RECALCITRANT MALIBU PIDDLES RATHER THAN PLANS

If anyone needed a sad paradigm of how not to pursue a purported street improvement plan, look no further than at the City of Malibu, which recently approved and is now reconsidering a resolution to compel property owners remove landscape encroachments, less mature trees, from the municipal right of way edging roadways.


Limited to the web of streets composing Point Dume and its comfortable village clutter of 700 or so homes, ranging from modest to mac mansions, the resolution appeared as an arbitrary add on, if not an after thought, to a traffic management plan that had not been presented clearly by the City and had not been reviewed in any detail by concerned residents.

I revealed this latest Malibu City crotchet in a recent commentary on 97.5 KBU and everywhere on radiomalibu.net and select websites. A more detailed and damning copy including editor’s note’s citing Council contradictions appear in this week’s Local, under the headline “Point Doomed.”

Traffic is very much a concern of residents on the Point, which increasingly is being inundated by beach goers bound for the adjacent Zuma, but wanting to avoid the $14 a day parking fee there, so they scour the Point for a free spot on a convenient residential street. Add to this the crush of surfers parking to descend on Little and Big Point Dume. Then there is the annoyance of the trash they leave behind for the residents to clean. Speeding on the Point also is a problem, by the beachgoers and resident themselves, which was addressed in the plan by lowering speed limits and installing questionable speed humps.

But it was the resolution to remove the landscape encroachments, including mailboxes and fences, to accommodate a possible increase in parking and a sidewalk, that has generated the protests and demands for a retraction.

That the City has not come up with specifics as to the parking and/or sidewalks has particularly annoyed residents. Said one, the City doesn’t plan, it piddles, with an alarming ignorance of the latest professional standards (widening streets encourages speeding) and the disregard for the effect on the neighborhood (compromising the Point’s rural ambience) .

As a result, the protests have been increasingly strident, flamed by a televised segment of a flummoxed council discussing the issue in which the mayor questioned the placement of the grandfathered no parking signs on select streets, and looked forward to having them removed. And this despite the signs having been hard fought by the residents in a past legal battle with the Coastal Commission, prompting one venerable Point resident to comment that pulling them up would be the equivalent of pulling a pin out of a grenade.

The issue might seem parochial, but it is resonating loudly across Malibu, where in referendums and countless community meetings residents have been challenging the City over several questionable planning and development initiatives. Inherent in the complaints is that the City Council is not listening to the residents, but rather to a small circle of friends and special interests.

The Council, of course, has denied this at its last meeting that was packed by Point residents protesting the encroachment resolution. Mayor Laura Rosenthal pointedly stated she had heard the concerns, and declared that the City was not going to implement it, if at all, until after the community was surveyed, and more meetings held.

There was no admission that the council or the city staff had acted precipitously. Indeed, to the chagrin of some city activists, Mayor Pro Tem Lou La Monte repeated the defense that the council had acted in clear response to resident requests at past community meetings, however sparsely and vacantly expressed, and not vetted.

The City also keeps referring to the clearance of right-of-way encroachments on Busch drive for a sidewalk as a success, while many residents there contend was costly, is incomplete and not very successful.

To be sure, this is a prideful if imperious council that never seems to tire of self aggrandizement. This has made the flare up over the encroachment issue particularly embarrassing to it and a lockstep staff, but an arrow in the quiver of those looking forwards to the City elections in the Fall.

HOT WEATHER AND POLITICS RILE POINT DUME

It look as like it is going to be a long sweltering summer, making the beaches in Malibu more popular than ever. And for Point Dume that means an invasion of visitors on the prowl for free parking spaces, prompting growls from us residents who pick up their trash.

This may be a parochial issue, but it does spot light the increasing conflict of planning and politics in our burgeoning and beset communities, and the imperative of a more informed citizenry and city government, as I comment this week on 97.5 KBU and everywhere on radiomalibu.net and select websites.

As hot as the weather is, so are the protests for what many of us residents consider an ill considered proposal recently approved by the City Council to compel property owners to remove landscape encroachments, less mature trees, from the municipal right of way edging roadways.

The proposal was an item in a city traffic calming plan that included the lowering of speed limits and the questionable installation of speed humps. The encroachment issue came as an extra to many who feel if pursued would compromise the rural ambience of the Point, to say nothing of the personal expense to property owners.

And this despite numerous studies having found removing landscaping from roadways has the opposite effect, and actually promotes speeding, and increases accident.

Though it is not clear why the City at present has raised the fractious proposal, whether, as the city manager has said, to accommodate sidewalks or, as the Mayor has indicated, that more parking was needed to placate the Coastal Commission.

As for the sidewalks, the results of their placement on a few Point streets has been definitely mixed, with people especially in a group and with dogs, preferring to walk in the roadways.

This is not necessarily bad, for it does have the effect of slowing traffic, and indeed is considered very much a traffic calming tool, in Europe. There the concept is labeled “woonerf,” after being initiated in the Netherlands, and designates select streets to be shared spaces used equally for cars, bikes and pedestrians – just as it works informally on beach streets here in Malibu and other coastal villages.

To be sure, each street is treated differently, with roadway dots and signage, necking portions, and where feasible encouraging landscaping to lend the neighborhood character

Whatever, the issue of landscape removal has generated much heat, flamed by the mayor’s comment caught on the city’s own television channel declaring the Point’s grandfathered no parking street signs should be pulled. This prompted one resident to comment that politically the remark was the equivalent to pulling the pin out of a grenade.

And echoing in the debate — thank you city planning commissioner John Mazza – is our General Plan’s Land Use Policy 2 point 4 point 6, “ The City shall avoid improvements which create a suburban atmosphere such as sidewalks and street lights”, with the section specific to Pt Dume.

And as embarrassing as it is for City Hall and its entourage, debate over the traffic plan is going to continue, a harbinger no doubt for other neighborhoods in Malibu and beyond. There is nothing like an issue outside one’s own front door to stir emotions.

 

 

UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL ON POINT DUME, MALIBU

Indulge me, the city observed for this week on 97.5 KBU and everywhere on select websites is my Malibu neighborhood of Point Dume, an eclectic collection of varied if pricey homes for a varied population of nearly 3,000, a rambling rural village on a singular promontory overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

I feel very fortunate, if not downright lucky, having lived and raised several children there for a score of years, tasting the fruit from my orchard, smelling the salt water, hearing the nightly bark of nesting seals and watching the seasonal migration of whales. Its location is truly a blessing.

But it also brings with it the bane of traffic, especially on the many beach days. Roads become speedways for visitors and indulged part time denizens. Also very much a problem is parking, it being free on the streets, as opposed nearby lots, resulting in the constant cruising for premium spots  on the web on Point streets..

After years of resident complaints and several community meeting, the city drafted a traffic management plan that included striping some streets, installing radar speed advisory signs, and lowering the speed limit.

These have met with general approval, tinged of course with some skepticism. The constraints affect both visitors and residents, as the sheriff’s department observed in reviewing enforcement efforts.Less unanimous has been installing speed humps, which many including the Fire Department feel slows the response of ambulances and fire trucks.

But most controversial has been the call for residents to remove landscape encroachments less mature trees on the city’s public right of way edging roadways.
The city council had approved the removal, but rising and reverberating protests promoted the issue be aired again.

It most certainly dominated the community meeting last Thursday at the Pt. Dume elementary school, where about 60 residents gathered to hear an update on the progress of the City’s traffic plan.

To be sure, the meeting started out congenial enough, but residents soon got impatient hearing the repeated recitation of the City’s initiatives and wanted to get to the proposal regarding the rights of way.  Sensing the mood, city manager Reva Feldman and city public works director Bob Brager opened up the meeting to questions and comments.

Most in the audience including me were opposed, noting among other things that denuding road edges would lend the appearance of street widening, which would encourage speeding, the opposite of the City stated goal to calm traffic.

Aside from the expense of removing plantings as well fences and mailboxes, there was real concern that it would deface the Point’s eclectic rural character, and harm property values. And for what?

The City manager was asked pointedly just why it had been proposed, perhaps to provide more parking to placate the Coastal Commission. She assured the audience there was no such plan; that the city was just concerned about pedestrian safety, and thinking about sidewalks. She added that perhaps    some compromise can be explored, that maybe only four feet would be needed, and asked for a show of hands of those who might consider this. There was some, but no count was taken.

The meeting ended, with the promise by the city manager that nothing will be done without further review.

Excuse the metaphor, but it appears that the can of worms that is traffic has been kicked further down the Point streets — just the way the City has dealt with many of municipal problems, such as the civic center. And just the way some residents like it.

A SUMMERTIME SUGGESTION

The weather being fickle in the benign climate of Southern California it is not always easy to tell the seasons without a calendar in hand.

Depending on how, from where, and what time of day the winds are blowing in Malibu, whether from off shore or through the mountain passes, sometimes it feels like a mild winter in the summer, or a mild summer in winter.

Then there is the arts and entertainment. It also can offer a guide to the seasons, and so I suggest in my weekly commentary on 97.5 KBU and radiomalibu.net

Certainly you know Summer is approaching when the L.A. Phil announces its seasonal program for the Hollywood Bowl and starts an aggressive advertising. It is going to have to be to overcome the pain and impatience driving to and particularly from the bowl. Indeed, exiting from the parking lot can turn the pleasant ambience of an evening of comforting music into a cacophonic nightmare.

Let me suggest a more engaging and certainly more convenient venue: an evening at the Theatricum Bontanicum in nearby Topanga Canyon. Its announcement of its summer program also has become a harbinger of the season. Going on sale this week is an ambitious schedule of five productions.

In keeping with the theatre’s commitment to current political and social issues, they include retellings of Shakespeare’s “Romero and Juliet,” set in present day divided Palestine, his “Titus and Adronicus,” as a cautionary tale of our times; Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Tom” as a contemporary character study; and Moliere’s “The Imaginary Invalid,” as a commentary on healthcare.

Like the Hollywood Bowl, the Theatricum has become a Southern California institution. Founded in 1973 by the actor activist Will Greer, theTheatricum is not only a theater, but an engaging cultural center, offering year-round classes to actors, hosting live music concerts, and welcoming student excursions from across the county.

Incidentally the name, Theatricum Botanicum is taken from the title of a classic botany textbook, literally meaning, “a garden theatre.” Inspiring Greer no doubt was the theater’s rural setting, and that he and his wife, actress Herta Ware, originally had to supplement their income raising vegetables, fruit, and herbs for sale.

The farm is gone, but the theatre continues. It makes for both a pleasant and provocative summer’s evening.

WHITHER OUR NEIGBORHOODS

Sometimes I feel my city of Malibu and neighborhood of Point Dume is becoming less a stunning singular coastal enclave , and more a non descript monopoly board; where a house is less a home and more an investment, a safe deposit box of sorts.

What is happening in Malibu and several other desirable neighborhoods in Southern California is that housing is becoming more and more difficult for most families to buy.

That is unless they have deep pocket parents, or they themselves are obscenely wealthy, thanks to our inequitable economy, as I comment on an upcoming 97.5 KBU, radiomalibu.net and select websites.

Though difficult to track more than anecdotally, an increasing number of houses on select streets are being snapped up as weekend retreats.

These buyers are known as zombie owners. If and when seen, they tend not to be friendly, and not particularly concerned with issues beyond their locked gates. So much for a sense of community

I am, of course, prejudice, having grown up in Brooklyn, in an neighborhood where you hung out on stoops, and everyone knew everyone, and their business. I later lived in a gritty East Harlem project tower, but its lobby, streets and playgrounds were friendly.

A sense of community also persisted later, when raising a family in Princeton, New Jersey and Port Washington, Long Island. Schools and local politics bonded you.

It was the same when I moved to L.A., in Santa Monica, with a few more kids in tow, before the wife found a house she loved in Malibu. That was 20 years ago.

There living across the street was an elderly couple in a house shared by their reclusive son and several dogs. We and our parade of pets became friendly, keeping an eye on each other. But they sadly passed, as did the dogs, and in time their inconsolable son. The house was put up for sale.

We looked forward with trepidation to whom would buy, and perhaps demolish it and construct a macmansion, as what was happening in our former Santa Monica neighborhood.

Ironically, I had been quite critical of this trend in my writings 25 years ago, and immodestly am credited by Wikipedia with having indirectly coined the phrase.

Of course, neighborhoods transform. My Brooklyn once populated with European Jews is now a hipster haven. Who would have guessed. If there is one constant in cities it is change.

We were relieved when a pleasant couple with two children bought it 3 years ago, and proceeded to attractively rebuild the house, and landscape it.

But now they have put up their homey house up for sale. The taxes, mortgage, college costs, a wavering economy, a rising real estate market, whatever the reason, they are moving. Call it flipping or not, they seem sad to move. We wish them luck.

So, we are again hoping someone doesn’t buy to demolish the house for a macmansion Or use it as a weekend retreat, or a party house, and on the side, rent it out as an airbnb. Worse could be a clinic. There are certainly enough of them in Malibu already.

You have to worry, given the city’s planning passivity and reluctance to get involved, and Malibu’s avaricious lawyers and realtors.

It’s Malibu Jake, where, the saying, “there goes the neighborhood,” is becoming more than a cliché.

 

AFFORDABLE HOUSING NEEDED

If there is one paramount planning issue challenging cities these days it is the shortage of affordable housing, so say the academic number crunchers and pundits who note that California population continues to increase.

But you don’t have to tell that to those who live here , and so I comment on my weekly broadcast on 97.5 KBU and on select websites . Finding an apartment to rent or a house to buy has become as frustrating as freeway traffic. And that has gone from bad to worse.

Whether the cities want to confront this issue is another matter, that is do something more than talk about it in bureaucratic backrooms, and bemoan it at idle conferences.

In L.A , there have been a series of pronouncement by Mayor Garcetti, who unfortunately seems tied up in an archaic zoning knot, and hounded by nimbys.

In New York, affordable housing was one of the post election promises of Bill De Blasio, but so far it’s been all talk. What few plans have been put forward by ever ready architects are languishing. The mayors frankly don’t put the needed money with their mouths are.

Then there are the comfortable cities, like my Malibu, with its multitude of real estate agents, and provincial politicians that don’t even talk about it, and seem to be content to let the private market driven by supply and demand reap its profits.

Real estate is the mother lode of Malibu, and those who bought early and those with the means or moneyed parents who have bought more recently. Both seem to be content with the status quo, adhering to the adage that they got theirs, and too bad for everyone else.

And that everyone else includes the local workforce: the city employees, school teachers, first responders, shop clerks, waiters and waitresses, the gardeners and handymen, all those that smile and serve. Most live beyond the 27 miles of scenic beauty that is Malibu.

That is because they simply can’t afford the city’s ever increasing real estate prices. Most have to commute long distances daily to get to work, and yes, they are among the vehicles that exacerbating traffic on the PCH.

And it’s getting worse, what little affordable housing there is, increasingly is being taken off the market for short term rentals, or sold as vacation or weekend homes to deep pocket buyers. And not just in Malibu, but in nearby communities.

To find housing, our workforce is moving further and further away, which means longer commutes. And it also discourages them to send their kids to Malibu schools. So there goes what little diversity the city has, economically, racially, and culturally, and we are poorer for it.

Yes, this is another entreaty for needed housing to be somehow appropriately designed and developed, and in Malibu located in the civic center.

Label it as you will, workforce or affordable, and add some senior and assisted housing to the mix, and it will unquestionably transform the civic center from its present sad state as a fractured commercial conceit catering to tourists, into a real, more livable and equitable coastal village.  It’s the right thing to do.

 

 

LOCAL POLITICS PERSISTS IN MISANTHROPIC MALIBU

Forget the hysterical national political campaigns for the moment. In neophyte communities, such as my misanthropic Malibu with its entitled population, local politics persist as the stuff of daily drama.

Here the center stage is the embattled Civic Center. It is a fractured mess, as I comment in my latest broadcast heard on 97.5 KBU and radiomalibu.net. and read on cityobserved.com and select websites.

It is more scattered than centered, more commercial than civic, more tourist serving than local friendly, more commonplace than colorful, and besides, driving there is a drag, the circulation sucks and the parking a pain.

Unlike other sister seacoast enclaves, such as Laguna Beach or Del Mar, Malibu’s Civic Center is neither quaint nor attractive, not for promenading, or for meeting friends. I would not call it particularly neighborly.

For that the Point Dume or Trancas shopping centers are much more disposed to be serendipitous, even stretches of our accessible beaches, thank you Coastal Commission, no thank you our key Nazis. The Zuma walk, Bluff’s Park or the indiscriminate Trancas Canyon dog park are friendlier.

So it was that after too many years in planning and politics, I welcomed a Santa Monica College satellite campus to the forlorn and much too retail ravaged misnamed civic center.

Finally, the City Council recently stumbled forward to barely approve the project by a 3 to 1 vote.

Of course, it wouldn’t have been just another city council hearing without some heartfelt objections to the project And most likely I would’ve been sympathetic if the objections were directed at yet another commercial conceit, especially pricey and tourist oriented.

But clearly the college proposal with a new sheriff’s station and communication tower attached would be a community benefit, and as much as I take exception to the council notorious tendency of granting variances, in this instance it was justified. A better, more green, and user friendly building will result .

The respected architecture firm of Quatro Design of which I am familiar deserves our thanks for persevering. Not many firms would have in the face of the maelstrom that Malibu’s politics.

\Ah, local politics, you have to love it. It is our theatre.

If anything, I hope that the campus, with its parade of students and promised community outreach to all ages and interests, will generate a sense of place for the civic center, based on public service rather than crass commercialism.

 

 

 

 

SURFCITY MALIBU CELEBRATES

Surfing and Malibu is synonymous, like stickball and Brooklyn, baseball and the Bronx and soccer and Spain. only wetter and wilder, a celebration of sorts of the city’s stunning settijng .

To ask a surfer dude to define it as a recreation or a sport, a devotee would answer, it is really an art form, as I relate in my weekly arts and entertainment commentary on 97.5 KBU and radiomalinu.net.

On the worst of morning on the Point, when to bring in the paper I have to wear a slicker left over from my storm watch television standups, ,I am forever amazed to encounter a surfer dude or dandy .

Trotting barefoot down the dank street, actually smiling, wet suit half on, clutching a long board, the surfers, are like a lemmings drawn to the sea. They descend the steep steps down to the local beach to fearlessly plunge into the chilly water to catch a set. After decades here I am still impressed, meekly wave, and retreat to my coffee.

So it makes sense that the surfboard is being exalted as art in an exhibit at City Hall. Appropriately entitled The Art of the Board. it is curated by the Cultural Arts Commission celebrating the municipality of Malibu’s 25th anniversary.

Be they relatively new or chipped, battered and bruised, the decorated boards, I feel, are very much in the spirit of emulating the ancient Viking funeral rite of commemorating the dead to the sea.

Indeed, in this respect you might consider the exhibit a bit macabre, particularly how it displays the surfboards, which are hung by a secured cabling system, from the ceiling in the upstairs lobby of City Hall. Though some will think this a welcome change for the building

According to the city’s press release, among the boards selected by an unidentified committee are several commissioned for the exhibit by renowned local artists Lita Albuquerque, Chuck Arnoldi and John Van Hammersveld.

Not incidentally, Van Hamersveld is known for his famed poster he did for the film “Endless Summer,” which popularized the surfing culture nearly a half century ago. He is scheduled to be at the grand opening of the exhibit, next Monday, March 28th, at about 7 o’clock,

Included in the festivities will be a silent auction of the artistic surfboards to benefit the Malibu Arts Fund, which supports public art and the arts in education.

Cowabunga All!!

 

 

UNREPENTANT MALIBU COUNCIL PURSUES ZUMA BEACH FOLLY

The Zuma Beach land grab on behalf of a New York gallery owner just won’t go away.

An unrepentant City Council insists the proposal for a temporary museum to exhibit a pricey private photo exhibit on the beach is the greatest things for Malibu since , probably, the Whole Foods Market.

The on air and internet commentary that took the Council to task for its lack of transparency and failure to follow its own guidelines for such venture generated considerable response,, as I comment on 97.5 KBU and everywhere on radiomalibu.net

Some were in support of the project, in particular the Cultural Arts Commission, whose purview does not include land use , nor professionally vetting entrepreneurial New York gallery owners or expert oversight skills.

But most residents were opposed, pointing out the city’s abuse of its own policies regarding beach use and special interests.

This included a public plea, by Mari Stanley, at the last council meeting to rescind the request to the County to approve and aid the project, reveal the project ‘s detailed specifics, and hold open hearings..

In reply, city attorney Christi Hogin hemmed and hawed that though the council approved the concept for the museum, it was not a commitment, even though the resolution it approved contained that language.

\According to Hogin, all the Council did was ask the County to cooperate with the promoter Robert Dutesco.

And Hogin added if the county approved the concept, it would be returned to the city for proper hearings. We presume this include full details of the project’s operations, such as construction, entry fees, events, gift shop and financial data.

But hopefully the County who owns and manages Zuma will just deep six the proposal as being an illegal use of the beach. And the only possible hearings to be held will be to determine how the proposal was broached and a full disclosure of the involvement of the city’s commissioners and councilpersons.

There is concern that for the last 22 years the wild stallions of Sable Island Dutesco has photographed have figuratively become dray horses, tied to a cash cow. I trust the City is not being hustled.

 

 

 

 

MALIBU COUNCIL COMPROMISES ZUMA BEACH

Put this commentary under a new category: what were they thinking

I am referring in my cityobserved.com heard on KBU and everywhere to the recent mindless action by the City Council endorsing a private photographic exhibition on Zuma Beach.

If it clears several legal hurdles –which I hope it doesn’t –it would run for three months, in a sprawling temporary structure in the parking lot, charge an entrance fee, host v.i.p. events, show films, and no doubt gild Malibu’s reputation as an elitist enclave.

Featured would be a solo exhibit of photos taken by an artist promoter of the wild horses of Sable Island off of Canada’s Nova Scotia Island, previously displayed and pedaled in his private gallery in New York, as well as other select locations.

The photos by Robert Dutesco also can be seen in a book, priced at $150.00 and most likely will be available with other items in the ubiquitous museum shop also proposed for Zuma.

You have to wonder what the residents in the area might say, that is if they had been asked. They weren’t, and neither was the Planning Commission. So much for the city’s transparency.

To be sure, the support by the Council was limited for the moment to blessing the concept, which nonetheless is a statutory act, and requesting the cooperation of the County, which owns and operates Zuma Beach.

It should be noted there are limits for which the Beach can be used, consistent with state’s Coastal Act the city’s own Municipal Code, and a raft of exacting environmental reviews, though this has not stopped their abuse.

To some Zuma already has been compromised too often by filming and special events, so much so that it has been suggested renaming the beach the Zuma Industrial Park.

It will be interesting to see how county supervisor, Sheila Kuehl, reacts to the proposal. At stake here is her reputation as an avowed coastal advocate. Also at stake is no less than Malibu’s heritage.

If Malibu as a singular community is distinguished by one physical feature, it is its beaches.

Among its many personal pleasures is simply being able to view them, the endless ocean vistas, spectacular sunsets, and the seasonal parade of spouting whales.

Then there is the delightful diversion of walking along its shores, smelling the fresh ocean, tasting a taint of salt, hearing the waves break, the bark of sea lions, and if barefoot, feeling the wet and warm sand. It can be magical.

In a more philistine mode, it is this coastal setting, edged by confining mountains, near an engaging Los Angeles, but yet comfortably removed, that undeniably makes Malibu so desirable, and not coincidentally pads its real estate prices.

For these and more ethereal reasons, being fortunate enough to live in Malibu prompts, or should prompt, a special affinity for the environment and a communal concern for the beaches.

Zuma is special, not just on beach days when it hosts hundred of thousand, but year round, even in winter, when every morning people can be seen walking their dogs or braving the surf, creating a special egalitarian community of acquaintances. You have to love Malibu

And therefore if for some reason or other the County does not deep six the presumptuous proposal, and it returns to the City Council, let the clarion call be sounded, and the resident heard.

It is one thing to compromise the civic center, as the Council has shamefully done. It is another more sadly egregious act to shamefully compromise the beloved beaches of Malibu.