CITY COUNCIL FOLLIES

If the firm retained by Malibu to evaluate the city manager and city government, Management Partners, wanted an exemplification of the some of  the inherent local problems involved  it could have attended  the last meeting of the city council , or as I did view it on television.


However measured, either as an experienced hard edged professional or an empathetic local plebian, it was pathetic,  exposing as it did the council’s failed leadership and faulty thinking, and. particular galling, the city manager’s disingenuous maneuvers and disregard of the city’s past, and future.

At issue was the city manager Reva Feldman’s proposal of selling two prime acres of the recently purchased 9.6 acre Civic center site known variously as the chili cook-off site and more accurately as the “Ioki property,” a former flower and vegetable farm owned by an American  family of Japanese heritage that was shamefully seized in the hysteria of WW II.

The proposed sale to the L.A. Fire Department for a questionable location of a fire station and offices was placed on the agenda by the ever money-grubbing city manager, who prides herself  as a budget conscious bureaucrat  –except  of course when it comes to her bloated salary, hand-picked personnel, select consultants  and  travel budget for favored councilpersons.

Not incidentally, I trust that these items are being unearthed by the Management Partners team in its promised review of the city manager’s performance, consistent with the investigative maxim of “follow the money.” That as a relatively neophyte, first time city manager she is earning more than the State’s governor,  the mayor of Los Angeles and our Congressional representative  must raise some questions.

Though to be sure, it apparently didn’t bother her prime advocate on the council, former mayor Rick Mullen, who was found to be billing the public some $250,000 a year in overtime, according to a L.A Times expose, for literally sleeping on the job as a fire captain beyond his $150,000 annual salary.  Figuratively speaking, being on the public teat does make for some strange bedfellows. and sadly no apologies.

But thanks to an alert by the ever vigilant Mari Stanley and Bruce Silverstein, in the local social media, the agenda item prompted a diverse conscientious dozen residents to  attend the meeting Monday night.

All spoke in varying opposition and timbre to the sale, citing questionable appraisals, the lack of proper public outreach, the poor location for the facility, and the reneging of the site for recreation, a promise that dates back several decades when I did penance as a city Parks and Recreation Commissioner. The varied statements all added up to a cogent and convincing case for the rejection of the sale and a censure of the city manager.

But that was apparently too much to ask of a divided city council, several members who still seems obligated to the city manager for unspoken reasons,  and others who by their convoluted questions just do not seem particularly knowledgeable or sensitive to land use issues.  (Why is it the more they speak the less they seem to know about a subject.  “et cetera, et cetra,” to quote Mullen.

And ill judged as well as misguided was the praise by the ever amiable Mayor Wagner of the city manager’s debatable financial acumen and  concern for budgets.

As an aside, Feldman’s answer to a resident revealing that the former councilmember Laura Rosenthal might be the recipient of a $150,000 a year dubious position for a forged foundation was blithely  evasive, citing that the public funds was not the city’s but rather the county’s. as if this made it  acceptable.

Meanwhile, the council kept the proposal for the sale alive, kicking it to several suspect city commissions for presumably public hearings, and giving the city manager some wriggle room. 4.24.19

DEMOCRACY BEING TESTED, EVERYWHERE

Last Wednesday evening was one of the those nights when there were just too many events to attend, that’s if you care about Malibu as a distinctive livable community, and are concerned about its future, and no less the future of democracy.

There was first a special meeting of the Malibu Council to discuss the budget, actually it was labeled a workshop, and ostensibly to hear the heartfelt appeals of whom were burned out in the Woolsey Fire to lift the city’s onerous rebuild permits. These are friends and neighbors who need support beyond the sympathy and lip service they are now receiving.

There also was a community information meeting organized by the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District to review the proposed plans for a new middle and high school. Though my kids have long since happily graduated, I do feel strongly for the need of updated local school facilities.

Then there was a book signing by Suzanne Guldimann of her “Life in Malibu,” a love letter to her lifelong home. Having always read her with pleasure, in her Malibu Post and elsewhere, I wanted to go to show her my support. And also add that it regretfully was not a sponsored affair by our local library, for as a local author she need all the support she can get for her self-published effort. More on that later.

Also definitely at another time, soon, comments on the Council “workshop.” and the city’s new budget adjusted to give the fire victims some relief. I caught the proceedings on television, and appreciated the public comments, especially the offer to “blue pencil” the budget by Chris Carradine.

In the interest public disclosure, I worked with Chris briefly at Disney Imagineering, (as a senior creative consultant) and am more than confident he would bring needed justice to what up to now has been a municipal monopoly game of funny money played by neophytes behind closed doors.

As for the new school plans, another meeting is scheduled, which I hope to attend and perhaps comment.  My interest here is personal and professional, having in a distant maverick past directed the development of three high schools in New York City, thanks in part to the support of the Ford Foundation’s Educational Facilities Laboratory.  

But what I finally decided to attend Wednesday night was an always engaging Live Talks event featuring Nathan Gardels and Nicolas Berggruen, in conversation with Mayor Eric Garcetti, discussing the book “Renovating Democracy: Governing in the Age of Globalization and Digital Capitalism.” This might seem somewhat discursive and academic, but I feel it is relevant as well as worrisome, to what is happening worldwide.

Make no mistake about it, our hallowed democracy is being obviously tested nationally and internationally by a rise of harshly conservative potentates, who have come to intoxicating power under the pretense of populism.

Yes, democracy as an institutional form of governance involving the yielding of freedoms and the obeying of laws in return for at least a modicum of safety and services, and critically having the rights and responsibility of participating in its direction. This is all wrapped up generally in something simply defined as a social contract.

Locally, at least in my Malibu, the threat is more insidious, though not by the parade of pandering and self- important politicians. They have been mostly neighbors and can be indulged, except for a few exposed self-serving scammers sadly driven by greed.

No, the threat locally is by self serving bureaucrats, apparatchiks really, operating under the guise of public service; public servants who might be derogatorily labeled pubic serpents. In their quest for comfortable, lucrative sinecures, many have ridden roughshod over the rights and needs of the public, in particular those with out resources and resolve. Instead, they cater to paid  “facilitators” who in effect grease the skids to approvals and in effect do the work for them. And if not, there’s the cushion of consultants

I’m talking here specifically of Malibu’s city manager, Reva Feldman.  She might have risen to the position three years ago with undoubtedly the best of intentions, at an exalted salary in a congenial, solvent community.  And that after nearly a decade of pencil pushing in the backrooms of Malibu City Hall, and before that in the web of Joe Edmiston’s Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, not coincidentally a once well intentioned public endeavor, now clouded by a cult of personality.

But Feldman had been tested and found wanting by the disastrous Woolsey Fire, not adequately preparing for it, deplorably absolving herself and staff of any responsibility during the heat of the fire, and then fumbling the city’s protracted rebuild effort that now limps along despite its statements to the contrary. At least its inflated public relations staff has been hard at work.

Hard at work also I trust is the team of Management Partners, who was retained by the city to among other things evaluate the how role the city manager responded to the disaster, presumably before, during and after. I look forward to being interviewed next week.

BEYOND THE PCH: THE LACMA CALAMITY

A calamity perhaps is the word to describe the design process our Los Angeles County Museum of Art has been suffering for the last half dozen years, and let me stress that is “our” taxpayer supported museum.

A catastrophe certainly will be the word to describe the museum if the $600 million plus design becomes as feared the nightmare construct and a failed Southern California conceit, orchestrated by a self aggrandizing art crowd.

Putting on my battered hat as the former architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times, and several other professional publications, I join the chorus of critics and tax payers to urge the County Board of Supervisors to stop feeding funds to what will be by the time it is built a one billion dollar mistake. That total includes the private donations by art patrons that could have gone elsewhere.

The Board including that usual clear headed Sheila Kuehl who represents my Malibu is poised to release $117.5 million for the calamity, having to date been wined and dined, and their egos massaged, by wily museum director Michael Govan. Talk about an edifice complex of a star struck arts administrator, and of what is ostensibly a public institution.

Meanwhile, the clearly over-whelmed Govan and over-his-head architect, Switzerland-based Peter Zumthor, have been putzing around with the design for what seems like dog years, the latest study inexplicably reducing the proposed gallery space, when obviously needed is more to house the collection. Less in this case is less.

It appears the design process has been a cozy, closed closet exercise, involving numerous commutes between Zurich and Los Angeles. Not bad when you are punching the clock at a non profit sinecure, but sad when considering those funds could be used for arts education in our culturally starved public schools.

And talk about being environmentally insensitive, it is hard to rationalize the demolition of the nearly half a million square feet of the existing landmark museum, and the chaos of the years of construction

As for the proposed design, it is no longer colored black as the muck in the adjacent tar pits, but it is still a biomorphic blob sprawling across Wilshire Boulevard. The galleries might be one floor, as Govan wanted, but the structure is ugly and awkward.

Time for the County Supervisors to bring this farce of a design process to a screeching halt.

4,4.19

DANCE ABOUNDS

Whether it is just the warm and welcoming seasonal weather  coming this year after a hard Winter of wildfires and floods, or whether it is just the coincidental whims of select cultural venues. Whatever it might be, the joys of dance are happily being celebrated this Spring across Southern California.

At the relatively accessible Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills last weekend, on stage in a rare performance was Cuba’s Malpaso Dance Company. (BTW, the company was labeled that when it broke away from the originally state sponsored theater, malpaso in English meaning misstep.

But the company has persevered to become renown , blending as it does a variety of modern dance styles, featured was a program of the favored old and challenging new. 

Yes, old but for me ever new 30 years since it exploded on  a New York  stage was the Cuban rendition of Merce Cunningham’s Fielding Sixes, adapted here for eight agile dancers.  Also on the program were three more recent pieces, and though interesting, just did not excite as did the Cunningham restaging.

Perhaps  it was nostalgia, in anticipation also of this weekend’s offering at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in the Music Center downtown L.A.  Wednesday thru Sunday by the venerable Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

For sixty years the much honored dance company has been mesmerizing audiences with fresh interpretations of modern dance techniques.  And I am pleased to note that the nightly differing programs all will feature the acclaimed masterpiece Revelations, a personal favorite.

For those who are really turned on by dance, for an admission price of $75  there will be what promises to be an unforgettable party  after Friday’s performance, to meet and mingle with some of the Alvin Alley performers. Light fare will be served on the fifth floor. where, who knows, you just might be tempted to try out some of your moves.

In the same spirit, but free, at the Wallis’s outdoor Promenade Terrace, being offered every second Sunday afternoon of the month, beginning next Sunday, the 14th, will be an interactive studio conducted by the dancer Debbie Allen and Friends.  Yes,that’s free.  Thank you Wallis

Each studio will feature a different dance step, beginning with Flamenco in April, Voguing in May and Salsa in June.  By the way, Voguing is a stylized dance originating from the black and Latino LGBT community of New York City. All ages and levels are invited. Just make sure you’re wearing the right shoes.

Also upcoming this Spring. is the Los Angeles Dance Festival, at the  Luckman Fine Arts Complex on the Cal State east L.A. campus., next weekend, April 12 thru 14. That is for the main stage performances of a variety of dancers and companies. Checkout the program on the website, luckmanarts.org

 For what promises to be a little more edgy are the offerings April 26th to 28th at the festival’s Fringe, at the Diavolo Studio Black Box, in the downtown’s Arts District, 616 Moulton Avenue. If you love dance, you have to love these diverse venues, however a challenge it might be getting to them.