TIME FOR CITIZEN BUDGET OVERSIGHT

Some good news, that is if the neophyte City Council and concerned citizens can assert themselves in the discretionary municipal budget review now going on at a paranoid City Hall.

That is a big “if” in the face of manipulative bureaucratic city manager Reva Feldman, who heretofore customarily scripted Malibu’s budgets to, yes, granted, serve the city, but also her personal political prerogatives. And she gives every indication of haughtily continuing to protect her job as de facto mayor of Malibu

As I write in The Local and other select websites, churning out budgets is the heart of public governance, theoretically directing where moneys are allocated for whatever priorities dictated by duly elected representatives, presumably acting on behalf of their constituencies. The bottom line is that budgets are the essence of what governments do.

Except in too many governments, in cities such as Malibu, the constituencies, out of ignorance or indifference, too often relinquish the budget process to a rapacious burgeoning bureaucracy. And their priorities unfortunately tend to be self-serving rather than public serving, such as padding their payroll and pensions, and cozying up to and coddling consultants and special interests for whatever nefarious reasons.

With that admittedly prejudicial view of government, I note Malibu’s City Hall these days is following up on the heartfelt recent pleas of the Woolsey Fire victims that prompted, if not shamed, the City Council to direct staff to revise the municipal budget. This is being done to allow permitting fees for rebuilding burn outs be waived by at least 75 per cent, which could save befallen homeowners up to $10,000.

That it had to take a determined, vocal contingent of victims to get a mostly mealy mouthed council and addled staff headed by a controlling city manager to act six months after the fire says something about the city’s callous, greedy governance.

To be sure, there has been a lot of hand wringing at City Hall over the fire. But according to many victims there has not been much shoulders-to-the wheel help from an inconstant staff, and an unrepentant hard assed Fire Department. Some of the experiences reported on social media have been harrowing.

What was the worst fire in Malibu’s history demands the foremost response by City Hall, financially, administratively and personally. And really so what if it would set a precedent, as an ever-cautious councilperson warned, and that the budget would be compromised.

It was calculated that cutting the fees would cost the city at least $2 million, and that if it wanted to maintain a desired undesignated “rainy day” reserve and balance the budget, it would have to cut some programs.

Various programs were mentioned, including postponing the solar  paneling of city hall, but typically the reworking of the budget details was bounced by Council back to staff, and that means back to the city manager’s desk, behind closed doors.

That is exactly where it should not be these days when her performance is being questioned by a growing contingent of concerned residents, and hopefully a consultant team hired by the city. She should not be given the opportunity to favor select people and programs in exchange for support, as she has baldly done in the past and is in position to continue.

Instead, I suggest the Council consider as other cities have instituting so called  “participatory budgeting,” a transparent process in which citizens participate in open decisions what  programs are to be funded or not.

That includes the cherry consultant contracts the city quietly awards and the generous travel expenses the city manager approves for herself and select councilpersons.

I suspect there is a lot of gravy hidden in Malibu’s budget that could be better used to ease the pain and suffering caused by the Woolsey Fire, rather than on some questionable junkets, and grants and contracts for arbitrary projects.

Too bold for a buttoned-up governance like slothful Malibu? Then in the interest of home grown democracy, how about some citizen input and oversight?

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hallkaplan

Parallel careers as an urban planner and a journalist, principally at present airing commentaries on pubic radio 99.1 KBU.FM The many arrows in my quiver have included Emmy award winning reporter/ producer for local Fox Television News, design critic for the Los Angeles Times, urban affairs reporter for The New York Times, an editor of The New York Post, contributor to various popular and professional publications, news services and broadcast outlets, including Reuters, NET, NBC, CBS, NPR and the BBC. Founding editor of the East Harlem (NY) Independent. A diversity of professional positions and consultancies in the private and public sectors, (Metro, Disney Imagineering, Howard Hughes, M. Milken, NYC Educational Construction Fund, US Comptroller of the Currency etc,) assorted academic appointments (UCLA, USC, CCNY, Art Center etc.), and always open to new challenge. And let us not forget fashioning sand castles and acting on 90210, crafting TV docs, design reviews, master plans. Books: "The Dream Deferred: People, Politics and Planning in Suburbia," "L.A. Lost and Found," an architectural history of Los Angeles, "L.A. Follies," a collection of essays, and co-author of "The New York City Handbook." Writings have appeared in academic texts, commentaries on the web, scripts for TV, and wherever, latest the Architects Newspaper, The Planning Report and Planetizen.