Observing the Malibu City Council at its last meeting you almost felt sorry for the members, as they struggled with a heavy agenda, lend staff direction, and suck up to speakers in support of the homeless.

Almost sorry. Maybe, for one or two on the dais, as I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites.

Frankly, it was just too apparent at the marathon meeting that the poorly led neophyte city government is sadly not up to the challenges confronting Malibu, and is fumbling others it has stuck its thumb into.

But you actually had to be sorrier for the many who descended on City Hall to express their heartfelt support for homeless services, and those there for other items. I watched the proceedings on television, and even in the comfort of my couch, became weary of the convoluted comments of several council members

Though the meeting did have its humorous moments, such as when one property rights paragon, a hired gun who persistently attends most all meetings, obsequiously applauded the council and staff for its dedication, and then

called for generous pay increases for all at City Hall, which he added the development community would gladly subsidize.

I bet they would, and no doubt throw in a few free lunches as well. That nonsense added a few minutes to the nearly eight hours of proceedings.

Then it was on to the more serious items. These included how to host the high maintenance homeless, address the continued mansionization of Malibu, do something about the corrupted landscape of Legacy Park, and possibly assist select neighborhoods pursuing underground wiring.

It also voted to explore the development of a cultural center. You can add that one to the list of city potential boondoggles.

The focus of the evening was a flurry of mea culpas by the mayor and mayor pro tem for failing to clearly articulate their concerns of a venerated program serving meals to the homeless in the local Methodist Church.

That failure prompted misleading news story about its closing, and a flood of nasty personal threats. Some were read to an audience that really wanted to hear that the meals at the church would continue.

Apparently they will not; apparently because no one seems to be take responsibility, due in large measure to the city’s ambiguous position. They’re for the meals, but…Ah, those buts.

To be fair, the agenda was daunting, and the council did make a few praiseworthy decisions. It voted 3 to 2 in favor of the phrase “neighborhood character” being considered as planning criterion in zoning cases.

And in particular took exception to the School District’s recalcitrance in the present stymied state of negotiations to allow Malibu to create its own district. That no doubt will have ramifications in sanctimonious Santa Monica.

All these items of course are to be continued, with the staff directed to bring back more reports, for more discussion.




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,




The nice thing about a World Series, especially one that goes to a seventh, winner-take-all  game, as did the Dodgers versus the Astros, is that when it’s over, it’s over. There is a finality. We move on.

Not so it seems in the protracted divorce proceedings to separate Malibu’s public school from the Santa Monica-dominated unified school district, the subject of my commentary this week on public radio 97.5 KBU. and select websites everywhere. .

Last Monday the school board held a special meeting with the sole purpose to bring to an amicable close seven years of protracted negotiations and public hearings that would allow Malibu to create a stand-alone school district, separate from Santa Monica.

As they have at numerous meetings in the past, an overflow crowd of Malibu parents and politicians testified to the educational benefits, democratic imperative and moral certitude of the separation. Also noted was the difference and distance between the cities, one a rural seacoast village, the other a suburban city, separated by 20 miles.

The public comments ended, the board’s duplicitous Santa Monica majority. that is unfortunately needed to approve the separation, proceeded to back track on previous agreements.

To the chagrin of the Malibu contingent, the Santa Monica representatives nit picked the findings of its own consultants, ignored the blatant inequities of the schools, and generally bemoaned the financial arrangements calling for Malibu to pay Santa Monica millions of dollars into the distant future.

Label it retribution or more bluntly ransom, however onerous, it was felt by the Malibu representatives to be the price of freedom. But whatever the amount, a board member inanely commented it probably would not be enough to fund select programs benefitting Santa Monica, and should perhaps be continued into eternity. And this after years of studies by bean counters.

Sensing the simmering anger, the board suggested that maybe Malibu can be appeased by some vague form of autonomy, and has called for a meeting to explore possibilities. Another meeting, more talk, and one must ask, to what end?

It is apparent that the board’s majority does not want the divorce, that most prefer the current arrangement in which Malibu in effect subsidizes a sanctimonious Santa Monica.

When weighed against doing the right thing, greed sadly tends to win, hands out and in.

Since rational arguments don’t seem to work with Santa Monica, perhaps shame will, and it’s time for something else. Keep tuned as we dig into our bag of civil rights memories.




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?




Could it be that Malibu is getting a conscience, and the need for affordable housing for seniors now loving living here, but need to down size? And also for the many others who serve the community, such as teachers and first responders, but can’t afford Malibu and must live elsewhere?

Thank you, for the dozens of positive and encouraging comments reiterating the need for affordable housing, and urging the city to recognize the imperative to move forward, starting at long last with a declaration of need.

\That is my pleased reaction to a recent commentary on public radio 97.5 KBU and local websites, calling once again for an imaginative redevelopment of the now very uncivil civic center as a true seacoast village that features affordable housing.

Yes, I have urged this several times in the past as an alternative to the unwanted pending crass commercial plans catering to tourists that our local realtors seem to love, and was unfortunately approved by past recalcitrant city councils and obsequious city staffs.

But in the past my immodest proposal prompted just a few private “thank yous” and the cowardly personal insults of the ever- present local dotards

By the way, I get a kick out of the term dotard, which is now widely circulated after having been used to describe the despicable and dangerously despotic President Trump. Our locals aren’t really that bad, just it seems that their thinking has been affected by having been wiped out too often by waves.

I’m sure they love Malibu, it is just that apparently don’t realize that some well designed and sensitively sited affordable housing not only is desperately needed, it actually will help the real estate market.
In particular, a local run and well managed senior housing project could give the option to many seniors here of selling their housing that is now too big since the kids have moved on, and still be able to relocate in the Malibu they love.

Our teachers also are a concern, especially those who have to commute for hours, clogging up the PCH before getting to class, hopefully on time and not too tired, then having to fight the traffic getting home. No wonder it is hard to hire the teachers for Malibu, at least the good ones in demand, so say our school administrators and so indicate various past staff surveys.

And I’m sure there are city personnel down on the municipal food chain that would welcome affordable housing. By having a home in Malibu as well as working here, who knows, maybe they would think a little less of their payroll and pensions, and more about making the town they now live in, more livable, for themselves, and us.”


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.



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.





Back from the East Coast and back on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites with something to think about BEFORE the Malibu City Council once again takes up the issue of neighborhood character:

Yes, ill defined as it might be, confusing to some, simply words to others, “neighborhood character “ I feel is essential to the magic of Malibu. It is what lends value to Malibu, that makes living here so special, not the gratuitous sizes of over designed and over priced houses .

As I have commented previously, neighborhood character for me can defined by applying a Supreme Court decision in 1964 in which Justice Potter Stewart is quoted that he could not describe pornography, “but I know it when I see it.” I feel the same way about neighborhood character. There are standards that can be applied.

If you need specific examples, there are already too many in Malibu. Just look past the Pt. Dume shopping center down Dume Drive, on the right, at the still unfinished, humongous, butt ugly house.

There are others that I would describe as McMansions, a term not coincidentally I am cited by Wikipedia as one of the authors in the descriptive phrase.

The hope is that the council, both the so-called reform slate majority and the lame duck minority, recognizes that the issue “neighborhood character” goes to the heart of what Malibu aspires to be, and what I like to believe all the council members feel in their hearts why they live here, and ran for public office.

Indeed, according to the city code, their prime responsibility, against how all issues must be weighed, is preserving Malibu. Or I would add frankly what is left of it, after succeeding past councils and staff let it be compromised by greedy real estate interests and their facilitators, project by project, zoning change by zoning change, or simply by ignorance and neglect.

Certainly that it is why the so-called reform slate was elected last year: To stop the slipshod approvals wrangled by an avaricious few who view Malibu as a monopoly game, their comments taking exception to neighborhood character despicably self-serving. Shame on them.

The city’s Vision and Mission statements say it all., and deserves to be repeated here:

“Malibu is a unique land and marine environment and residential community whose citizens have historically evidenced a commitment to sacrifice urban and suburban conveniences in order to protect that environment and lifestyle, and to preserve unaltered natural resources and rural characteristics. The people of Malibu are a responsible custodian of the area’s natural resources for present and future generations.”

And according to the Mission Statement, “Malibu is committed to ensure the physical and biological integrity of its environment through the development of land use programs and decisions, to protect the public and private health, safety and general welfare. Malibu will plan to preserve its natural and cultural resources, …as well as other resources that contribute to Malibu’s special natural and rural setting. “

Further, “ Malibu will maintain its rural character by establishing programs and policies that avoid suburbanization and commercialization of its natural and cultural resources.” And that might mean sacrifices.

Perhaps in addition to the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of all Malibu City Council meetings there should be a pledge to the Vision Statement.





If there is a philosophical fissure in Malibu transcending politics, religion, professionals and sexual proclivities, it is property rights: what landowners can and cannot do, as guided by the city’s planning rules and regs, and so I observe on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites everywhere

Even since Malibu became a city some 26 years ago, its planning process has been questioned, challenged and compromised, its City Hall staff scorned, council members cursed, and developers and realtors reviled.

This constant conundrum certainly was a factor in the election last year of the so-called reform slate, which pledged its unwavering support of the city’s mission statement as a persevering rural seacoast community. So much for history.

Meanwhile, Malibu’s confused politics and convoluted planning process continues to generate heat. It certainly was hot in the last City Council meeting, where heading the agenda was the question of what constituted “neighborhood character,” and, if at all, it should be included as criterion in considering proposed residential developments.

It was placed before the Council at the request of the City Planning Commission, which could not come to a decision involving a proposed project on Portshead Road. Its plans meets all city codes, but at 9,000 square feet the proposal is three times the size of nearby houses, and thus raises the issue of  “neighborhood character.”

The meeting unfortunately was a fractured, flatulent affair, as so many in the past have been when councils have had to deal with questions requiring some planning knowledge or administrative savvy. That is rather than as usual just congratulating themselves or select sycophants, or being hustled by government grifters, or pretending to be a statesman or stateswoman.

Nothing really was resolved, despite the city planning staff having prepared a detailed report that reasonably explained both neighborhood standards and neighborhood character; standards being quantifiable, and character subjective.

As usual, the staff skirted a recommendation, though it probably would not have made a difference given the capricious character of the council. It is embarrassing.

The council kept confusing “standards,” and “character,” and asked questions as if they hadn’t read or understood the report. In a split vote, the council directed the woeful city planning staff to come back with a more detailed report in a few months. Don’t hold your breath, especially if you are one of the 86 owners who have a project in the planning pipeline.

Meanwhile, not holding their breath, a parade of resolute local real estate professionals –agents, architects, acolytes – went before the council to lambaste the use of neighborhood character. They claimed in volleys of hyperbole that it would depress property values by not allowing owners to get top dollars by hyping being allowed to build out to the max.

In particular they egregiously claimed this would hurt seniors wanting to sell, and destroy Malibu, as we know it. It was a shameful cheap scare tactic, auguring back to the nefarious days of block busting.

Apparently, the real estate guiding axiom of “location, location, location, has been superseded by “size, size, size,” and the bigger the better, for obviously it means bigger commissions, and more jobs for all. The argument was debunked by a wry councilman Rick Mullen.

I would add that contrary to the specious comments of the realtors that subjective as it is, neighborhood character is actually vital to maintaining the city’s property values; that people love Malibu and buy there for its unique seacoast setting and rural ambience, not for the size of its scattered, already excessive, Mac Mansions.


On tap for the next Malibu City Council meeting is a review of the phrase “neighborhood character” as a criteria in considering proposed residential developments.

As I comment this week on public radio 97.5 KBU and websites everywhere, the issue was dropped into the laps of the council by the planning commission, when after a protracted emotional hearing, declined to vote on a proposal for a nearly 9,000 square foot project on Portshead Road.

The project sited on a particularly large lot apparently meets the building code as calculated under Neighborhood Standards.

But being about three times the size of the 50 or so surrounding houses on Point Dume has raised the issue of neighborhood character, which, unlike neighborhood standards, cannot be quantified, and is subjective.

\To aid the council in its deliberations – what exactly is neighborhood character and how it possibly can be applied to proposed projects – planning staff has admirably prepared a report that lays out several rational. if convoluted, alternatives.

But as we have sadly observed, this fractured and frankly not particularly conversant council is not always rational. And neither was a gaggle of neighbors who testified before the commission, including a former mayor, who said the owner actually should be allowed to build anything he wanted. So much for the city’s and coastal commission’s rules and regs.

It was at that meeting that the owner passionately argued that the project should be approved. That was after shedding some crocodile tears in the social media in which he said the family was abandoning what was described as its dream house, however bloated the plans.

It was noted at the commission that the city recently had ruled against a property owner in a similar case where the proposed size of the project was legal, according to “neighborhood standards,.” However, “neighborhood character” was considered, the project labeled mansionization and rejected.

For some perspective, various sources describe neighborhood character as the ‘look and feel” of an area, in particular residential, and can be both descriptive and prescriptive. Nevertheless, along with a host of social, cultural, ecological, and economic factors, neighborhood character does shape where we live, and therefore is considered of significance in the planning process.

Meanwhile in Malibu, as a planning and design critic, I consider the city’s present neighborhood standards reasonable, detailing as it does allowable heights, size and bulk. But the problem over time has been administering them, subject to a parade of pandering neophyte politicians.

The standards are too often appealed, and permitted by a development friendly city, particularly when confronted by a well-connected facilitator and the threat of a lawsuit.

As for what exactly constitutes “neighborhood character,” it is a tough question, and I do not expect it will be easily resolved. Perhaps helpful would be applying a Supreme Court decision in 1964 I have always liked, in which Justice Potter Stewart is quoted that he could not describe pornography, adding “but I know it when I see it.” I feel the same way about neighborhood character..