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.