SOME THOUGHTS FOR MALIBU BEFORE SPRING BREAK

It’s Spring break time for Malibu and other school districts around the Southland. This prompted me to think it also would be a good time for mine, especially since I’m scheduled for a few necessary medical procedures in the next several weeks.

But as I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, as a long time concerned resident of Malibu, I frankly also need a break from some persistent local issue.

These include traffic tieups on PCH, the protracted school divorce proceedings, the homeless, and the raw surface condition of the Trancas Canyon Dog Park.

But before I climb out of my catbird seat for a few weeks, I have some parting comment, of course.

The PCH: Enough already with the blame game and the mea culpas. There’s enough to go around for all: a callous Cal Trans, a sluggish City Hall, servile councilpersons, and inconsiderate developers . And yes also, an angry but not particularly alert public .

Hopefully the recent fiascos on the PCH have taught lessons to all, and the promised fixes will make driving on the dreaded highway somewhat more tolerable. To this I would add some common sense and some common courtesy. But realistically, the traffic will never cease. It is the bane of Malibu. And there is the question whether City Hall can become more proactive.

Concerning the creation of a separate school district for Malibu: Lets continue to exercise good faith, and hope, in the push for an equitable divorce settlement, despite the recalcitrant Santa Monica reps on the board.

But, really, they have to drop their ridiculous demand that after the divorce.Malibu continue to subsidize Santa Monica schools. and for no less than 50 years. If anything, it is sanctimonious Santa Monica that should be paying reparations to Malibu, for the years it has shortchanged educational instruction and facilities in the seacoast city..

But, if being reasonable won’t work, and soon, then Malibu must appeal to the county for the divorce, and back it up with boycotts, protests and political resolve.

As for the homeless, the restoration of the meal program in the civic center is a start, but a more permanent solution is needed. There is a real and pressing need, and we as a city have a responsibility to do something.

But something also has to include the library somehow being made safe and welcoming for the locals, and not have to suffer being a sorry way station for the homeless.

Meanwhile, it was encouraging for me and my Corgi Bobby to attend a recent Parks and Rec Commission meeting., and hear concerns for the raw surface condition of the neglected Trancas Dog Park.

Now let see if was just talk, and that actually something promised will be done, perhaps when I’m on break. But I wont be holding my breath,

 

 

MALIBU CITY INACTION CREATES CHAOS ON PCH

Instead of my usual commentary “the city observed,” on public radio 99.1 KBU, and select web site., I’ve labeled this one,“the city suffered,” That is especially if you live on Pt.Dume, as I do, and the western reaches of Malibu, and if for whatever reason you occasionally use the PCH.

I had to early this week., for a can’t miss pre op doctor’s appointments, replete with he usual slew of tests, in Santa Monica. It had been delayed too often, and was a medical necessity, whatever my insurance provider might rule.

Alert to the unpredictability of the PCH, I listened to the welcomed up-to the minute traffic reports on 99.1 KBU, which repeated several times traffic was slow in the Lagoon vicinity,

I also checked the website the city has touted, though as usual it was dated and incomplete. The more reliable Google Maps that morning showed east bound traffic backed up beyond John Tyler. This prompted me to leave an hour earlier, giving me up to 2 hours to get to my appointment .

Good thing I did, for the stop and go traffic was slow, and frustrating, prompting some cars to dangerously jump the median and head toward Malibu Canyon Road and the 101.

There were some close accidents, and one wonders where were the Sheriff deputies. I would guess probably lurking in a speed trap somewhere else in Malibu in wait to ticket for a senior going a few miles over the limit in their dated Prius.

Finally, I got to what was causing the monumental backup: the merging of two lanes into one at the Malibu Beach Inn, to accommodate the installation of a traffic signals for a crosswalk. This incidentally would allow the Inn to park cars on the northside of PCH in the old Hertz lot, and make room for an outdoor pool for its pampered guests on the southside steps from their rooms.

Nice, the Inn’s team of lawyers had once again out maneuvered the somnolent city, for yet another profitable amenitiy. How private interests are forever prevailing in Malibu raises question that needs to be answered, hopefully soon.

For the moment, there was the traffic problem, which I feel based on my hands on planning experiences could have been easily addressed, and saved thousand of commuters, and myself, several anguished hours on the PCH.

Specifically, the parking at the south curb should have been just temporarily banned. This would have allowed the private contractor’s truck, and an occasional Cal Trans car to park at the curb,, and not double park as they were doing eliminating a second eastbound lane and inhibiting the flow of traffic.

The resulting mess was a sad illustration of the planning adage that a road is as wide as its narrowest part.

In addition, the construction could have been timed for the evening at a relatively minor charge to the Inn, instead of costing the public hours of lost time at no doubt substantial sums. Yes, I made my appointment, barely.

Unfortunately lacking in all the parties involved was some common sense and common courtesy. Just having someone from City Hall there to check the situation could have made a difference.

Thanks to a burst of outrage in the social media, the double parking at the Inn is now no longer, thank goodness..

But beware, for scheduled to begin this weekend and run through the summer is some major road construction in the Civic Center area that promises to create a traffic hell. The work, of course, is to accommodate the wave of new commercial development that past self-aggrandizing councils had questionably approved.

Of course,, City Hall tell us the PCH is the responsibility of Cal Trans and the Sheriff’s department, not the toothless, and I would add, clueless city.

However, as KBU’s Hans Laetz has noted, there is much our City Hall staff can do. Yes, and I would add if the staff headed by an anemic city manager only had the gumption, as well as the support of a savvy council.  For the present, it is sadly not happening.

Something to think about when next stuck in traffic on the PCH

 

 

PIGHEADED SCHOOL BOARD SEEKS BILLIONS IN RANSOM

This week on the city observed, on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere, it is the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School Board observed, and what I see is ugly.

I see a board dominated by a duplicitous majority including a compromised member representing a sanctimonious city of Santa Monica treating Malibu like an enslaved colony.

Need we be reminded about the unprecedented distance and differences between the two cities, separated by a 20 mile stretch of a tortuous highway, one a rural seacoast village, the other a swelling suburban city, and that stated again and again is the democratic imperative and moral certitude of the separation.

It also has been repeatedly revealed that in the allocation of funds for instruction and facilities, Malibu schools have been flagrantly shortchanged; that for decades Malibu has been treated like an abused cash cow for a prospering Santa Monica hiding behind a veil of self aggrandizing liberalism.

The latest not unexpected abuse of good faith by the board’s bullies is at long last to approve separating Malibu’s pubic school from the Santa Monica dominated district, which would allow Malibu to create a stand alone school district.

Yes! But then the board tacked on to its approval an unreasonable list of conditions, topped by the utterly ridiculous demand for Malibu to pay alimony for 50 years to the amount that has been calculated to top 10 billion dollars.

That is not a mistake. That is a B, as in blasphemous, black hearted, and downright bad. School funding, property taxes, local government, indeed everything can change over the course of years, If anything, it is an example of the board’s pigheadedness.

And while the schools in Santa Monica and their self serving Santa Monica based bureaucracy continue to suck cash subsidies out of Malibu, the board wants to hold more talks to dot the “Is”s and cross the “Ts” of the divorce agreement.

The estimate is that the agreement just may take up to 7 years to resolve, and also require an act of the state legislature.

The school board also has added a condition demanding Malibu drop its appeal to the county to alternatively seek the divorce, contending that the protracted negotiations in effect have failed.

In my opinion, they most certainly have.

It is time for Malibu’s to stop trying to be reasonable, and say good bye and good luck to the recalcitrant board, and start lobbying the county to break the oppressive chains to Santa Monica. It already has filed papers. Let’s get that effort rolling.

As one of the richest cities in California, Santa Monica should work out its own school financing, without holding Malibu ransom and punishing its students.

This I feel has become not only an educational matter, but also a civil rights issue.

 

 

MALIBU’S DOG DILEMMA, CONTINUED

Yes, I know there is real news out there that deserves, indeed demands, my attention and commentary, but I’m also a dedicated dog person, and cat and reluctant parrot person, too, so allow me some latitude.

So this week for City Observed on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, the serial drama of the fate of the Trancas Canyon Dog Park continues, as the Malibu burgeoning bureaucracy does what it does best: postpone any actual improvement as it moves the item slowly between the in and out baskets on their desks.

If you recall, in the last episode of the continuing drama, or is it a farce, of the Malibu City Hall foibles starring my willful Welsh speaking aging Corgi, Bobby the Bad, our canine hero was complaining about the raw surface conditions of the dog park.

They were abusing his paws, and those of dozens other dogs who visit the park, though not having the vocal chords of Bobby, they were not as shrill in their canine cursing of a recalcitrant City Hall that the pets and their owners remember had promised the resurfacing.

But the bids came in well above the $80,000 that had been budgeted, indeed from $132,000 to over $300,000, to replace the current decomposed granite (DG) surface.  The reason for the high bids was said to be the limited vehicle access to the park , one of a number of design flaws in the original design, along with using the cheapest DG.

Cited for this rejection also was that not enough people had complained about the condition, as if there is some magic number before the city acts, or do there have to be complaints when a condition is so evident.

It’s a problem when you have a neophyte city government that plays it cards close to its chest, and is quick to tell you why something can’t be done, rather than how it can.

So for the future there will be no resurfacing of the raw dog park surface, and the pets will just have to try to stoically ignore the pain as they do now while playfully romping.

However, to be sure the city did compose a cautious e mail in which it recognizes that there is a constituency that uses the park.

Perhaps if the city desk jockeys actually visited the parks to review the issue with real people and their pets, they would not have to create an annoying SurveyMonkey poll, as it is wont to do when postponing confrontation with actual taxpayers.

You know them, the minority of the modest 13,000 residents who actually live in Malibu, instead of just partying here on weekends, or rent their house out legally or not, as an air n b, hoping that it will keep appreciating as the smiling realtor promised it would.

Who worries about dog parks anyway, dogs don’t vote, nor do many of their owners show any inclination to get involved in civic matters.

Not that they don’t care, most who live here do, but many unfortunately have been turned off or turned away by a City Hall, with its long, sad history of imperious leadership.

Welcome to small town government in, I fear, a failing democracy, for people and dogs. .

 

 

 

MALIBU TRAFFIC; BAD TO WORSE

If there seems to have been more traffic delays in Malibu than usual, it is because there are. Of late there have been several bad accidents, on PCH and also on the two connecting routes over the hill, as I comment this week on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere.

And now there is a rush of construction of the ill advised projects of past pro development roosting city councils ,whose bad eggs they laid are being hatched . This includes a traffic light to accommodate the Malibu Beach Inn, and a rash of road widenings in and around the civic center to serve the approved new shopping centers there.

So don’t expect traffic to get any better, despite the usual mouse squeaks of concern coming out of City Hall. To be sure, even with their doors closed, or away on another expense paid governmental boondoggle featuring free meals and advice, the city’s top staff couldn’t ignore the welling anger of the Malibu constituency, especially those who have to use the PCH daily.

So with only a few days notice the city has scheduled a so-called “informational workshop,” for next Wednesday, the 14th, to ostensibly discuss transportation improvement projects funded by the county Measure M.

But hopefully the audience will insist the entire transportation mess plaguing Malibu will be aired, and not let the city get off the hook by blaming it all on Cal Trans. Malibu could assert itself much more, if it only had the moxIe.

However, if these meetings follow past scripts, those attending should beware of protracted presentation by city and county representatives designed not necessarily to details a list of pending projects, but to take forestall public comment and questions. In short, to bury the audience in bureaucratic blather, and deflect the arrows aimed at those responsible.

I wonder how many past council members, and the present lame ducks will be present to explain why and how they turned our seacoast coast village into a suburban-scape.

Probably not present will be the gaggle of high priced traffic, planning and political consultants that have been feeding at the city’s trough, and supposedly addressing these issues. That is in addition to hosting our neophyte municipal leaders who seem to have outsourced every city hall issue except staff payrolls and pensions, and councilperson trips.

There are so many questions to be asked, and so few answers to be expected. It is I feel frankly the sad and sorry state of local government these days

This brings to mind the urban adage, “People get the city they deserve.” Perhaps it is time to take back some of those awards given out to select past council persons when they retired.

 

 

 

DOG PARK DIALOGUES

One of the distinguishing physical characteristics of my companionable Pembroke Welsh Corgi, known to all as Bobby The Bad, is his dark eyes etched in black rims, which when the occasion calls for it can be penetrating and accusatory.

And so they were recently at the Trancas Canyon Dog Park of which he considers himself lord and master, as I comment this week on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere.

Bobby’s eyes were indeed ablaze, and he was noticeably snarling, at the informal afternoon socialization and therapy session at the park as he broke from a pack of canines he was herding and limped up to me where I was perched among a gaggle of owners.

The limp and the look were enough to tell me why he was angry, but just to make sure that as a sometime bird brained human—his anthropomorphic description, not mine – I understood, Bobby let out with a volley of all too familiar annoying loud barks.

Since confidentially I‘m conversant in Welsh Corgi, I interpreted Bobby’s barks to say that the coarse gravel underfoot was hurting his paws when herding, and uncomfortable when lying down, and where in the hell was the fine decomposed granite promised several years ago by the city of Malibu?

I reminded him that last year when the bids to resurface the dog park came in slightly higher than anticipated, I think by $20,00, city staff recommended that it be rejected, and that the proposed contract be renegotiated or new bids solicited.

So what happened? barked Bobby. Isn’t the Malibu City Hall suppose to be a font of outsourcing? Just look at the money being pissed away – that ‘s Bobby’s language –on reseeding the grass playing fields at Trancas every few months.

Yes, soft, sweet smelling grass, like they have in other dog parks in less affluent cities. Bobby of course was right, as he usually is.

And he added with a snarl, “That’s a drop in the bucket when you think about all those trips councilmembers and the city manager take to those dogshit conferences, and what the city pays to its suck up consultants for making a few phony phone calls about what we are never told.” Bobby does have a butt sniffing nose for that sort of stuff.

That got the owners gathered at the bench talking: how the city short changes west Malibu, like not following through on the promise of the right turn lane off the PCH at Trancas Canyon Road.

“This city is going to the dogs,” chirped an owner.

“Are we talking a canine consultancy here?” I asked.

“If only,” barked Bobby, in Welsh.

 

MALIBU’S PLANNING PROBLEM

If any local government responsibility is apt to stir up the citizenry, it is planning; the review of zoning and building codes, and, generally, land use in the design of neighborhood character and the preservation of the environment.

It also is the prime source of wealth, for property owners, as well local builders and realtors,, and symbiotic facilitators, lawyers and lobbyists. And so in select cities where size and location marks status, as in Malibu, planning frankly has become a blood sport.

Certainly, all is not well at City Hall these days; as I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites. Witness the flurry set off by the admission by planning director Bonnie Blue at a recent council meeting that the department has fallen behind in both its reviews of policy and processing of plans.

This in turn prompted the challenged Blue to hurriedly propose several corrective actions, including the reassigning of staff and the hiring of a new planner to replace recent departures. These moves were doubled down by city manager Reva Feldman, who also announced hiring a deputy city administrator, at a salary of up to $190,000, to principally oversee planning and development.

The new city position has to have made Blue’s tenure tenuous, while cushioning the city manager from criticism for the planning imbroglio. It also no doubt will make for a crowded city manager’s suite and increased payroll and perks.

 

Meanwhile, whether adding and rearranging chairs in City Hall will correct the situation remain very much a question. One is hopeful, of course, but those familiar with the all to common government ailment of the hardening of bureaucratic arteries has to be skeptical.

I am, based on my investigative stints as a journalist with New York Times and New York Post, and oversight experiences in the public sector, including with the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. And having witnessed in my dotage Malibu’s 26 year history as a bovine city has made me downright suspicious.

Simply throwing bodies at problems doesn’t always work, and could actually makes the planning mess at City Hall worse, adding another layer to the bureaucracy, heightening the in-and-out basket shuffle, and generating countless do-nothing meetings.

More perhaps can be accomplished by a rededication of staff, letting them do their jobs without the city hall crowd trying to surreptitiously influence decisions.

And the problem actually goes beyond personnel, to the city’s the zoning and building codes, or more precisely, their constant compromise by an appeals process that should be made much tougher. Almost every plan is dibbled with because the city’s lax precedents encourages it, such as the 18 foot height limits forever being stretch to 28 feet.

These appeals frankly also are grist for political favors, friends of friends and lobbyists. City Hall perhaps need fewer back scratching bureaucrats and more rat traps.

Don’t get me wrong. I sincerely wish bolstering city’s planning works. Just think of my comments as a dash of salted skepticism.

 

 

 

“DOGGIE HAMLET”

This week for public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, observed somewhat wide eyed and curious was a production of “Doggie Hamlet,” staged under a sunny southern California sky at Will Roger State Historic Park by UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance.

Admittedly, I don’t know exactly how to describe the event conceived, choreographed and directed by Ann Carlson: Whether it was a dance concert, a dog show, or a happening?

Or perhaps even something more, as Carlson writes in the program, that Doggie Hamlet “dares the preposterous, the absurd, the simple, even silly “ asking us, literally, “to sit together at the edge of the mystery and sameness that joins all living things.”

However explained, the event was diverting and delightful, featuring milling sheep, trying as ever to snap up a few blades of green grass, several cavorting humans in and out of floppy sheep skins, and a very focused, no nonsense, beautiful herding Border Collie doing his thing, while two others impatiently looked on with their distinctive gaze.

A more coherent dance narrative would have been appreciated, whether the humans were trying to mimic or divert the principal herding dog. Whatever their intent, they were frankly awkward, purposely or not. Forget Shakespeare. I missed the connection.

And as someone who has witnessed these dogs actually herding sheep in New Zealand, I feel it would have added to the drama seeing them work in concert. It is impressive. I also have to confess that I was partial to the principal dog Monk, being a dedicated dog person, and not incidentally the master and admirer of a herding Corgi.

Our dog known as Bobby the Bad is very much a working dog who instead of corralling cattle for which he was bred must now be content herding other dogs and humans. For those curious, Bobby can be seen and heard at the Trancas Canyon Dog Park most days at 4 PM. doing his thing, despite the coarse gravel there that cuts his and his buddies’ feet. So much for the city’s promise of replacing it last year. We the persevering pet owners I guess should be just glad the park is occasionally maintained.

Back to a more pristine Will Roger’s Park, where seated on a hay bale overlooking the polo grounds, I was very much predisposed for Doggie Hamlet.

To be sure, in my enjoyable pursuit of arts and entertainment attractions to review, I have come to expect the unexpected from UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance. Its main venue is the landmark campus centerpiece Royce Hall, but in recent years has branched out to the more intimate UCLA Freud Playhouse and Little theater, and downtown to the Theatre at Ace Hotel.

And now, of course, there is Will Roger’s Park. previously known for its polo matches and fabeled private rope twirling performance . But as its mission statement proclaims, the center is not a place, it’s “a state of mind that embraces experimentation, encourages a culture of the curious, champions disruptors and dreamers and supports the commitment and courage of artists.” I like that.

Just now · 7 neighborhoods in General

MALIBU CITY HALL FOLLIES, CONTINUED

My city observed for this week for pubic radio 99.1 KBU and select websites was written and recorded BEFORE city manager Reva Feldman disclosed some corrective actions in the city’s troubled planning efforts,, and AFTER we requested a copy of the city payroll.

The actions involving several new hires and consultancies sounded hopeful, but from my perspective raises some questions concerning the governance of Malibu, whether indeed it a case of hardening of the city’s bureaucratic arteries.

These question and others I expect to review in time, but for now this week’s commentary stands, and, sadly, focuses in on another dubious deed by a self serving city bureaucracy attempting to feather its nest, and taking advantage of a woeful city council.

To be sure, Malibu is not being blatantly robbed, I hope, but council and staff just do not seem to be putting the interests of the city ahead of their own.

Prompting this latest criticism is the current crisis in the city-planning department falling behind in their varied assignments. This presumably was addressed last week by planning director Bonnie Blue, who announced a host of administrative changes and the intention to hire a new planner in the wake of several departures.

I was going to comment on these managerial maneuvers, while as a reprobate planner suggest the department become more efficient and proactive, consistent with the city’s mission.

In short, be less toady and more proudly professional, and as the long term hard nosed planning commissioner Jeff Jennings commented, not reinvent the wheel but push harder.

Of related interest, the commission is reported had been asked by City Hall last Fall not to call the Planning Staff to ask them questions about items on the Commission agenda.  They were told the staff was too busy to answer their questions.

Then out of left field comes the news that concurrently Feldman is planning to add yet more bodies to her bureaucratic bulwark, in particular a deputy city manger for up to $190,000 a year to help with legislative matters.

I thought that why Lisa Soghor was hired last year, and also for which Feldman just recently received a healthy raise that gives her $220,000 plus generous benefits. That is more than our U.S. senators receive.

As for the city’s bulging payroll, the city contended in an internal memo, “There is no fiscal impact associated with this proposed change in the current fiscal year due to salary savings realized from the vacancies in the Planning Department.” Talk about a shell game.

And this addition to select consultants, such California Strategies, which I have noted in the past has been paid by the city $2million for unsubstantiated services. The figures keep adding up as does the wall around the city manager,

Supposedly overseeing these shenanigans is the council’s administrative and finance sub committee, consisting of local government novices Skylar Peak and Rick Mullen. They meet periodically with Feldman in closed session, and are apparently under her sway. It is all very cozy and questionable.

Obviously needed is some independent oversight.

 

 

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.