THE MUDDLE AT MALIBU CITY HALL

No sooner than I had lamented the sorrowful state of Malibu’s government recently on my return from abroad, that the city council held a muddled meeting, confirming my opinion.

Most of the recent meeting was taken up by the council rambling on how best to legally limit chain stores so as not to create a boondoggle as did the infamous Measure R several years ago.

That cost everyone both for and against the measure, and the city, hundreds of thousands of dollars, while exposing how inept all involved were, as I comment this week on public radio 99.1 KBU and website s everywhere.

What did come out of the quagmire was the election of a so-called reform slate of Skylar Peak, Rick Mullen and Jefferson Wagner. This put them in the majority over hidebound councilpersons Lou La Monte and Laura Rosenthal.

And if you haven’t noticed, the two lame ducks nevertheless continue to cluck and strut beyond the city limits on the city’s nickel, apparently, baldly, using Malibu as a springboard for some sort of political afterlife.

Meanwhile, the hope of the past local election was that the slate would alter the city’s questionable pro development stature and private property prejudices, and spur staff to be more transparent and resident friendly, and do their job.

That was perhaps too hopeful. Peak and Mullen became vainglorious, and the neophyte slate quickly fractured, As for staff, a wily Reva Feldman continues to skillfully mollify all as the city manager.

She even secured raises for herself and associates, and contracts for select consultants. Though as evidenced by a maladroit planning department, day-to-day operations at City Hall are not functioning very well.
The failings of the council and staff were sadly on view at a recent meeting, with Peak and LaMonte literally and figuratively phoning it in, and Jefferson Wagner leaving early.

Skylar actually stated several times by phone to the Council how his family home in Montecito was threatened by the Ventura fire, and later was quoted in a newspaper how another of his homes, in Hawaii, was threatened by incoming missiles.

There was no mention of his mail drop in Malibu that allows him to occasionally serve on Council to questionable effect.

Then there was planning director Bonnie Blue bemoaning the department’s work load, (I’m saving that for another commentary,) This was followed by the council in part by phone struggling with establishing that elusive retail formula for the civic center.

Frankly, I think it is a waste of time; the civic center long ago I feel having surrendered its conceit as Malibu’s nexus to become a fractured mall, serving tourists .

Most Malibu residents I know do their serious shopping “over the hill” in Agoura and Westlake, and their convenience shopping at the Point Dume and Trancas. village markets. The only real local attraction there is the library.

These days of increasing on-line and big box shopping, trying to set a retail formula for a commercial mall can be likened to rearranging chairs on the Titanic. From my view the life boats already are filled with shoppers and are drifting away.

The only hope I feel as an urban planner and, yes, a liberal humanist, is as I have previously suggested reprogramming the land for an infusion of needed affordable housing, in particular for our first responders, teachers and others serving Malibu,

This I’m confident will lend life to the city center, and give Malibu a faint hope for a more equitable future.

 

 

BACK IN MALADROIT MALIBU

I’m back in my catbird seat as the city grouch. It is a disquieting job, but given the fumbling City Hall someone has to do it.

Back after a long sojourn to a few of my favorite cities abroad, notably Berlin and London, observing how they have changed over the last half century I’ve known them, while enjoying their vibrant present.

But those observation are for a more fitting format reviewing world class cities than the Malibu focus of KBU, however its recent expanded signal from 97.5 to 99.1, now heard from Big Rock to the county line, and read on select websites.

Malibu is really not much more than a seacoast village, despite the fumbling of avaricious real estate developers, and realtors, neophyte politicians and an inept city administration.

Yes, I’m back at my post as city crouch in maladroit Malibu.

Of course not all involved in city affairs are consciously pernicious. A few are well-intentioned dedicated public servants, beyond sadly apparent self serving concerns.

That is not to say Malibu is particularly cursed, and that this unfortunate prime preoccupation with pay, perks and pensions do not permeate bureaucracies everywhere, be they national, state or local. They sadly do.

This is according to former colleagues of mine when I was briefly serving penance in public service. Reviewing with them what I thought was some Malibu malfeasance, they commented the city seemed no worse than other “schlock” governments.

Hence the oft quoted formula recited by government ombudsmen and journalist watchdogs, that A people hire A people, and B people hire C people. Malibu appears to be afloat in a crowded sea of Cs.

But for better or worse, mostly better, this is where our family has lived for decades, on Point Dume, enjoying a pastoral roost, ocean views, public access to the beach, and a landscape of succulents I cultivate.

More personally, this is where we have tried to be good neighbors, trimmed our trees, leashed our dogs, and picked up trash in the city’s neglected encroachments.

Perhaps most proudly, this is also where several of our children have excelled in the public schools, and have kept abiding friends, as I like to think so have we.

But from a municipal perspective, Malibu has problems: among others the future of the Civic Center, overdevelopment, Bluffs Park, Trancas Field, PCH and its indulged city staff and consultants. There persists a real need for oversight, as I raised several months ago in a report made at the behest of a city councilman, and was then ignored.

This is perhaps a good provocative note on which to end this returning commentary.

CELEBRATING CULTURE ABROAD AND HERE

Went away over the extended holiday season happily observing the music and museum scene in some historic and a few new cultural venues in a familiar Berlin and London, as I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and in print on websites everywhere.

These included a memorable Beethoven’s Ninth in stately Berlin landmark, a holiday concert in a pitch perfect Philharmonic Hall there and a sublime offering of Bach Cantatas in Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church, where he had been the venerable choir master.

In London there were several concerts in the inviting Wegmore Hall and stage productions in the West End and beyond. Those were at night, and of course during the days there were the varied museums and galleries I haunt.

And, yes, they had great gift shops sporting post holiday sales. Even the winter weather cooperated, with no more than the usual threatening clouds.

It was a lovely vacation. if it was not for the embarrassing cloud of our deranged disaster of a president that shadows Europe as it does America. Everywhere we went and were identified as Americans we were offered sincere sympathy for us by foreign strangers who consider Trump an aberration, and worse.

But meanwhile back in Los Angeles I happily observe on my return that the cultural scene is flourishing, paced as it has for the last half year by a wealth of exhibitions and happenings under the banner of Pacific Standard Time.

Branded LA slash LA, it is an engaging, celebration of the rich artistic traditions and contributions of Latin American artists and Latin countries. Check out on the web: pacificstandardtime.org

The ambitious program sponsored principally by a generous Getty is coming to an end. But in its waning days there is things still to see and experience locally,

What should be particularly provocative this weekend are several performance pieces at varied venues downtown , including the Broad Museum and Redcat gallery Saturday night, and at MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary Sunday.

But do check them out first on the internet; the performances may not be everyone’s cup of tea, or shot of tequila.

With time running out for Pacific Standard Time, if you want something more conventional, and accessible there are several exhibits that will be lingering at the Getty for another week.

These include one exploring the luxury and legacy of the ancient Americas, entitled Golden Kingdoms. It is amazing to think that some of the jewelry displayed dates back thousands of years, hinting at a rich culture that persists today.

That, of course, was the purpose of Pacific Standard Time, and it succeeded

A VIBRANT BERLIN REVISITED

 

This holiday season it was to be, “this year in Jerusalem,” far from Malibu.

However, our impolitic president made an impolitic statement touching off demonstrations in the Middle East. and prompting us to postpone our planned trip there to Israel and Jordan.

So reassigning our air miles accordingly, we move on to the second leg of our planned trip, to another city where I have a history, Berlin, to celebrate a gala upcoming New Year’s and an awesome music scene there, as I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and websites everywherew.

Berlin, of course, also has a history, a tumultuous one, which frankly fascinate me, and also stirs memories. The city is now thriving, but arguably it is the nexus of the last century, cursed by two disastrous world wars, and a crippling cold war,

It was that war that divided the city with a hateful wall I remember some 40 years ago when I crossed it on a dubious assignment for the US government, haunted as a Jew by the Fascist holocaust and as a liberal humanist by a Communist autocracy.

Crossing it then for me was like walking on egg shells, taking each step carefully while looking over my shoulder, whether above ground at Checkpoint Charley or underground by the subway through the security maze of the Fredrichstrasse Station.

At least it was warm in the then drab station, not piercing cold as Berlin can be in the winter, and which makes me all the more happier to live now in Malibu.

I returned to Berlin several years later, in 1982, on an urban affairs junket as design critic for the L.A. Times. Though circumstances were more congenial, the city was still divided, and edgy as ever. Journalists never seem to be welcomed in paranoid regimes, in Germany past, and now in the United States.

.Then the wall came down with a crash and cheers in 1989; Germany was united, and a decade later I was back in Berlin, this time for FOX News doing a documentary series on a city reborn. The redevelopment and design was impressive, and made for good visuals, and for me another Emmy nomination.

But it is the spirit of a city that most interests me. So, now, nearly 20 years later I’m back in Berlin, for a full schedule of cultural diversions, to celebrate the New Year.

For nostalgia I’m staying at the welcoming Melia hotel, on a now bright, buzzing Fredrichstrasse, steps away from the station where I was once uncomfortably interrogated before being allowed to return to West Berlin.

As sort of a celebration of freedom, among the concerts I will be hearing is Beethoven’s Ninth, the ode to joy, being performed in a refurbished hall in what was the former, joyless, East Berlin.

And then tonight it is The One Grand Show at the restored glistening Palace, also on the Fredrichstrasse, for a lavish review in the tradition of Berlin’s sultry cabaret scene.

Prost! Beer there is as good as I remember, but definitely more expensive.

 

 

CITIES NEAR AND DEAR TO ME THREATENED

With natural and manmade disasters erupting places near and dear to me, this week my city observed commentary on public radio 99.1 KB, and select websites everywhere, goes plural: it is cities observed.

Most immediate is my vulnerable Malibu, and the peninsula of Point Dume , where we live overlooking a shimmering Santa Monica Bay. Smoke from the nearby raging fires wafted in the skies above, but it was, is, safe. For now!

Hurricane hot winds whipped trees, and lifted the heavy planters into the pool, but no real damage was done, except to the Bromeliads I cultivate. We were made safer just weeks prior by our abiding long time neighbors, the Harringtons, cutting down a threatening pine tree, that had been shedding flammables on our property.

Those Pines and Eucalytus trees can be explosive torches, which some of Malibu’s misanthropes don’t seem to recognize, or care, despite the fire department warnings. As for our neophyte local government, it makes pronouncements, but prefers to sit idly by and let others the heavy lifting when it comes to the safety, and welfare of residents.

Not so safe was my former back woods community of creek side homes for which I was once a board director, on leased forest lands in the mystical Matilija Canyon north west of Ojai.

Located at the dead end of a long twisting road, it was evacuated in the Thomas fire that encircled and scorched bucolic Ojai. According to maps of the fire, the canyon community and our former cabin seems to have survived.

Not so lucky was large swaths of Ventura County, where hundreds of thousands of acres were burned and hundreds of homes lost. The fire continues only partially contained.

Another city very much on my mind these days is Jerusalem, roiling one again, as it has for most of its turbulent 3,000 year history, this time no thanks to our the impolitic announcement of our impolitic president.

We were actually suppose to be there now for the holidays, to celebrate my birthday in nearby Jordan, at the ancient remnants of the city of Petra, and of course, be in Jerusalem, to meet with the extended family, pay homage in Yad Vashem to our holocaust victims, place a prayer in the holy Western Wall, and, ecumenical us, go to Bethlehem Christmas eve,

Though I wont be able to insert the pieces of paper the prayer was written on, I can disclose it was, ironically, a plea for peace, good will, and health and happiness to all this holiday season. I hope someone is listening.

 

CRITICAL COMMENTARY NEEDED EVERYWHERE

As cityscapes everywhere continue to grow, so does the need for critical commentary; especially now, as our democratic institutions are being compromised by a nefarious fusion of greed, ignorance and fear. If you don’t think so, you do not have to read further. Take a walk on the beach and think about climate change.

In my purview of L.A. this includes the need for questioning the proposed ravaging of the County Museum, the green lighting of over designed high end developments, and the red lighting of needed affordable housing. Shameful, as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and websites everywhere.

In Malibu, a paramount question is whether the city will do the right, and moral, thing, hosting the homeless, or just talk, and talk, and talk, about it as those in need go hungry. Sanctuary city indeed,

Meanwhile, the city center continues to be misshapen as a tourist trap, and Legacy Park is finally being exposed as another pricey mistake by a neophyte City Hall, which can’t get its act together to even make happen a promised right turn lane off of the PCH.

But it certainly can bend the municipal budget to serve its pensions and payrolls, and select consultants. With no oversight to speak of, the city slyly continues to approve contracts for questionable services, from hosting lunches in Sacramento, to mowing grass.

This includes the maintenance of a rarely used practice field in Trancas Park that can be easily converted for needed Little League and AYSO use, and take development pressure off the environmentally sensitive Bluffs Park. That is if City Hall had any gumption.

Meanwhile, my dogs wonder what ever happen to the promised resurfacing of their park at Trancas.

The list goes on and on, but for now they will have to wait, for on the front burner, and simmering, is the proposal before the Santa Monica dominated school board to allow Malibu to create a stand-alone school district.

For the last seven years that feels like 70 to involved parents, Malibu’s school advocates have repeatedly argued for breaking away from the district, noting the differences and distance between the cities.

\Though previously agreeing to the separation, and having Malibu jump through all sorts of financial hoops, the board’s duplicitous Santa Monica majority apparently now is backtracking, and doesn’t want it. Neither does the new superintendent, who obviously knows who signs his checks.

So instead of blessing the separation as had been anticipated at the upcoming board meeting, scheduled for Thursday Nov.16th, up for review will be some unspecified lesser arrangement that allows them to keep control of the district , and keep shortchanging Malibu.

Malibu’s advocates for the separation are chagrined, to say the least, and are expected to pack the meeting to once again argue for the separation. As a show of force all supporters are being urged to attend. I certainly will be there,

 

 

MALIBU’S DREAM DEFERRED

If cities everywhere, in California, across the country, world wide, have a common concern it is not their urban design, as usually explored here, it is public schools.

People may not give a damn about their communities; not pay taxes, vote, mow the lawn, or even nod to neighbors, being nihilists or just plan anti-social. But whether misanthropic or not, having a child in public school connects them to the world.

It is a thin string that tends to bind even the most frail human settlements, and in a democracy, such as ours purports to be, is essential to its function and no less to its future. Schmaltzy I know, but I believe it.

So even if my four accomplished children are way beyond public school, as I certainly am, I am indebted to the institution and as the unquestioned foundation of democracy fiercely support it.

This prompted me the other night to join with the Advocates for Malibu Public Schools to once again rally for an independent school district before a sadly impassive, if not duplicitous, local school board.

How else can you describe the board’s Santa Monica majority dithering inaction made more exasperating by the sanctimonious city’s posture as a bastion of liberal values. Most hypocritical is its treatment of Malibu.

There is just no justifying for Santa Monica, with its 84 percent voter majority, continuing to hold Malibu hostage, with its 16 percent minority. This is further aggravated by the communities being distinctly different and disconnected, separated by 20 miles, one essentially a preening suburban city and the other a exurban village. After all is said and done, democracy’s true test is the majority’s responsibility to guarantee minority rights.

 

So once again the other night the minority made its case, with speaker after speaker making the point that Malibu is simply asking local control of the schools within its isolated city lines, something that Santa Monica has, and takes for granted

Further, convincingly supported by hard facts, they argued that under the current conditions, with a self serving Santa Monica majority on the board, Malibu is being treated separately and grossly unequally; that Malibu is in a phrase was being short changed in curriculum and cash.

And so it continued, late into the night, with the board’s Santa Monica majority dodging the democratic imperative of home rule, and the paramount moral issue of what will best serve the students of Malibu.The board’s utter failure to step up and do the right thing, reminded me of a poem by Langston Hughes:

,

“What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up, like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—and then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over- like syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags, like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

 

 

HOUSING COULD MAKE MALIBU’S CIVIC CENTER CIVIL

It was no surprise reading a L.A. Times business story recently that major commercial real estate developers are increasingly considering adding housing to their mix of mall brews.

That malls and mini malls, and shopping centers are struggling is not news for developers, real estate investors, and city planners-in-the know, as I comment this week on public radio 97.5 KBU andf select websites everywhere.

More and more shoppers are frankly shunning the malls in favor of on-line shopping, where in the comfort of their homes they can view a wealth of products, weigh bargains, and, if are alert to specials, enjoy free home delivery, and easy returns.

As a result, some 25 per cent of America’s malls are expected to close in the next five years., while others struggle to become more appealing. This includes recycling malls in the mode of walkable villages, featuring speciality shops, boutiques, and a range of intimate eateries and entertainment

Now the latest ingredient is housing; and not coincidentally needed more than ever, as California suffers under an acute housing shortage, in particular affordable housing.

Challenging certainly will be the recycling of previously commercial developments, especially the malls anchored by major department stores. It may in some cases prompt bulldozing; after all it is the land and location that is valuable.

Challenging also will be the obvious need for some major rezoning, which depending on the proposed housing, nearby neighborhoods may not like.

This brings me back to my conflicted Malibu, whose efforts at planning at best have been behind the times, and in some cases unfortunately behind the counter.

Malibu I feel is ripe for this recycling in its so-called civic center, which actually is less a center than a scattered collection of suburban mini malls. And no doubt the pending approved shopping centers there catering to tourists will only make it worse, and I suspect the developers also may be having second thoughts, given the shifting shopping trends.

And so once again, as I have strongly suggested in the past, the city consider proposing work force and senior housing in the civic center, specifically for our teachers and first responders. Lets even include a few units for city employees.

In a phrase, housing would make the civic center civil. Indeed, if designed well, it could create the livable, viable sea coast village for which the city has always yearned.

Besides, it actually could reduce traffic on the PCH. Residential uses generate half of what commercial does, especially if they work locally.

It also would more than satisfy Malibu’s affordable housing element required by the State. Certainly it would please the Coastal Commission, and make it look more kindly on the city.

But most of all it is the right thing to do. We owe it to those who serve us.

 

A LAMENT FOR MY NEW YORK; READ AND WEEP

Sam Hall Kaplan commiserates with Jeremiah Moss, author of “Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul.”
lareviewofbooks.org
ttps://lareviewofbooks.org/article/tough-love-urbanism-on-jeremiah-mosss-vanishing-new-york-how-a-great-city-lost-its-soul/

BACK AND WALLOWING IN MALIBU

This week on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites everywhere, some musings after returning from family and friends on the always engaging east coast

There, among others things, I saw my youngest, a proud Malibu High alum, as is his brother, enter into a welcoming post graduate Harvard. Go sharks!

Then it was on to New York, to attend the dedication of a new international think tank, a partnership of my alma mater Cornell University and Israel’s Technion Institute, heralded as the birthplace of what’s next.

This made me feel like the problem solver I once posed as, challenged by a promising intellectual future, albeit now set against the grain of a dysfunctional America floundering under a deranged president. Sad and scary.

Then it was back to mellow Malibu, with the persevering wife, the comforting views and sounds of the ocean, my faithful furry and feathered pets, a demanding landscape, and a certain solitude not found elsewhere.

So, at least this week there will be no philosophizing about, or defining, what constitutes “neighborhood character, “ as some followers had requested, no crafting a magical formula our planning challenged Malibu can apply in reviewing the parade projects coming through its front, and back doors.

After several decades of serving on various committees and commissions, writing letters and articles, in effect volunteering what beyond my Malibu would have been some remunerative consultant assignments, I have to observe that our self aggrandizing city leaders don’t really like listening to anyone with whom they or their friends and advisors might disagree.

There have been exceptions, of course, and they should be congratulated for their efforts. Yes, Malibu is a city of misanthropes, and quite frankly being one myself I tend to embrace the collective eccentricities.

It makes thinking about eventually moving away difficult, if not impossible, despite at times being tempted. But it would be daunting to pay the anticipated capital gains, as well cleaning out the study and the garage, and giving away thousands of books accumulated in a lifetime of reviewing, And what about my exotic plants? Who will nurture them?

More difficult would be leaving friends, relocating pets and saying goodbye to our singular refuge on Point Dume, which my wife had lovingly refurbished, raised several children hosted countless Thanksgivings, and where I have lived longer than anywhere else in my life. And where would we move to?

How does one weigh these considerations in defining neighborhood character? Think about it, perhaps best when walking to the Point Nature Preserve and the beach beyond.

As for Malibu, the Planning Commission already has boldly approved the concept as integral to the city’s vision statement. Next up is a review by the conflicted City Council, which, as its wont, may decline and just request our costly city attorney and ever-avaricious consultants to consider it.