A Community Garden as a Central Park for Malibu

Let’s face it, Malibu as the manifestation of a city, a town, a village, or however described, is a mess.

Of course, there is the ocean. There are concerns about water quality, access and views, but it perseveres.

The PCH is a perplexing problem, and will be forever as long as people drive.

The Civic Center is definitely not civic or centered, rather several disconnected shopping malls, and an isolated library and city hall.

And in the marrow of this mess is Legacy Park, my latest commentary heard on 97.5 KBU, and everywhere on radiomalibu.net

An anxious Cultural Arts Commission and entangled City Council are waiting for a team of consultants to come back with a detailed plan for revitalizing the 17 acre expanse. In the interest of accuracy the word should not be revitalizing, because the overgrown area of undergrowth has never been vital and not particularly friendly or frequented.

Less we forget, it is in fact the earthen roof of a city blessed water treatment plant serving the adjacent high-end stores and pricey residences, packaged by avaricious real estate interests and sold to an undiscerning city council. Some have labeled it perhaps more accurately as the leech field, and with derision, Lunacy Park because of the thinking by the city that hyped its approval.

It is most certainly a design challenge, worthy of the consultant team of Hodgetts and Fung with an assist by Calvin Abe landscape architects, which recently presented a rough draft plan to the commission.

Displayed and illustrated by select photographs was an array of sketchy alternatives. They included expanded water features, functional art works, and a web of pathways to the adjacent library, country mart, city hall and the proposed Santa Monica college extension.

It was very much a laundry list of features, which some felt were too art and urban oriented. Reiterated by several commissioners was that the park should be as natural as possible, consistent with an ecological theme appealing in particular to locals and children. The commission gave its preliminary approval, but directed the consultants to go back to the drawing boards, and return in a few weeks with a more focused plan.

This also gave me some time to walk the forlorn site, keeping in mind its constraints of no structures or ball fields, which had been negotiated away by a past council. The challenge is somehow craft it to be local and green, with a smattering of art.

As I wandered I recalled the sage advice of a landscape architect I once worked with, Dan Kiley, who said a site will tell you what it wants to be. Just pick up some soil, rub it, close your eyes and think how the site be used

The vision that appeared was a community garden, a collection of small plots tended by locals, producing an abundance of vegetables, fruits and flowers, for themselves and for sharing, connecting to the environment, and each other in a singular commonalty, sustaining the park with people and purpose.

As for the art the commission would like, it can mark the gateway to the garden, the seating, or lighting, things that can be used use and delight us. And given its size, there also could be room for a passive, wildlife friendly native landscape, and perhaps a dog park, hopefully better designed than the one at Trancas Canyon. Maybe also a multi use field, if the city could find a legal loophole through the constraints.

But the focus of Legacy I feel should be a community garden.

Think about it; envision it.

For an Independent Malibu School District

In that thin strip of a seaside rural village labeled Malibu where I live, the struggle continues to nurture an idiosyncratic identity., and the subject of my latest KBU commentary

No, I am not referring to Measure W, and whether the city should impose constraints on proposed development in its fractured civic center.

As I have commented in the past, planning and development in Malibu has been politically vulnerable, bureaucratically bungled, and frankly haphazard. Major surgery is needed. Not band aids.

More critical and immediate in my opinion is the future of our public school, whether enough signatures can be collected by November First to advance the drive for a separate school district. 4,500 signatures are needed.

The group known as AMPS, advocates for Malibu Public Schools, will be circulating petitions for signatures all this week and next weekend at the shopping centers. Or you can sign on–line. Just contact them at www.ampsmalibu.org. or call 310 734 2021.

The 20 miles of beaches may lend Malibu an identity; the ocean sunsets a touch of romanticism; the backdrop of mountains drama; a resident celebrity a hint of enigma.

But it is the public schools, Webster, the Point, Cabrillo, Malibu middle and senior highs, that are the soul of the city, where one senses its egalitarian spirit. Democracy perseveres here.

Yes, there are problems– I like to think of them as challenges –but more pervasive is their vitality.

My opinion is Influenced by being a parent of four children who all attended public schools, be it in New York, Santa Monica, or for the last several decades, Malibu.

Wherever, the schools were integral to our sense of community.

They were our principle concern; their ranking, their scores, the buzz among parents: All weighed heavily in finding homes in select neighborhoods. In our case, it was north of Wilshire, 30 plus year ago, Point Dume nearly 20 years ago..

Beyond the personal, there are many reasons for an independent Malibu School District:

It will prompt local accountability.

No longer will Malibu be a step child to Santa Monica, separated by a long stretch of the PCH.

No longer will Malibu at best be represented by only one member on the local school board.

And studies have shown that it will actually improve the financing of both districts: NO increase in tax burdens for either city; NO increases in school operating costs

A separate Malibu School District also should have a special appeal to the real estate community, the exclusivity giving them yet another sales point. It most certainly can be expected to give prices a boost.

It’s a rare win win for all, especially the children.

 

 

Traffic Continues to Challenge Misanthropic Malibu

In my half century plus of journalism that has included the NY Times, LA Times, NPR, Fox News and others, I found the more local the news the more reader response. And so it is with my weekly commentary on 97.5 KBU and radiomalibu.net, which I’m also posting here:

Traffic concerns continue to be an issue on my Point Dume neighborhood, as they are in most, suburban and exurban communities.

Here in misanthropic Malibu, the City Council was primed to approve a street paving contract, until local radio KBU raised concern. These included why humps for certain streets and not others, and whether they are the best solution to the Point’s traffic woes.

It appears that the city was responding to petitions gathered on select streets from residents concerned about speeding, in particular the cul de sacs Grayfox and Wildlife, where not incidentally there is gated access to the hallowed beach below.

Presumably the traffic was locals with keys or meeting people with keys, looking for parking or ferrying people. Ah, the blessing and curse of being on a beach key street.

Not on the list for speed control measures were the more traveled and perilous Dume and Cliffside drives.

And there was no mention of Grasswood, where residents had testified before the city and circulated petitions not about speeding, but how parking on beach days there made the street impassable, in particular for emergency vehicles. Apparently they did not get enough signatures.

But who is counting? As I stated before, as a planning professor, practitioner and commentator, public safety should NOT be a political whim, certainly not traffic.

Voters do not set speed limits. Politicians should not proscribe parking rules. Traffic controls should not be mandated by petitions. (What, the more signatures the higher the humps, or bumps?)

That is what traffic engineers do, at least good ones, based on voluminous studies, site appropriate paradigms and time tested field experience.

Unfortunately, Malibu city government and our city council do not have a history that inspires confidence.

You do not have to be for or against Measure W, to question the associated traffic studies accepted by the city; we as a city did not have to go the brink to save the trees on PCH, if Caltrans had been asked, as I did, couldn’t instead the highway just be narrowed by a foot?

Why did we have to rely on a developer’s consultant? Where was ours? Amiable as a few members are, this council just does not have the chops.

And so, at the last meeting despite the concerns of residents, including a petition, the council focused on the paving contract and went for a compromise. It approved the paving with humps for Wildlife and Grayfox, and threw a bone to Pt. Dume by calling for an open meeting to consider traffic issues.

It also asked staff and the city’s traffic consultant to review applicable traffic calming items, and to unearth a traffic study that was once done for the Point.

I recall the study being presented to the Point’s Resident Association and then being buried alive, by the then Barovsky dominated council.

It will be interesting what will happen, and not happen, at the yet to be scheduled meeting, and will it, or should it, make a difference,. Stay tuned.

 

Malibu City Government Hits a Speed Bump

 

Unfortunately our sluggish city bureaucracy and hapless City Council just do not seem to get things right, even when they are apparently well intentioned and not being held sway to special interests or specious reasoning.

The City Council is poised to approve next Wednesday the funding of a pavement contract including 26 speed humps plus , –for a total of $427,000 –supposedly requested by Point residents.

As a traffic-calming advocate, generally in favor of speed humps, I am perplexed. That there are traffic problems on Point Dume has long been evident to anyone who lives or drives in Malibu, on PCH obviously, but also on local streets.

There is speeding everywhere, mostly on the straight aways of Dume and Cliffside drives. Parking also is a problem, in particular around the Village Center every day and Grasswood Avenue where on select days it actually makes the street all but impassable for emergency vehicles.

As I have written in the past, I consider these safety issues, subject to professional planning reviews. They should not be grist for political motivated actions by municipalities. Certainly not Malibu’s which in the past has not been very perspicacious.

If you might recall, a gaggle of Grasswood residents went before the city’s Public Safety Commission, asking that something be done to make their street safe. The item was placed on its agenda; the commission took testimony –noting that it was the largest turnout in memory –and directed the city to come up with several alternatives.

The city came back with a temporary proposal to stripe the street to allow for through traffic, confining parking to the edges where possible. It was subsequently approved. Then came the poison pill,

Heeding the concerns of Laura Rosenthal, city manger Jim Thorsen said that before acting, a consenting petition was needed from a majority of the street’s residents, though how many was not specified. Neither the city nor the residents took the initiative, and nothing happened.

Then out of left field comes the proposal for the speed humps. Talk about being blind-sided.

If approved, the humps are to be installed on Fernhill, Portshead, Selfridge, Grayfox and Wildlife, forthwith. Not mentioned were the particularly afflicted streets of Cliffside and Dume drives, and not Grasswood.

And where exactly are the speed bumps or humps going, and the signs required to alert drivers?   They tend to vary greatly, depending on posted speeds, views corridors, street widths, that if not precisely sited could be the basis of law suits. As too often, is the city going to depend on a low bid private company to make the necessary design decisions?

As a concerned resident of Cliffside, I was not petitioned, nor to my knowledge were my neighbors. Neither did I read about it in the locals papers nor on the usually informative Next Door Neighbor website.

It is interesting to note a decade or so ago we had petitioned the city for speed bumps, but the proposal was voted down by the council, then led by an intractable mayor.

To repeat, I am in favor of anything that will slow traffic down.

BUT it seems to me that the council once again is acting autocratically.

A traffic calming plan for all of the Point is needed, including its main streets of Dume and Cliffside drives, The city’s planning process needs to be more broader and transparent.

The council continues to baffle. When will it ever learn, if ever.

 

10.10.15

 

 

 

A Wolf in the Malibu City Hall hen house

If you live, and care about Point Dume as a community, and Malibu, as a city, if not just your property values, you have to be sensitive to the overt politics swirling in and above a confused City Hall.

I am, and so I said in my weekly commentary, on radiomalibu.net and 97.5 KBU. (also can be read on cityobserved.com)

The latest municipal machination has to be the surreptitious announcement late last Friday – not incidentally the preferred time for controversial press release – of the hiring of Chris Deleau as the city’s planning manager.

There was little question that the amiable Bonnie Blue was not up to the job in which she had been recently appointed; indeed was a deer in the headlights during the recent city conflagrations, as has been most of the skittish city staff.

But DeLeau for all his affability and, yes, planning experience, is a primarily a private sector lobbyist and a most questionable choice, coming as he does from the consultant firm of Schmitz and Associates.

Talk about a wolf being invited into the hen house.

The firm and its indefatigable director Don Schmitz has been very much a presence in Malibu, seen at almost every meeting of the City Council and Planning Commission, as well on the fringes of several task forces, ever ready with a quip and comment.

Principal among those he represents has been the sprawling La Paz development, which was one of the projects that prompted Measure R.

Very much also a presence acting as Schmitz’s gofer and echo through the protracted planning process has been DeLeau.

Recuse himself as he may, Deleau sitting behind a dominant desk at City Hall has to send a powerful message to staff as well as to the public.

In my opinion as a experienced planner and journalist, what we have with this appointment is nothing less than the politicalization of City Hall.

I was willing to give the city the benefit of the doubt over its mishandling of a confusing Measure R, which I fear will not be the best matrix to judge a large development, especially if well packaged as Whole Foods promises to be.

But then there was the pathetic abdication of the city council and city staff of its planning prerogatives to the slick consultants of developers; that is what triggered the last minute effort to save the hallowed trees at PCH and Cross roads.

Yes, they were saved, but a lot of aggravation would have been avoided if the city was doing its job.

Then there was the staff fumbling and the council’s feeble-minded embrace of the fabricated traffic studies, and once again showing little initiative.

There also is a history of the staff not responding to resident queries, and the council quick to denigrate anyone challenging their questionable judgment.

And now this appointment. Several weeks ago this commentary was taken to task for describing the city council as timorous. The phrase I would now use is inept.

Time for a recall?

 

 

 

Public Safety Succumbs to Parking and Politics

Aired July 18, KBU.FM. More Local Concerns

Why do Malibu residents find City Hall so exasperating?

Here it is, several weeks into the Summer, and Grasswood Avenue on Point Dume is very much a parking lot on beach beckoning days, impassable for emergency vehicles, to the consternation of first responders, and difficult for residents.

It has been several months since a gaggle of Grasswood residents went before the city’s Public Safety Commission, asking that something, anything, be done. The item was duly placed on its agenda; the commission took testimony –noting that it was the largest turnout in memory –and directed the city to come up with several alternatives.

The city came back with a proposal to stripe the street to allow for through traffic, confining parking to the edges where possible. It was approved. The residents placated.

Then came the poison pill. Heeding the concerns of ever-cautious councilperson Laura Rosenthal, the city manager, Jim Thorsen, said that before implementing the improvement, a consenting petition was needed from a majority of the street’s residents. For a public safety measure? That already was unanimously approved?

Some 20 years ago when riding a bike to the Pt. Dume elementary school a students was almost killed by a speeding car at Fernhill and Sea Ranch Way. I recall it took a week or so to get a stop sign erected at the intersection. Other public safety initiatives also have not required a consensus. Indeed, the city’s charter is prefaced by the paramount concern for the “health, safety and welfare” of residents.

Rosenthal had raised the concern that the parking improvements would provoke the wrath of a contentious Coastal Commission who embraces the parking as an enhancement to beach access. However, its establishing statue, Coastal Act, Section 30210, clearly states “maximum access shall be provided consistent with public safety needs.”

It was suggested that the parking constraints should nevertheless be implemented, at least for the Summer, and then weigh the reaction, if any. But City Hall prevailed.

And so a conscientious resident subsequently hosted a meeting to air the issue and garner signatures. The turnout was decent, about two dozen. Some signed, some balked, and some talked, and talked.

The question of whether enough signatures were gathered, and what indeed constitutes enough, was not made clear by the city. The city manager has not answered several queries.

Meanwhile, it has been four months since the residents went before the Public Safety Commission, two months since the constraints were approved, several weeks since the community gathering, and the parking problem on Grasswood persists.

So much for the prime principle of democratic institutions, that they deliver results. It is no wonder that the Malibu City Council meetings are becoming more and more contentious.

This is a slightly edited commentary was aired on 97.5 KBU on July 18.

 

 

 

 

Planning Concerns Close to Home

Aired July 11, 2015

Some reflections on a Malibu Planning Commission hearing I attended this week.

It was the latest of several I have recently witnessed at City Hall concerning a host of planning issues confronting Malibu. For a small city of about 13,000 it does generate considerable controversy and discontent, giving some weight to the adage, the smaller the city, the more small-minded the politics.

Some of our city leaders are disturbed by the citizen protests, but I consider the grumblings healthy, an expression of down home Democracy. Though, frankly, I prefer they weren’t so often shrill, and ill informed.

I place much of the blame for this on the City’s failure to communicate, whether out of timidity or preferring to keep things close to their vests. For the record, my description in a commentary of the council being timorous did prompt Mayor John Sibert to take exception.

In an e-mail he states that far from being timorous the council has taken the initiative in host of issues, citing among other things scoring a needed study of the PCH and funds for improvements. And he added, and I quote, “if you think we don’t stand up to developers, you really do need to do a cranial/anal inversion. “ end of quote. Nothing timorous in that statement.

The mayor continued, saying the council for all its efforts gets no support from the-come lately spectators, who only descend on City Hall to carp. While wincing, I have to add that it is at least comforting to know that the council is listening.

This prompts me to cite yet another adage, a mathematical formula popular among journalists that states: public service equals megalomania, divided by paranoia.

But on occasion one must sympathize with those who volunteer for public service, donating their time for no compensation other than the reward of good citizenship. This was evident the other evening at the planning commission hearing considering an application for the remodel and expansion 29042 Cliffside Drive.

Aside from the questionable design, I testified that I felt the indicated construction of 49% is a blatant attempt to have the project declared a remodel and not a new structure, with its additional constraints and fees.

However, my prime objection is based on my experience as the past chair of the city”s View Preservation Task Force, and as a planner.

I fear as do current Cliffside residents that if this application is approved, and however it compromises the blue water view of any property, even by a sliver, it will also clearly affect their property values.

My view is not affected, but others are, and with the result of lowering their property values, mine also would be affected.

This did not bother the city’s wavering planning department, which recommended approval. But happily the commission did not. Member Jeff Jennings was particularly forthright . So was Mikke Pierson. And chairman David Brotman displayed his forte as an architect noting that the layout with its five master sized bedrooms, each with its own bath, was more indicative of a residential medical clinic than a family home.

Such residences have become the bane of Malibu, since only State approval is needed to convert an ostensibly private home to a clinic. Though, consultants for the corporate owner said this was not intended; that the house will be a retreat for a large extended family.

Obviously sensing the commission’s sentiments and a looming no vote, the applicants asked for a continuance. The neighbors hope in the two months given the applicant will attempt a redesign that preserves views. That is the hope, but deep pocketed developers in the past have not been so accommodating. We’ll see.

Im Sam Hall Kaplan, and this the City Observed, on 97.5 KBU and radiomalibu.net.

 

 

A Street in Malibu Celebrates

Aired July 4, 2015

And today, being July Fourth, we witness our Democracy, being tested abroad, nationally, and also in my misanthropic Malibu.

There my neighbors on Grasswood Avenue on Pt. Dume are celebrating their own modest act of independence, having risen up to protest a traffic situation and pressure the city to finally, take some action.

To be sure, the situation is not one would call dire, unless you live on the street where during the Summer beachgoers park their cars haphazardly to be near the Point’s sandy stretches.

The result: the street becomes a clogged parking lot, impassable for residents and emergency vehicles.

For years residents have complained. But the city shied away from any action, out of fear that curtailing the parking however unsafe would engender the wrath and fines of the Coastal Commission. The agency religiously encourages anything to facilitate public access to Malibu’s beckoning beaches.

That is, until this year. With beach days on the rise and more and more people descending on the Point, clogging streets with their cars, residents say, enough is enough. First responders also have voiced concern.

Residents rallied before the city’s public safety commission, and demanded something be done. Confronted by a determined citizenry, the city agreed to initiate several mitigating measures, to constrain the parking, and increase enforcement.

Now all wait until it is actually done, hopefully before the Summer ends.

Maybe because it is July Fourth, but one senses a welling up of resident frustration with the city’s handling of planning issues, and the need for more civic transparency, more democracy!

Malibu is getting more dense and desirable, and traffic more intense. The ever-avaricious real estate interest love it, but residents don’t. Shrill protests have erupted over development, mostly the high end chain stores for the tourists, but also trophy houses for the deep pocket transient.

This conflict prompted the recent overwhelming approval by voters of an ordinance with the intent of constricting large commercial developments. However badly written, it nonetheless is an expression of protest.

Next came a ringing citizen protest of plans to cut down severable venerable trees to widen a street in the civic center to accommodate increased traffic generated by a proposed new shopping center.

Though the city’s Planning Commission voted that the trees somehow be saved, the issue is still to be resolved by a conflicted city government and a recalcitrant Caltrans.

But now involved and raising its voice is an energized citizenry, very much in the spirit of July Fourth.

Time to light a firecracker in celebration.

I’m Sam Hall Kaplan, and this is the City Observed, on KBU and radiomalibu. net.

 

Will Saving The Trees Save Malibu?

aired 6.17

It seems as long as I can remember in my two decades as a concerned citizen of misanthropic Malibu, the coastal city is at a crossroads, literally and figuratively.

The crossroads physically is at the intersection of the Pacific Coast Highway –the PCH –and Cross Creek Road, in what is euphemistically called the Malibu Civic Center. In reality, however, it’s really a clutter of scattered suburban mini malls, the civic element consisting, of an uninviting park, with an isolated library and city hall on its fringe. All have their adjacent segregated parking.

The crossroads in question is not incidentally an accident magnet, marked by a Shell station on the northeast corner, and the south side by a cluster of tall trees, a venerable Sycamore and five Eucalyptus.

Before the city’s Planning Commission the other evening was a plan to upgrade the crossroads, a so-called mitigation to satisfy a condition of approval for a commercial center the city green lighted way back in 2008. Approval of the mitigation would finally put a bow on the elaborate 112,000 square foot package, known as La Paz.

Many in the growing cadre of anti development forces across Malibu thought if the trees could be saved, the mitigation would fail, and therefore project stopped. Not so, contended the developer’s rep, who said he also loved the trees, but try and try again to get Caltrans to agree to an alternative failed.

If anything distinguishes Malibu residents, is that they have seldom heard or heeded the word no. do not They testified for three hours to save the trees, which they saw as a rare icon for a city “and repeatedly quoted from its land use plan the historical willingness of residents “to sacrifice urban and suburban conveniences in order to protect that environment and lifestyle, and to preserve unaltered natural resources and rural characteristics;”

This resonated with the commission, which came up with it thought is a Solomon–like decision. It approved the mitigation needed for public safety, but with an amendment to somehow save the trees. A Caltrans functionary there was typically evasive.

The commission in its decision suggested several modification that could be explored, including narrowing the lanes, taking a slice off the shell by relocating or eliminating one bank of pumps.

Let me add that this could be viable, if Shell was confronted with the alternative of losing all to eminent domain.

Putting on my planner’s hat, let me further suggest that PCH from the bridge over Malibu Creek to Webb way can be treated as a downtown Main Street, such as it is Laguna Beach, Corona Del Mar among other coastal towns. With speed limits lowered from the present 45 to 25, and cross walks and sidewalks lit, Legacy Park edged to become more inviting, among other improvements, the scene also could lend itself to a more amendable civic identity.

Also raised at the commission was the question why was the city not taking more initiative in exploring alternatives and lobbying for them with Cal trans; why in these cases why the city also seems to be yielding to the applicant and their lobbyists.

This question places the city at a figurative crossroads. Will the city council with and the city bureaucracy step up and become proactive and less timorous in the fulfilling its obligations, particularly in the wake of a more demanding electorate? The passage of measure R certainly was a message that all is not well in Malibu. So was the commission hearing Monday night.