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.

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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.