yet another workshop Sunday; this a public effort organized by the city.

As I write in The Local, one hopes that finally four months plus after the fire the bureaucrats have realized they are being paid to serve residents, extending themselves to overcome their obnoxious nit picking of explaining why you can’t do something rather than why you can.

There also will be a workshop Thursday, hosted, by the city for so-called professionals. They of course will tell anyone who will listen why for a price they can do something, anything actually, just not exactly how much it will cost. Do I see an insurance adjustor smirking somewhere?

This follows a workshop last Saturday organized by the private sector; a fishing trip of sorts with the usual suspect sincere architects and builders casting out lines, and also chumming. Nibbling were locals and the curious.

The workshops all fall under the banner of Rebuild Malibu, though it has been roughly estimated that at least half of the burntouts will not be rebuilding. Absent any city effort to house the victims in temporary and even permanent housing other than leaving it to individual fortitude, most will be saying their fond farewells to Malibu, if they haven’t done so already.

There is a sad if not tragic hollowing out of Malibu for most are long-term residents with deep roots in the community. Many also are seniors, with limited resources and neither the time nor patience to rebuild, while having to contend with the discouraging penny pinching insurance adjustors and rapacious realtors

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Meanwhile, Rebuild seems to be everywhere, in full page paid advertising in the local throwaways and in constant press releases, promoting city services and offering “support and resources to residents impacted by the devastating Woolsey Fire, and promising to answer any and all related questions.”

Or at least deflect those questions, as City Hall does so nimbly having failed residents during the fire by not advocating and assisting the flummoxed first responders, mismanaging the mandatory evacuation, and closing down the emergency control center for 16 crucial hours so it can move to a safe Santa Monica, when it really did not have to.

And shamefully after, failing to insinuate itself as it should have in the fire fighting command chain, and then dismissing and actually hampering those who stayed behind to valiantly fight the fire and save their homes and their neighbors.

You might be able to forgive those at city hall who pleaded it was beyond their responsibility and that they were at best messengers, as our over paid and under achieving city manger Reva Feldman has declared. But if you at all care for Malibu, you can’t forget .

And as those who have had any managerial experience in either the pubic or private sectors can attest, when you take on a leadership role, you essentially forfeit the right to make excuses.

That is especially if you are a neophyte earning $300,000 plus a year, as our city manager has wrangled for herself, and have an entourage of aides at your beck and call.

Helping also at the time of crisis, is having a fawning fan of a mayor, such as the obsequious Rick Mullen, a fellow scam artist. What else can you label him after being recently exposed hitting up the strained fire department budget for $250,00 in overtime on top of $150,000 a year job. And he is yet to apologize.

One wonders if he was double dipping in those hours as a fire captain when also posing as mayor. This hopefully will be revealed in the studies now underway of what happened during the fires, as will be the actions and inactions of other. Hopefully. 3.24.19

REVIEW OF CITY MANAGER POSTPONED

The latest: The City Council in a closed session DECLINED to act on the review of Reva’s performance, and have put off the item until April 8th. This has to be encouraging to the many who feel the over paid and under achieving Reva has been derelict in her duties as City Manager, and has been scamming the city. These had been my prepared remarks I submitted to the council prior to its closed session:

“One has to wonder what it will take for Malibu to come to the sad awakening that it has been poorly served by its city manager who presumably was sworn to protect us?

The question before us now is Whether the failures of Reva Feldman can be forgiven by this City Council, and a status quo conscious citizenry; failures that include the city’s lack of preparedness for the fire, its mishandling of the mandatory evacuation, and its witless disregard of the besieged residents in the aftermath of the fire.

These debacles and their disastrous consequences can be laid at the feet of Feldman, who actually at first had the temerity of praising herself for her efforts during the fire, and conspiring with then Mayor Rick Mullen to blandly attempt to try to deceive the public.

But when she was exposed as actually abandoning City Hall and the Emergency Operations Center there during the 16 hours when the fire was ravaging western Malibu and Point Dune, she pleaded she was just following the mandatory evacuation and had no authority over the response of the Fire and Sheriff’s departments.

Cited were state laws and codes concerning a declared state of emergency that limit the authority of a city manager and all local government officials. But whatever regulations there are, in the immediacy of a disaster local governments are not excluded from the manifest chain of command, indeed are a much needed link in the communications that flows up and down the chain in combating the fires.

The harsh fact is that during the critical hours of the fire Feldman failed the city; wasn’t even a self described “messenger” for which she incidentally is obscenely paid $300,000 a year, despite her lack of proven supervisory experience.

She was challenged by the fire, and was found wanting.

As for the appeals not to be divisive, and the contention that Feldman as the city manager is vital to the rebuild effort, that is simply answered by her going on a Paris vacation at a parlous time.

She is really superfluous, and thank goodness there are staff beyond her entourage known to be competent, if not dispirited by her closed door, closed mouth mismanagement. If this was the private sector, she would have been shown the door long ago.

Of course, if the council listens to the anguish of its constituencies, it could vote to remove her, now. She could also resign, and save the city a lot of angst, and herself further embarrassment.”

BURNTOUTS PONDER FUTURE

It’s been four months since the Woolsey Fire, but for many of the burntout victims no doubt it seems like four or more years, as they grapple with whether to give it all up to the devil and move elsewhere, or rebuild with the intention of selling, or eventually moving back.

As I write in thelocalmalibu.com, these are hard choices for persons who profess their love of Malibu as a seaside rural village with a distinct sense of place and community, for when ultimately deciding what to do they also must consider their age, finances and fleeting feelings of an evolving city.

 It should be noted that almost all encountered were long term residents of western Malibu and Point Dume, and the streets there of more modest homes of mostly nuclear families; that is when compared to the up scale beach streets with a more transient and less neighborly population. Those garage fronts and gates are uninviting,.

 It was the relatively more modest streets and canyons that were hit hardest by the fire, and that has raised concerns that if many of its residents don’t return, how Malibu will change over the coming years after the rebuild?

The question I proposed was, will there be a hollowing out of Malibu, from a community of more congenial households with a local history to a more anonymous tourist town and trophy luxury houses for the off-putting, wary one percenters, people who can afford the costlier rebuilds.

Those informally questioned were frankly hesitant to reveal their plans, because they truly hadn’t decided yet, or had nagging concerns about insurance, the Rebuild process, escalating construction costs and the time all would take.  Seniors were most concerned.

               There was nothing particularly revealing in the city’s update of the fire damage, which reported the residential structures destroyed totaled 488. There also were 100 residential structures damaged, and 222 “other” structures destroyed or damaged, including mobile or motor homes.

This brought a estimate of “residences” affected by the fire to about 600, out of the city’s 5,500 households, according to City Hall. Realtors and others have further estimated that about a quarter of the total households are mostly second homes and a lesser number of short term rentals.

If as assumed by the census there are 2.32 persons per household, putting his the total directly affected by the fire at a roughly 2,000 persons, a substantial quarter of Malibu’s permanent population, estimated at 8,000 of the  posted population of 13,000.

As for the arbitrary few burntout victims cornered, almost all, without prompting, expressed palpable anger how the city and first responders had failed them, and how this has exacerbated concerns over the future of the city.

They noted with varying emphasis and anguished adverbs the pathetic preparations, the woeful frustrating mandatory evacuation, and, most of all, the apparent botched deployment of fire fighters and equipment. If they blamed anyone, it was City Manager Reva Feldman, further reviled for being self-aggrandizing.

Yes, this was a repeat of what was voiced at the several forums in the wake of the fire, but for victims and others who witnessed and felt the heat of the catastrophe, it is something that will probably haunt them for a long time.

 It certainly haunts me, and I am obliged to repeat it, less we forget who failed us, and who might fail us again in the future fires, sure to come, to a changed Malibu, sure to be.

3.13.19

MALIBU’S FOLLIES, CONTINUED


So, the attorney for the over reaching Malibu Beach Inn has threatened to sue the city if it does not approve a public-be-damned proposal calling for a traffic light on PCH so the high end hostelry can accommodate quest parking off site and a private swimming pool.

Such brazen threats by attorneys in the past have been known to intimidate Malibu’s City Hall, which too often has tended when browbeaten to yield on planning issues, especially when confronted by resourceful applicants.

That is except when generous attorney fees could be charged to the city to hire help for its in house legal efforts, though given the city’s poor record in the courts raises questions whether the expenditures were worth it.  Well, rumor is that city attorney Christi Hogin is going to retire soon, anyway, as I comment in my city observed, here and in TheLocal.com and select websites.

Meanwhile, to its credit an emboldened Planning Commission at its last meeting rejected the Beach Inn’s proposal that unquestionably would make worse the tortured traffic on PCH, what with valets and guests darting back and forth, and a another light only a few steps away.

 The proposal now goes back to staff to putz around with, and may come back to the Commission and possibly City Council, accompanied no doubt by echoing threats to sue. By the way, threats are cheap; law suits expensive.

The Commission’s rejection came despite the recommended approval of the Inn’s proposal by the city’s Nit picking Parking and Zoning Police Department, which operates under the nom de plume of the Planning Department, and the twitchy thumb of director Bonnie Blue and the heavy hand of city (Mis)Manager Reva Feldman.

Not incidentally, the well compensated nodding doll duo no doubt is impressed by the PR enhanced Malibu money and celebrity crowd, to be sure as others are, which does frankly make living and working here perhaps more lively, if not pricey. It also exposes the municipal mismanagemernt.

With the unctuous Reva unquestionably taking the lead, the duo have the arrows in their City Hall quivers to be able to accommodate however surreptitiously the local deep pocket real estate rabble, which has been known to pick up an occasional check at the local overpriced eateries. These include the Inn which yearns to be a second choice for the over flow high spenders at its overpriced celebrity spangled neighbor Nobu.

Reva certainly is known to like her perks, milking her Malibu identity, and traveling often on city business, as she did recently to pick up an reward as City Manager of the Year, from an association of peers, which she is coincidentally an officer, and for which the city picks up the tabs.

 Whatever the association’s criterion is for the award, it haughtily refused to discuss them with Paul Taublieb, a contributor to The Local whose journalistic experience includes a few Emmy Awards. This can unnerve despotic bureaucrats who are used to bull shitting underpaid and untutored journalists on compromised community media outlets.

Though perhaps we really don’t want to know how she wrangled the award, for Reva has been shown to be wily, as evidenced by her $300,000 plus annual salary and benefits she receives from Malibu.

 And this after just a few years of administrative experience and no pertinent graduate degrees, having been previously a behind–the-door bean counter for nearly a decade, though obviously knowing where, and how, the bodies are buried in bureaucracies. Being also able to pad her payroll with faithful lackeys and tap outside consultants, obviously helped her public image, at least enough to impress Malibu’s neophyte councils.

Exercising as it does scant oversight, past councils of mostly undiscerning half-baked politicians over the years have tended to be fond of handing out generous consultant contracts, in return reportedly of being glad handed and validated off campus. And what hints of administrative abuses may have been uncovered, they were ignored, consistent with the cult of amiability that pervades local politics.  

Hey, Jake, Malibu may not be Chinatown, but being a mythic and more-than-well off desirable seaside village with the reputation of having a mostly distracted, self-satisfied citizenry, it is well suited for burrowing bureaucrats in search of sinecures. Where else can an inexperienced city manager earn more than the governor of a State with the 5th largest economy in the world.

MALIBU HAUNTED BY THE FIRE AND CITY HALL SERPENTS

The thought of the fire still haunts me, as I am sure it haunts many in Malibu, especially the burnouts but also persevering residents who are acutely concerned how it will effect the future city, other than at the present being a cash cow for select public serpents.

 If you think “serpents” is too strong to describe select bean counters in our City Hall these day, read the last few paragraphs to this commentary, that also appears in Thelocal.com  and select websites everywhere.

 Meanwhile, I can still see from a sandy perch on free Zuma beach that monster cloud, dark with toxic ash, slowly drifting from above a west Malibu exploding in spasmodic flames, to cast an ominous shadow over Point Dume that fateful Friday afternoon. 

That image and the view the next day of the smoldering ruins of homes of friends and neighbors, and our house miraculously still intact, will be with me for a long, long time. No need to bring up the few photos I took those days to conjure up memories..

“So so fucking lucky,” commented my New York learned lawyer and litigator daughter who usually picks her words carefully. Or what I know my deceased father would say, as he said to me once after a personal misfortune,  “So, you‘re free and still got your health.  Enjoy it.”

 He should know, having somehow survived a world war, a revolution and a civil war in a ravaged Russia and some miserable years after journeying through a menacing Europe before settling in Paris. And as my mother would inevitably caution, “survivors shouldn’t look back.”

Nonetheless, the memory of the worst Malibu fire in history still weighs on my consciousness a full four months after, as I consider what to write for my commentary, while growing increasingly perturbed over how too many fire victims are being treated by miserly insurance companies and, worse, city apartichiks. And then there is an unapologetic, covetous city manager Reva Feldman smirking behind closed doors.

Exceptionally heart rendering and harrowing are the very personal stories of victims I hear in the coffee shops, on lines at Costco, and gossiping at the Trancas Canyon Dog Park, now that is finally open after being closed for two years (canine calculated).

Most plaintive is the candid comments posted in the social media, notably in Nextdoor Pt. Dume and Neighbors. It is must reading for anyone remotely involved in the Rebuild effort and needs to know what victims and others are thinking, and most importantly, feeling.

Personally, it makes me really angry To quote from just one written by a Point Dume resident of 59 years:” The city staff and employees are our public servants. How can it be that they are not offering, assisting, and helping homeowners with filling out forms? They should have samples for and a road map for success and directions to follow for applying for all of these processes. They should be ashamed of themselves and for their unprofessional and poor behavior in our community.  Our City should be fighting for and aligning with us in these challenging times. If these rough tactics are not curbed right away, we may have another generation chased out of our once beautiful town. “

That greatly concerns me, and others. As another involved resident wrote:   “What the city government really owes us is to make it possible for Malibu to return to its old self. We all know what Malibu used to be and the only way to return to that Aloha feeling is to allow rebuilding by those who have been forced out. Part of that is for the city council to tackle rent gouging with strict enforcement of the laws, lower the rebuild fees and stop the takeover of Malibu by short term rentals. Our locals need to live in Malibu…

As for the City leveling permit fees, I again echo what stalwart burnout victims advocate Gail Block has declared; that “there should be no more excuses; no obnoxious means tests; there should be relief, now!”

And by the way, a quick comment about an issue I trust does not slip by an already overburdened council: that Reva and entourage has quietly set aside $300,000 (for two years of salary plus benefits) in the City Library budget, reportedly in anticipation to award former councilmember Laura Rosenthal with a sinecure on the Library Foundation.

A review of the Library budget further found several other egregious abuses, which to their credit Mayor Wagner and Pro tem Farrer apparently axed to the tune of $1 milllion, but were covertly put back by the city manager’s office. The bollixed budget is on the council’s agenda for next Monday.

As the articulate head of an investigative task force with which I once was associated said discovering similar shenanigans, “This shit has to end!

WHITHER MALIBU THESE DARK POST DISASTER DAYS

When asked what one word would best describes post disaster Malibu, I offered “fractured,” then amended it to “hurting,,” then “changing,” followed by “challenged.” Actually words really don’t describe the conflicted feelings residents have for their Malibu these days.

 No, make that “anguished feelings” correcting my City Observed commentary in the Localmalibu.com and other select websites.

 Still, others asked have suggested “sad,” “frustrated,” or bluntly “fucked,” depending if their houses were burnt to a blackened heap, or are still standing but covered in toxic ash, or damaged in myriad ways, and  whose  estimates being questioned by obnoxious neophyte insurance adjusters from another planet.

To be fair, there are others more fortunate and found their insurance adjuster sympathetic and with an appreciation of what things cost here in a grounded Malibu rather than in a disparate Kansas City: that for instance ash just can’t be cleaned by a $11.50 an hour hire for two days, as a I heard had been determined in at least one instance. Ha.

It is too bad that many anguished homeowners affected by the fire have felt the need to hire a private insurance adjuster, if not a lawyer, to represent them.  Some have suggested the more aggressive, if not intimidating, the better. (Though I have found my rose with-a few-thorns of a determined Irish smiling wife to be effective.)

 Coming out of this quandary, I hope someday soon there will be a consumer’s report of sorts to evaluate home-owner insurance policies. And maybe at City Hall some sort of ready help desk for belabored homeowners not filing rebuild plans but in need of answers to a host of practical questions, or perhaps an advocate.

Now there is a concept, indeed a challenge, for City Hall denizens that can perhaps begin to mend some of the antipathy many resident feel for those who supposedly are to paid to serve them.  Among the pressing complaints these dark post disaster days is the city charging permit fees for people struggling to rebuild.

 As the irrepressible Gail Block said in an appeal to the city to drop the objectionable fees, “We aren’t getting permits out of choice; it’s out of necessity. The faster and easier we make it for the permanent population of Western Malibu to back to their properties., the better it will be for all interested groups–schools, small businesses, realtors, and especially the displaced people (self included).”

The ever-persuasive Block notes that L.A. County and the city of Santa Rosa have waived fees, among other gestures to somehow ease the pain, if not the trauma, of the rebuild process.

It isn’t that those fees are needed to pay for the staff headed by our overpaid city manager, the unapologetic Reva Feldman, despite what fawning former mayor Rick Mullen might mumble for whatever reason.

 Certainly someone who billed the public for $250,000 in over time in a recent year, most of which was sleeping at a fire house, would not be a person expected to conduct a personnel evaluation, administer a payroll, or to aid those struggling in rebuild hell. His house was saved, served reportedly by a fire engine seen on Ramirez  for that sole purpose, ignoring the pleas by neighbors for help.  As if another reason was needed for the recall of him and Skylar Peak.

Then of course there is the majority of Malibu residents in the civic center and east whose homes were spared, though are undoubtedly concerned, touched as they are by a survivor’s guilt, or virtuous feelings for their neighbors to the west, or just how the fire will affect real estate prices, in the present and future.

So too are the hordes of real estate agents that compose the city‘s principle employment and represent its number one industry.  They have tended to see fires in the past as opportunities, with prices in the immediate at bargain lows and inevitably in time rising to new highs.

And this prompts  the local old Testament types to answer the question of what one word defines Malibu these days with, naturally, a question,  “So what’s  “fractured,”or even more  metaphysical and introspective, “what Malibu?”  

That is also what we should be concerned with, for unquestionably many burnt out residents, particularly families, wont be returning, raising the question of what will be the Malibu of the future. Something to ponder.

To end on a positive note, a plug for somehow Izzy’s Donation Center to continue serving victims of the fire, under the magnanimous management of Maggie Luckreath.  Be it in the old post office building behind the Post Office, as she suggests, or as a free rent pop up in one of our vacant village center stores, somewhere to keep that flame of local philanthropy burning , warming our hearts and serving those still aching.


2,28.19