THE PUERCO CANYON TINDERBOX

For all that I have observed, and loved, about my Malibu– the unique seacoast setting, the expansive views of the ocean and mountains, the soothing weather, and the flourishing flora and fauna, — there is always the fear of fire.

That is especially a reality during the hot and dry seasons that now seem year round, prompting my sense of smell to become acutely alert to whiffs of smoke, and my vision to scan the distant horizons for a glimpse of flames.

As I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, my first view of Malibu some 40 years ago was the Agoura-Malibu firestorm, jumping over the PCH at Trancas Canyon and scorching Broad Beach. That fire raged for days, and in total destroyed 200 plus homes and burned 25, 000 acres. (It apparently had been the work of a 15 year old arsonist.)

Then in 1993 there was the Old Topanga fire, roaring into Malibu from the east, down Carbon and Las Flores canyons, and several others, destroying 268 homes and hovering over Malibu for several scary days. (That incidentally depressed real estate in the city, as fires do, opening a window for us to buy on Pt. Dume.)

The next major fire was the Corral, which burned nearly  5,000 acres, reportedly set by teenagers partying up the canyon. The flames were racing toward Paradise Cove and the Point, before the winds miraculously died down.

And still fresh in memory is the Thomas fire in nearby Ventura, which a year ago consumed 300,000 acres and destroyed 1,000 plus structures. It was California’s worst ever, until I fear the next one.

Fires are frightening, as I have witnessed from our terrace and as a television reporter, live on the front lines of several major Southland conflagrations. The overtime was great, but the experience at times was harrowing.

What brings this to mind is the camp and trailhead project being pushed by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority up in Puerco Canyon: An overnight, cook out conceit with a $4 million price tag on a nearly inaccessible tinderbox site, at the end of a twisting switch back dirt road, certainly not for fire trucks or buses filled with kids.

What could anybody connected to the project be thinking? And that includes Malibu’s acquiescing representative on the Authority, Patt Healy, and a gaggle of local bobble headed politicians. I wonder if they have ever walked up Puerco to the proposed site?

And why does it seem our rightly concerned city council, headed no less by a fire chief and a city manager who once was an MRCA bean counter, always seem to be the last to know that Malibu is being once again compromised?

The MRCA’s autocrat Joe Edmiston, who obviously has stayed at the authority’s trough a little too long to become a bureaucratic fat cat, appears to have it in for Malibu. Do we threaten his family business? Whatever, he’s no conservationist, but a public serpent wavering between megalomania and paranoia. Sad.

From my perspective of an experienced land use planner and an advocate for more parks offering wilderness experiences for everyone, especially less privileged kids, the Puerco site abuses every land use criterion and a host of fire safety concerns, and is beyond the pale.

There is much the city and others concerned can do to block the ill conceived project, if they have the gumption or live in a fire danger zone. And that now happens to be all of Malibu. Stay tuned.

 

 

WHITHER MALIBU’S WOEBEGONE VILLAGE

Upcoming is July 4th, Independence Day, and if you are looking for a flag to salute, and if you don’t mind it being pastiche, there are several variations on the iconic star and stripes design on display in the Red Ladder Gallery in Malibu’s woebegone Village.

You know where the so-called Village is. That fractured shopping center/ tourist trap, a PCH pit stop behind the obtrusive gas station in the uncivil civic center: Malibu ugly, and so I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites.

The gallery– you can locate it by looking for a red ladder on the façade — is a praiseworthy venture of local resident Eamon Harrington. An Emmy award winning documentarian by trade, Harrington recently has been tirelessly pursuing painting.

In the interest of personal disclosure, he and his attractive family are genial long time neighbors on the Point. Even if you try to avoid the Civic Center, especially in the crush of cars in Summer , do check out Harrington’s artwork.

As an added attraction, the Red Ladder at 3832 Cross Creek Rd. will be hosting a schedule of readings and talks. Check its website and Just bring your own seating.

But sadly I expect the Red Ladder life expectancy might be short, for it is what commercial realtors call a “pop up”, a temporary tenant, a space holder of sorts.

The stratagem is for pop ups to lend some needed life to a shopping center as its landlords scratch like barnyard chickens for deep pocket tenants who will commit to long term leases.

What they hope going for them is the promise and profit of Malibu’s cachet. Not incidentally, this is what whetted the greedy appetites of many of the city’s past powerbrokers and politicians, and prompted Malibu’s misguided and compromised planning practices, tree huggers be damned.

But reality bites. Negating much of the city’s nefarious history of backroom politics is that the picked-over civic center is fast becoming a commercial tar pit of sorts. The Red Ladder might be around a long time.

Malibu these days may indeed attract wandering-window shopping, celebrity-seeking looky-loos, but whether the numbers can justify the escalating commercial rents is questionable as the real estate industry struggles in the wake of the boom in preferred on-line shopping.

They can write off the local population, which increasingly goes over the hill for its shopping, dining and entertainment, certainly now that Malibu’s lone commercial movie theatre has closed Noted is that its replacement will be another pricey “shamata” shop. Just what Malibu doesn’t need.

What the civic center needs, of course, is affordable housing, specifically for our teachers, first responders and seniors. And in deference to the Red Ladder, maybe some live work lofts for our emerging artist community,

Besides creating a more viable, and livable, sea coast village, it is the right thing to do, as I have stated in the past, and no doubt will again, and again, until the city finally acts. It’s time.

WHY DID THE LA DA RELEASE THE DOGS?

The case still is sealed revealing what and who prompted the county District Attorney to turn loose 22 investigators on a recent morning to search two residences and a business in Malibu linked to long time local resident and present pro tem Mayor Jefferson Wagner.

As I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, who might know is not saying, certainly not now having seen the support for Wagner, guilty of whatever or not, and the questioning of the actions by the DA’s office. We’re not talking here of potential crimes against persons and property, terrorists acts, drug deals and me too entertainment industry incidents, certainly not in our Malibu.

To be sure, DA Jackie Lacey has some explaining to do, and not in a vague press release slipped under the door on Saturday morning of a holiday weekend. It is time for some transparency to counter the paranoia swirling on the local scene.

This is a case that should not disappear, whether the city comes to the defense of Wagner or not, as has been urged by an outpouring of city residents, some of whom have funded a lawyer for Jefferson.

One asks what else does the city council do anyhow, except bark like trained seals in approving the issues and items dutifully prepared for them like fish snacks by the inveterate city manager and city attorney in the bunker that has become City Hall.

Meanwhile, the fumbling governance of Malibu by a sadly neophyte City council continues to exasperate, witness its distressing yielding to a self serving, bloated bureaucracy and well compensated consultants. And for this the council actually congratulates itself. Lost in its hazy, lazy ways is oversight and accountability.

It is no wonder that specious conspiracy theories persist, as well as rumors of past favors and future sinecures. Yes, small town politics, be it middle America or Malibu, stumbles on.

Sustaining it is what can be described as a cult of amiability, cultivated by Malibu’s modest size where most people know who their neighbor are, if not their names, certainly the names of their pets, thanks to social media.

It is this cult that no doubt prompted Wagner to in effect apologize this week for the no vote of confidence by his council colleagues while testifying to their good intentions.

Amiable, yes, and that is what makes Wagner so liked. But it also makes him not as forthright as what is needed now to save Malibu further embarrassment as a slipshod city.

And I say that as a friend, and also as someone concerned about our failing democracy, locally as well as nationally.

 

 

 

 

 

MALIBU ROILING

Returned from abroad to find the weather in Malibu cloudy, local governance foggy, and politics menacing. Lots of “sturm und drang“ among the city’s concerned citizens. Good. A sign of life, and so I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere.

Paramount is a concern for long term resident, mayor pro tem, Jefferson Wagner, a personal friend of mine, and it seems scores of others in Malibu. At present, he is a councilperson and the persevering member of a “reform” slate, whose other members are figuratively out to lunch, probably on someone elses nickel, no doubt.

An ever smiling surf shop owner on the fringes of the film industry, to many Jefferson personifies an amiable Malibu local, so I was shocked as others to learn he had been questionably criminalized in an early AM raid orchestrated by the county District Attorney.

He and his companion Candace Brown, also a prized friend, were handcuffed for a short time while the house was searched by a full dress squad of a dozen DA office investigators. All that was taken was a cell phone, and no doubt many photos.

That the house lies just beyond the city limits may have been the reason for the raid — you have to be a legal resident to serve on the council. But this issue has been raised before involving Wagner, and he long since purchased another residence, within the city, from which he votes.

Whatever, the D.A.’s office is not disclosing who prompted the raid and why; the warrant is sealed. And nobody involved is saying anything because the questionable case is still open. There has been much local speculation, some of it specious, long on accusations and allegations of conspiracy, and short on evidence. Malicious persecution? A mistake? There are many questions to be eventually answered by the DA’s office, and other persons of interest.

In the meantime, a fund has been established for Wagner’s defense, if he needs one. And reflecting as it might on his council status, still to be heard from is the city.

For the record, and for what is worth, we were told the warrant was signed before Wagner cast the lone vote against awarding wily city manager Reva Feldman a generous new contract.

I for one am hopeful Wagner will be able to serve as mayor as scheduled next year, and raises the issue of the need for better transparency and accountability at City Hall.

And I would add also needed is an improved competency within its bloated bureaucracy, which I have commented previously appears to be preoccupied more with padding payrolls, pensions and perks, and less with public service.

Then there is the outsourcing of city work to select, well compensated, consultants, and the acquiescence of a neophyte council.

This is something I hope that candidates for the two open council seats will address, in the local elections this Fall, that, with the national elections, cannot come soon enough for me.

 

 

 

SELF SERVING MALIBU CITY HALL SCORED

It being spring, and Malibu is in full bloom, in particular my landscape. You’d therefore think my commentaries concerning civic matters would lighten up, as has been suggested by a few listeners and readers.

To be sure, as I remark on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, the public school situation projecting the realignment of facilities and the district divorce look promising; and so is the city’s planned purchase of commercial parcels. Maybe it will save the Bluffs Park from some nasty, irrevocable over development.

Indeed, in my semi retirement, I’d love to kick back, limit my commentaries to the arts and entrainment segments that I now also do for public radio and various websites. I certainly can use the time for my travels, landscaping and book reviewing.

But as a long time resident with an abiding love for the unique environment and liberal lifestyles of Malibu, I cannot ignore the decline of the city, exacerbated by the lack of public oversight, a municipal ombudsman, local investigative reporters, and only scattered concerns.

Meanwhile, there is indeed much to be concerned about: Heading a list is the self aggrandizing City Council, naively yielding its prerogatives to a self serving, bloated city administration.

Talk about the hardening of bureaucratic arteries, and in a city of just 13,000, a municipality that seems to out source nearly everything, except payroll, pension and perks. And what some favored consultants are exactly being paid for remains a mystery, and that after sucking up millions of our tax dollars. There is no accountability at City Hall.

Then there are the challenge of pending issues: the air b n bs; the future of the commercial sinkhole of the civic center, Trancas field, a premium dog park, and the constant pain of PCH. Tough questions, especially for a lazy, neophyte City Hall.

As for the planning, the city appears to more often than not to yield to a cabal of dominant developers and their facilitators, commercial interests, rapacious realtors, or the whim of a wily city manager. Those dolphins awards to our politicians are beginning to smell like rotten fish.

The result I fear has been an insidious anomie in a dwindling democracy, aggravated by Malibu becoming more a tacky tourist town of trophy second homes and weekend party houses and less a unique coastal village of caring residents.

And so immodestly, as a seasoned journalist and a hardened planner, I feel compelled to express my concerns. As I used to be told by a tough NCO when I once was a platoon sergeant a long time ago,“it is a dirty job, but someone has to do it.” The adage echoes.

I’ll add, good luck Malibu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

REALIGNMENT BRIGHTENS MALIBU SCHOOLS FUTURE

If there is one issue I feel that is at present most paramount to the future of Malibu, it is the public schools, as I comment this week on public radio 99.1 KBU and web sites everywhere. .

Yes, air b n bs and beach access, the sink hole of a civic center and other planning disasters, and of course the constant pain of PCH; all are issues of concern, or should be, to those who profess to love Malibu.

But it is the public schools more than anything else I feel that binds and serves meandering Malibu. And that includes us whose children long ago graduated from the local schools, as mine did, and all residents, parents or not. It’s been proven by every measure, monetarily and psychologically, that good schools, mark and make for good communities, and, incidentally, also good real estate values.

So one has to be very excited about the approved major realignment of Malibu’s schools. This includes folding the Juan Cabrillo elementary school into Point Dune Marine Science elementary. Call the new, bigger, busier Point school what you will, I am confident that it will be better, with promised expanded programs and increased community involvement. Of course, transitions are always difficult, and take more dedication by parents, teachers, administrators, and resources. But the kids will most definitely benefit from the diversity.

Eventually as planned, Cabrillo will be freed up to be converted into a separate and distinct middle school, which Malibu never has had. And according to all, this made the transition from elementary into upper school a particularly anxious time for students who at the same time were transitioning into adolescence.

But meanwhile Cabrillo can be used as a way station for upper school students while a new high school at last is constructed to replace the present dated, decrepit and dysfunctional school , which is, as local education advocate Karen Farrer declared, a sad source of declining morale and antiquated teaching practices, especially the science and computer labs.

Having been involved in the innovative designs of three distinguished public high schools in New York City in a past life, I look forward to commenting on the development here, as I hope it progresses.

However, to make these well intentioned plans happen will require intense programmatic and design and development efforts, and, of course, some big bucks bond money. But unlike past bonds issued by the Santa Monica dominated school board and arbitrarily divvied up to favor Santa Monica facilities, this anticipated bond will be voted on by Malibu residents and allocated exclusively for Malibu.

This also sets the stage for the long overdue divorce allowing Malibu to establish a school district separate and distinct from Santa Monica. Let the school bells ring out in Malibu.

 

 

 

ANOTHER TRAFFIC PROBLEM PENDING ON PCH

No question that the PCH is the bane of Malibu, as it is on select roadways serving commuters everywhere, and I do mean everywhere. At least where I had suffered, and that includes Tokyo, Jakarta and Moscow.

I remember Moscow in particular, for I feel it reflects a situation in the present and perhaps future Malibu, and so comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere.

Several decades ago when doing a TV report on the Soviet transition from a totalitarian to an authoritarian regime I noted that among many foibles surviving was some traffic dictates; specifically one backing up traffic every morning on the bridge over the Moskova River behind the Kremlin.

There, eight lanes of traffic each morning jammed the bridge into the central city, including an express central lane apparently reserved for “official” cars.

But for these cars to make a right turn into the back entry of the Kremlin they had to cross seven lanes of traffic, which of course had to be interdicted. And they were, making a great visual to tease a segment, with me intoning, “Some things never change in Moscow…”

Back to Malibu, where the left turn from the west lane of PCH to access the Nobu parking lot continues to stop and slow traffic most days . It certainly has delayed me. Very frustrating.

And we can expect the same from the traffic light at the crossing serving the Malibu Beach Inn. What developers want in Malibu, developers tend to get, no thank you City Hall

Another expected traffic problem I feel will be at Sunset Boulevard, if and when a proposed new reimagined, larger restaurant will replace the now iconic but aging Gladstones. It has been tentatively approved by an enthusiastic Board of Supervisors, with high praise to the development team fronted by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck and celebrity architect Frank Gehry.

Nice, if you are into celebrity veneration. Except at the beach, and if your drive the PCH. Then you’d know that the intersection at Sunset happens to be one of the more impacted, and the scene at present of countless traffic delays, due in part to the left turn needed to access the restaurant parking lot.

And turn they will, into no doubt will be a pricey, tourist attraction, iconic maybe, but the site must be questioned. We therefore look forward to the traffic report, in the anticipated environmental impact statement, as well as the Coastal Commission reaction to a mega structure plotzed on a public beach.

MALIBU LAND PURCHASE RAISES CONCERNS

Malibu City finally did something right, and obvious, at its recent meeting. As I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere, it voted unanimously to pursue the purchase of three prominent properties; two in the now scattered and scarred so called civic center, and the other at the cluttered and confused entry to Point Dume. The total indicated price is $42.5 million,

But the praise for the City stops here, for I feel that though the purchase should be pursued, it also raises serious concerns, and necessitate the very close monitoring of our less the competent staff and council.

I note that almost immediately after the meeting, the usually paranoid and less than transparent City Hall put out a press release, praising itself for the purchase by claiming to be fiscally responsible, and quoting its moustache of the moment, rookie Mayor Rick Mullen.

Pardon me smirking, but I can’t remember when the city was so quick to issue a statement. Certainly it didn’t when disavowing any responsibility for the construction mess screwing up traffic on the PCH, explaining it was principally a matter between private developers and the bumbling Caltrans. Civil servants, indeed!

Only reluctantly did the city get involved in the management of the projects to mitigate the traffic delays, and only after being embarrassed to do so by angry Malibu driver.

As for the private developers, it should be said they were empowered by the city, which not only yielded to their wrangling for zoning abuses, but also bowing to their commercial imperatives.

I mention that here because it is the lack of any planning imagination or initiative that, not coincidentally, fattened the price of the parcels the city is now pursuing at what they say is fair market value.

I also must observe that being fat from fees and taxes does not make one fiscally responsible, as the city’s press release boasts.

In fact, in the case of Malibu, it is my opinion it has made the city less than responsible, administratively fat and lazy, prone to sit at their P.Cs and outsource work. Over the years this has resulted in millions of dollars to avaricious consultants, including, in at least one prime instance, without any proper accountability. The abuses continue.

This apparently has sadly shifted City Hall’s priorities to primarily payrolls, pensions and perks, rather serving residents. And in turn surreptitiously has led the constant care and feeding of councilpersons, approving trips and expenses, and who are endlessly delaying public meetings to have their pictures taken by toady staff.

And let us not to forget the additional legal fees to our well-compensated city attorney and her office. Let’s face it, Malibu has been a gravy train for some, a trough for others.

So, getting to the point of this recitation, while praising the purchase of the properties for the city’s land bank, given the poor history of our past and present City Hall, it is imperative that there be some responsible citizen oversight to the process and professional planning necessary to benefit a future Malibu.

If not, this purchase could easily become a bureaucratic paper game on City Hall desks, an annuity of sorts for some. Unless Malibu voters demand change.

 

 

MALIBU CITY SHOULD BUY LAND, BUT OVERSIGHT NEEDED

There is no news like local news. So because my local followers expect no less, I dutifully cut my hiatus a little short to comment on public radio KBU and select websites on a pending item before the Malibu City Council, to consider pursuing the purchase of three parcels of land I feel critical to the future of the city.
 
The parcels are the nearly ten acres at the prominent corner of Stuart Ranch Road at Civic Center Way, commonly identified as the Chili Cook Off site; and the lot at the corner of PCH at Webb Way, where the construction equipment for the sewer project is now parked.
 
The third site is the vacant 18 plus acres at the entry to Point Dume at Heathercliff, where the Christmas trees are sold annually. Owned at present by the Perrenchio estate, the parcels are zoned commercial and carry the total price tag $42.5 million, which is considered a bargain.
 
If planned, designed and developed with a true civic purpose, I feel they have the potential to lend focus, maybe a point of pride or two, to the 21 meandering miles of Malibu.
 
Indeed, if selectively and sensitively landscaped for needed recreational facilities, at last a ball field or two, even a skateboard park and a swimming pool, it could take the pressure off the proposed misguided compromising of Bluffs Park. And also solve that political conundrum.
 
Yes, these may be fantasies, certainly for my skeptical self, especially given our bumbling local government, whether it can purchase the properties without a hitch and hidden conditions. and then boldly initiate some imaginative planning effort.
 
Its track record is not very good. I note still languishing is the development to somehow justify the purchase of the 35 acre Trancas Field, for something, a community garden, a wildlife sanctuary, a tree farm, whatever. And that is even when the work is outsourced by City Hall, as it usually is when thorny.
 
All one has to do is look how our city government over the years trashed the not so civic center. I consider that fractured collection of commercial conceits a design disaster, at best geared to tourists, a badly landscaped roof of a pricey water treatment plant serving real estate interests, and for residents, an uninviting city hall and library.
 
The there is our past and present fumbling neophyte city councils, however congenial and collegial, naively relying on a self serving city staff. Talk about the blind leading the blind,
 
Still, I feel the purchase must be pursued, and hope enough residents care to pay attention and steer City Hall in the right direction. Certainly some citizen oversight is needed.
 
But these parcels must not fall into the hands of private developers.
 
In real estate if you want the land and the price seems right, and you are not sure how you’re going to get the monies needed, you go for it any way,, and trust the figures are going to work, eventually.
 
At least that’s my opinion, having professionally pursued development in the jungles of New York City in the distant past, and personally in Malibu where we fortunately said yes, decades ago and could not afford to do so today.
 
The city should do the same.
 
 

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,