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.

 

 

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.

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.

 

SETTING A TABLE AT CITY HALL FOR THE HOMELESS

As I comment in my weekly city observed segment on public radio 99.1 KBU and websites everywhere, Thanksgiving Weekend could not be a better time to review the controversy over feeding the homeless roiling Malibu, and add a voice to the recommendation to have the forsaken dinners served at City Hall.

As noted by a growing concerned, articulated by the ever right-on Janet Katz, it is a building owned by all of us, has a kitchen, the space, and is away from homes and schools where the presence of a few of the more downtrodden make locals uneasy.

Though I must say it is sometimes hard to distinguish the difference between the homeless and others roaming through Malibu. These include deep pocket patients paying megabucks a day at our many rehabs, the party animals renting an AirBnB, and your next door neighbor’s hipster child.

As for City Hall, hosting the meals for the homeless there, that can happen almost immediately, so the hungry can be fed while the ego involved locals search their souls.

After all, it was in a temporary City Hall where the laudable SOS initiated the meals 17 years ago. With the churlish nipping at its heels, the meals eventually moved to Webster School, until a few privileged parents protested.

It then asked to go back to City Hall, but was turned down by leaders there who were too busy selling the city’s soul to developers to concern themselves with the homeless who do not obviously make political contributions.

There was a brief stay at Malibu Pres, until some members protested, prompting the move to the Methodist Church.

It felt at home there for several years, embraced by the Methodist theology of charity in the now. That is until recently when a few parishioners and neighbors protested, putting to test the faith of the elders, and the good will of the powers-that-be.

Whatever spin those involved may give, the fact is soon after meals at Methodist were ended. Particularly sad was the abrogating the teachings of the church, and the weak knee explanations by the mayor and mayor pro tem.

No, they nor the city ordered an end to the meals. After all; they had no authority. But they did strongly suggest it, and then fudged it as a miscommunication. Clearly they were complicit, and for them to be contrite, frankly, was ingenuous.

The very least the Mayor can do is use what waning influence he has to open up City Hall for the meals, now; have the full council bless it; and the city manager make it happen without the usual petty procrastinations.

 

NEOPHYTE MALIBU CITY COUNCIL STRUGGLES ON

 

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.

 

 

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,