WOOLSEY FIRE REVIEWS

Malibu was poorly served and badly mismanaged, according to my  reading of three recently published public reviews of the Woolsey fire, the sum of which I feel offer compelling grounds for the dismissal of Reva Feldman as City Manager.

The County and City sponsored reviews (subsequently subverted by Feldman) in couched bureaucratic babble that were mostly modest exercises of one public hand washing another. Bureaucracies and consultants do tend to serve eacb other’s interests. 

 The two reviews frankly were not especially revealing nor constructively critical, other than declaring residents in future disasters would be on their own. But both did offer a compendium of utilitarian recommendations.

However reasonable the recommendations, given the shortcomings of local public services that includes first responders, as well as Malibu City Hall, it is harsh but realistic to expect most of the them, unfortunately, will not be effectively implemented. And this no doubt despite press releases to the contrary.

More candid and compelling is the third review prepared by the independent (read non-governmental) L.A. Emergency Preparedness Foundation. It cited what most involved and concerned persons have known through bitter experiences, which is the County and the City failed its residents, and subsequently disreputably eroded public trust.

The tragic and I feel unforgivable failures are detailed in the report, www. laepf.org/woolsey-fire , and more welcomed , readable and reliably, reported on KBUU, www.radiomalibu.net. Read it and weep.

In summary, the report cited poor preparations, particularly in light of the prior fires elsewhere in the State, as well as lack of communications at all levels of government in confronting the fire and keeping the public informed. Indeed, noted was the disrespectful treatment of residents, particularly those who ignored the shambolic evacuation and not incidentally valiantly saved many homes, despite being blockaded and discouraged by a faithless Feldman.

Also noted was Malibu’s CERT volunteers not being expediently activated.

The community meeting at Santa Monica High of residents who did evacuate was exposed in the report as a sham of self and staff aggrandizements, orchestrated by Feldman, though not cited  individually .

Meanwhile, in a further insult to Malibu residents, those culpable have falsely tried to declare their innocence while egregiously seeking congratulations. Even more shameless, the bean counter Feldman is seeking a raise, with benefits, that would set her salary at $300,000 plus, more than the Mayor of Los Angeles or our U.S. Senators.

Bluntly, that is a salary paid to a person to not make excuses; not call on chummy consultants to do the heavy lifting or act as cover, and not hire complaint staff to build a bureaucratic wall around her office, whose prime purpose is to coddle and co-op a fledgling council and peripherally serve residents.

Yes, as apologists state, the fire might have been the worst ever.  But it is an old military adage that any entity worth its salt while hoping for the best, plans for the worst. And whatever the plans, the chain of command, from top to bottom, be open and flexible once the first contact is made with the enemy and a shot is fired. Feldman during the fire was effectually M.I.A. a proverbial deer in the headlights, except for public relations efforts. 

And beyond her indefensible failures as City Manager during the disaster, has been her muddled management in the year since. This has included the city’s plodding rebuild efforts, the contradictory handling of the Airbnb quandary, the questionable leasing of land in the Civic Center to the SCE, the absolving of any responsibility for a dangerous PCH, and the questionable use of consultants in the face of a bloated bureaucracy that continues to be padded.

 These are all indicative of incompetent management, but if further grounds are needed for Feldman’s dismissal, they are in the L.A. Foundation report, appropriately entitled “A Catalyst for Change.”

 For the findings of the report to be ignored by the Council, we sadly must then consider its members culpable, their allegiances inexplicably tied to special interests and the City Manager, and not to the residents who elected them.

 As an addendum, I feel qualified to make these observations regarding the City’s and Feldman’s performance from the perspective of a long and award winning career in journalism and urban planning and development. My hope is that the City Council heeds what I am saying, as well as the chorus of Malibu citizens who are outraged by Feldman’s continued employment.

11.10.19

Published by

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.