MALLEABLE, MUDDLED MALIBU

Being misanthropic Malibu, it will not be surprising if the city’s attempt to thwart tacky “McMansions” most likely will end up just feeding its bungling bureaucracy and frustrating a planning conscious public.

And given the city’s protracted politicized process, I suspect it also will fatten the suspect facilitators of deep pocket developers, and compromise whatever ordinance might be approved, as they have in the city government’s pathetic past.  

Yes, there is finally a report out from the city’s Planning Department recommending an amendment to the zoning code that may have the effect of possibly limiting square foot development of select projects in select residential zones.

The attempt to somehow institute an ill defined goal of neighborhood character is scheduled to be aired before the Planning Commission July 1st and presumably eventually by the City Council.

But after reviewing it, and despite being an adherent of neighborhood character, as an experienced planner and long time resident of Malibu, concerned for its preservation as a livable community, I reluctantly oppose the proposed ordinance.

Primarily I do so because I fear however limited it would only make the city’s rebuild effort more muddled, exasperate many of the burned out Woolsey fire victims of modest means, and further discourage their return, hollowing out the economic and demographic diversity of the city.

 And this while encouraging flipping, to no doubt the cheers of prevailing, ever-avaricious realtors.

Even if the proposed amendment to the dense zoning code somehow is clarified to address neighbor character, the problem that has plagued planning in Malibu since its founding persists.

Bluntly that is a mostly inept and lazy municipal government, conniving administrators and vain glorious, generally neophyte city councils. And this sorrowfully includes some good people whom I consider friends, but if truth be told who are not particularly politically or planning savvy.

No matter how noble the city’s mission statement, and how well intentioned the city’s codes may be, I feel they can be only as effective as are those who administer them.

As for the report, it does not in its own voluble wording address the findings requested by the council for site plan review and minor modification “that the projects does not adversely affect neighborhood character.” It is a bad read.

Not incidentally, it was written by a former city planning director and now a consultant; heaven forbid the city with its overblown staff headed by an overpaid city manager attempt to do any heavy lifting or heavy thinking. Our bean counters do love their consultants to the tune of millions of tax payer dollars that instead could be going to improved services.

What we have gotten is a lot of lip service from the City Hall crowd posing as friends of Malibu, all the while surreptitiously raising the fear that limiting development and square footage would limit price and profit. For this we must credit local rumormongers.

As I have stated previously, real estate value is based on location and neighborhood character, and that out-of-scale mansionization tends to diminish value. They also tend to be poorly detailed and in bad taste, and generally bad neighbors, earning the approbation of “McMansion.”

I first used the phrase back in the 1980s when as the LA Times Design Critic described the practice in Santa Monica of building the largest size house possible on a site, which led to a domino effect that ultimately compromised the character of neighborhoods and accelerated gentrification.

In Malibu, I recall too well a case years ago in which an over designed plan for a prime site on Cliffside Drive had been objected to by neighbors, but nonetheless was approved by the city after an emotional appeal by the owner.  He and his tearful wife pleaded that though possibly over designed the house nevertheless was the family’s dream, where they intended to live into the sunset. 

Within a year after completion, they flipped the house for a huge profit, and flipped off Malibu. There have been too numerous similar incidents, orchestrated by special interests scamming a malleable Malibu.

Yes, Malibu needs some tough codes to protect what is left of its “neighborhood character,” but what it really first needs is a committed and courageous City Hall.

WHITHER MALIBU

  It is no surprise that the Malibu City Council approved extending the contract with California Strategies, despite no public accounting for the more than $2 million it has paid the Sacramento firm over the last dozen years, and a violation of accepted municipal practices.

The extension was recommended by City Manager Reva Feldman, who continues to mesmerize and manipulate a susceptible, neophyte council to safeguard her sinecure while wily wrapping a somnolent city in a bureaucratic web.

To witness the last council meeting it seems forgotten was that our $300,000 plus a year de facto mayor Feldman failed to prepare the city for the Woolsey fire disaster, mismanaged the evacuation, abandoned the emergency control center when most needed, neglected to advocate in the civic chain of command for a local first response, and then chided those who stayed to fight the fire while praising her staff and herself for a job well done.

 We are talking here of gross malfeasances, further aggravated by the city’s lack of ethical public service norms, while the city manager hires staff and consultants such as California Strategies as foils.

Sadly for those who had cheered Malibu’s cityhood, there is no effective municipal checks and balances, nor council oversight, in particular its heedless fealty to Feldman.

 Perhaps the disastrous fire took the fight out of residents for a responsive and responsible local government, or maybe the hard fact is most who have the good fortune to live in Malibu really don’t care and don’t want to get involved.

 After all, what does City Hall actually do? Malibu doesn’t have its own police and fire departments or garbage pickup, nor can do anything about the traffic on the PCH. It does put out a lot of promotional press releases.

But frankly when it comes down to an explication, the Council is not much more than a self-important ceremonial construct, its commissions a local conceit. (Yes, I did serve, but we never built the playing fields or affordable housing, or instituted the view protection, that was and are still needed.)

 Let’s face it: Malibu has become a honey pot for bureaucrats, some of whom are committed to public service, but others who are self serving public serpents. And then there are the less than competent or caring office holders who seem to be tragically gaining in power globally. One wonders whither democracy, here in Malibu, and elsewhere?

TIME TO LIGHT A FIRE UNDER REVA

Time for Malibu City Council to halt the reflex approvals of the past, and start questioning some of the consultant relationships proposed by wily City Manager Reva Feldman.
Yes, the persevering overpaid, under achieving city manager who just told the municipal finance challenged council and her staff they must be frugal.
This is particularly needed in the wake of the disastrous Woolsey Fire and the acceding to the righteous request of waiving rebuild fees for resident victims. (And hopefully not for the real estate vultures waiting to snap up burnout sites.)
With this in mind, I have urged the Council to reject tonight’s item (3.B.11.) extending the contract with California Strategies, pending a transparent detailed accountability of the more than $2 million the city had paid it over the last dozen years.
This request has been made in the past, with, typically no response from the stiff upper lip City Manager, and a curt dismissal by the consultant.
In a long and questionable relationship with the city there has been no written report available to the public, of any indication of service, contrary to the best practices of municipal management.
One has to wonder what the firm has accomplished on behalf of Malibu other than glad hand and host select councilpersons and the city manager?

IF YOU CARE ABOUT MALIBU

If City Manager Reva Feldman was so determined rallying resources on behalf of Malibu in the disastrous Woolsey Fire as she is preserving her sinecure perhaps the present local quandary could have been avoided. Who knows?

If you happen to care, what we are sadly seeing at City Hall these dark post disaster days is a classic double defense of its questionable administration, the conscious construction of a bureaucratic bulwark by a wily city manager Feldman.

 And perhaps more sadly with Malibu suffering “fire fatigue,” it seems to be working.  It has been six months since Feldman failed the city and no criticisms have been forthcoming as of yet from a decidedly split, compromised City Council.

To be sure, it is waiting, as we all are, for the report of a well connected, perhaps too well connected, team of management consultants who are reviewing the city’s performance during the fire, and hopefully will address Feldman’s failures.

I added “hopefully,” given their indicated predilections otherwise cited by the indefatigable documentarian and local watchdog Paul Taublieb.  Will the report be a smoke screen?

Meanwhile, the city manager continues to laugh all the way to the bank, depositing her $300,000 a year salary and benefits, not bad for a neophyte pencil pusher with just three years chief ranking managerial experience.

Of course, that does not include her years as a fledgling under Malibu’s menace Joe Edmiston, of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. There no doubt he passed to her the apparatchik ability to haughtily ignore any criticism or critics.

Feldman’s first line of defense has been simply to be unapologetic, keep a stiff upper lip and not to take responsibility for having failed the city at its most crucial time during the firestorm, and pathetically continuing to fail it, while padding her payroll.

 Those who witnessed the city’s manager’s megaflop might be able to forgive her. That is if she admitted her failures, but they can’t forget her not preparing the city adequately for the disaster, mismanaging the mandatory evacuation, closing down the emergency control center when most needed, failing to advocate in the civic chain of command for a focused first response, and then dismissing and actually hampering those who stayed behind to valiantly fight the fire. 

Talk about grounds for dismissal!

No amount of bureaucratic obfuscation can hide the simple truth that if individuals such as a city manager and mayor had any sense of fidelity for their positions of trust, they should not be making excuses for their inaction and blaming others. Not apologizing also is just bad manners.

The second line of defense which we are now witnessing with a certain amusement is her obviously contriving awards for herself and staff from congenial consortiums, and taking credit for whatever half truths can be manufactured surrounding City Hall stumbling in the fire and after.

So for the State of the City, her fattened PR staff produced what I would label a public disservice video obviously at some expense in house, Now being played on the City’s social media and the City TV channel and available on-demand on You Tube, the slick video takes some egregious liberties from my perspective as an Emmy award wining reporter/producer.

Particularly sharp were the comments Taublieb, also an Emmy winner, included in an email to the city inquiring about the cost of the video. He added:

“BTW, the video is quite nice – great shots of fireman at work, but missing the ones of frantic homeowners waving at fire trucks riding by and refusing to stop and help!  and really love the coverage of the relief effort at pt. dume marine science and the boat relief – both efforts the city had nothing to do with and actually tried to stop!  or in reva’s words to me, “if you stayed behind you were not the responsibility of the city.”  but heh, we’re in the shadow of hollywood and taking credit for things you didn’t do is almost a local tradition!”

How will this farce of a City Hall end? I hope sooner rather than later, for I really don’t want to continue as town grouch, preferring instead to pursue cultural offerings, travel and tending my landscape.

But I also hate to witness my Malibu of many, long, loving years being hustled and compromised by greedy bureaucrats and special interests, orchestrating the sorrowful Woolsey Fire experience to their advantage.

5.25.19/6.1.19