A Lament for the Bank of Books, and Books

Sad news for Malibu and in particular my neighborhood of Point Dume: our only bookstore, the Bank of Books, is closing its doors this spring, as I lament in my latest commentary on 97.5 KBU and radiomalibu.net., and in print here.

Despite a host of well-attended and publicized readings, congenial signings and outdoor seating in an amiable setting, its sales apparently have stagnated in the four years it had persevered in the cozy Point Dume Plaza. I for one will miss it.

No doubt E books, Amazon and discount stores have taken their toll.   To be sure, E books are attractive; they certainly don’t take up much room, and audio books I feel can ease the pain of long commutes we in Malibu must endure..

But I frankly love books, the printed kind, on sheets of paper, in type face of varied styles, bound together within covers, of evocative designs hinting at the works of fiction or non fiction within, and the worlds of ideas, emotion and histoy

Books for me have been a constant companion, comfort and challenge; from the day I got a library card in a burgeoning Brooklyn of the past. There libraries were something akin to an ecumenical house of worship, a hushed community center, and for a large family living in cramped apartments, our living room.

As a student, a reader and especially as a critic, I have been over the years accumulating thousands of books, literally a ton of them, conscientiously trucking them with me as I moved from place to place, city to city. I might leave a piece of furniture behind, but never a box of books.

Occasionally prodded by largess or lack of space, I have parted with a few from time to time, donating them to schools and libraries, and giving them to those I know would appreciate them. Books for me have always been the gift of choice.

Still books are everywhere in my house: in almost every room, walls of packed shelves from floor to ceiling, piled on tables and stacked in corners, roughly sorted by authors and subjects. And then there is the singular shelves with books I have written, all four of them, and those of my friends and family.

Most prominent these day is a thin, searing book of poetry entitled Poem Without Suffering (Wonder Books), written by my middle son, Josef Hall Kaplan. I immodestly note with pride that it has risen to Eighth nationally on the poetry best seller list of small publishers, and number One in our home.

 

 

 

Malibu Ponders Civic Center Mess

Is there any hope for Malibu’s Civic Center

Of course, to call a scattered city hall and library, a user-unfriendly earthen roof of a water treatment plant. labeled a park, and four disconnected suburban shopping malls, soon to be six, a civic center is a misnomer. It is frankly a mess.

And what it says about the city’s planning efforts and political acumen to date is less flattering.

It is indeed an embarrassing screw up, big time in a little city flaunting its singular natural beauty, and so I declare in my latest commentary for KBU, radiomalibu.net and select websites.

Let’s just label it municipal mismanagement, and not the most meritorious item on the resumes of departing city manager Jim Thorsen and soon to be termed out council members.

This is not to say they haven’t learned from their mistakes, and from the message sent to them by 60 per cent of the citizenry in the recent city referendums, whatever the legal fate of Measure R that wrenched from them the power to approve or disapprove select commercial developments.

To add a positive note, there is very much an opportunity for the city to correct some of these mistakes, and plan an appealing civic center that meets the true needs of Malibu and not the conceits of commercial interests.

That opportunity is in a fresh approach to what is known in government as a Specific Plan, and was the conclusion of a recent joint meeting of the City Council and Planning Commission and their entourages..

They had met ostensibly to review the status of the Civic Center Design Standards study, which a gaggle of select residents led by a conscientious consultant team have been pursuing for the last two years while the battle over Measures R and W raged.

However, in its quest for a quote “walk able coastal village with rural characteristics “unquote, the study exceeded the usual scope of design standards by including the need for a traffic and pedestrian circulation plan, mixed uses, and senior and local work force housing.

These are elements generally addressed in a Specific Plan, and call for land use changes that involve zoning amendments, consistent with the city’s general and coastal plans.

That in turn would most likely need voter approval, and in essence would lend residents actually broader and more positive powers than what they had sought in Measure R. That would be ironic.

It also would be a triumph of hope over experience, the city having failed in several past attempts at crafting specific plans.

Nevertheless, the Council and Commission were enthusiastic that the city moves toward drafting the plan, but were not sure how to do it.

Noted was the problem how the general public can be more involved, and in turn become the needed advocates for a new plan, especially in light of its distrust of the city stemming from the battles to date over the civic center.

The poor turnout for the joint meeting was not encouraging. The city’s lack of transparency and outreach has not helped.

No motion was considered, as the staff was directed to somehow facilitate the study needed for a specific plan, preferably with resident participation.

The well compensated consultant team seemed enthused. It remains to be seen if residents will be.

 

 

 

 

Misanthropic Malibu Ponders Legal Appeals

 

It’s a new year, but paramount before Malibu’s City Council is an issue that won’t go away: the fate of Measure R and with it the debate over the future of the Civic Center.

This is grist for my latest City Observed, penned on the Point, heard locally on 97.5 KBU Saturdays, everywhere on radiomalibu.net. and read on Nextdoor and select websites.

To bring readers up to speed, Measure R limiting citywide development and requiring voters approve of select new commercial projects has been ruled illegal.

Not incidentally this was predicted by several involved residents also concerned with the rapacious development of the civic center, myself included. Let me add, there is no comfort in hindsight.

The Measure R ruling also negates the subsequent rejection of Measure W, blocking the Whole Foods development. It is expected to now move ahead.

Meanwhile. the city has to decide whether to appeal the Superior Court ruling, at an estimated cost of $100,00 plus

Then there is the question whether the proponents of the original measure, principally Michele and Rob Reiner, want to join in the effort, and chip in some more big bucks.

And what could be expected from this effort, I ask, besides a windfall for lawyers and possibly another questionable measure going before a weary electorate, or simpler, a less controversial recasting of stringent land use regulations.

But actually Malibu has such regulations, guided by a preamble that clearly states an abiding commitment to a livable, sustainable, environment-friendly city.

It just needs to be energetically enforced, and that means no commercial variances or conditional uses, period. It is those loopholes developers and their crafty lawyers have been abusing, while taking advantage of a municipal government that is just too consumer friendly.

It is not that the city councils we have elected are criminally culpable, they have been just too affable.

They like being nice and liked; that is why they sought office, and why we have elected them. It is just unfortunate they have fallen pry to what I call a cult of amiability, and have become too friendly with special interests.

This unfortunately I feel has set a tone for city staff, which also has become too consumer friendly; more projects, more budget bucks. Of course, this makes it easier for the staff who lean a bit too heavily on others to do their work.

This has allowed the reps for the deep pocket applicants, be they lobbyists or lawyers, to script the requested decisions in the obscure legal language government wraps itself in, and the hell with the public.

So I immodestly suggest the council NOT bother appealing the Measure R ruling. It will be too costly, time consuming, and probably fail.

Instead, it should recognize the popular mandate Malibu residents have expressed in recent referendums, be more transparent and less defensive, and begin to act accordingly.

To that end, I of course have several suggestions, concerning the civic center and beyond in the new year. So stay tuned to KBU and Nextdoor,

 

 

New Year’s Day Musings from Malibu

My New Year’s commentary  aired on 97.5 KBU, radiomalibu.net, and elsewhere on the web, and posted here:

A hearty Happy New Year, with a fervent peace and good will to all, though I frankly offer this with faint hope, for it seems to me that despite wishes to the contrary, peace and good will, everywhere, continues on the wane.

Still, there is a modicum of hope, which I’m pleased to express based here on KBU, as I have from myriad media outlets where I have toiled over the last half century plus.

Whatever, then and now, the ringing in of the New Year is a time I feel for looking back as well as looking forward.

Indeed. I recall quite vividly the new year 56 years ago when I was a fledgling journalist for WQXR, then the radio station of the august New York Times, working odd hours and on holidays.

Back then in addition to scripting a 5 minute broadcast every hour, on the hour, I also wrote the news crawl for the famed Times Square ticker tape.

This entailed walking from my desk in the news room on West 43rd street a half block to the triangular Times building in Times Square, up three flights, to hand deliver my script to the typist banging out the blaring headlines.

New Years was the toughest day of the year, for to turn my copy in I had to elbow my way through the pushing and shoving crowds to get to the landmark tower.

More challenging was timing the salutation I had scripted,  HAPPY NEW YEAR, to flash on to the ticker tape at the exact moment the ball on the flagpole touched down in view of the celebrating multitude.

There were no super computers back then programming the display to the millisecond. It was done with dumb luck.

I still get shivers as I watch on television the ball descend in Times Square, albeit at midnight New York time, 9 P.M on the coast. By midnight in Malibu I’m asleep

So much for looking back. As for looking forward to 2016, hope still persists on the world stage, for which I leave others to comment on, though of course I have opinions.

As the tag of this radio spot states, my purview is the city observed, how spaces and places are shaped or misshaped to serve or hinder human endeavors, in particular in Los Angeles and my Malibu.

So for 2016 that means on the Southern California scene, among other things, following the fate of the revitalization of the L.A. River; whether architecture and planning can craft a livable, sustainable city; and how best to protect our threatened environments.

Also, and most critical, I intend to monitor whether our current political constructs- the city councils, the commissions and bureaucracies –are up to the challenge,  whether they can act in the pubic interest and not their own. And of course I will be casting a wary eye on the avaricious private sector.

We are talking here of respecting the culture, context and climate of communities. More specifically, locally, whether measure R should be pursued or is there a better way; does Legacy Park have a future; what now for the Civic Center?  Is there any hope for affordable housing, the homeless, and an independent Malibu school district?

For the answers, tune in  …

MALIBU AND SANTA MONICA DIVORCE PROCEEDINGS

My latest commentary for 97.5 KBU, and everywhere on radiomalibu.net, a hot topic in Malibu. As I have noted previously, the more local the issue, be it planning, the public schools or whatever, the more engaged the public, the healthier the community.

If anything came out of the most recent Board meeting of the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District, it was the resolve of Malibu for its own district, and the distressing recalcitrance of  the Santa Monica majority.

The meeting in Santa Monica I feel was very much a reflection of present community concerns, and a harbinger of an  inevitable political battle in the district.

In the middle of this morass is an evolving Malibu and no less than the efficacy of public education.

Scores of parents present and past, filled the district’s alien headquarters to urge and argue for a locally controlled district, joined in by City Council.\

But before they could testify they had to wait for several hours to listen to a district assistant drone on about a report that contended the separation of the two cities would result in fewer dollars for Santa Monica students,

This contradicts an earlier report that indicated there would be NO loss of funding for either district in a separation, and in fact both would benefit, though maybe not the Santa Monica district central bureaucracy.  There’s the rub.

Having occasionally in my maverick career indulged in institutional oversight, as an administrator and investigative journalist, the projections appeared cooked, in the charts of jumbled numbers and in their mumbled explanations.

Unfortunately, Malibu is frankly viewed by a gaggle of Santa Monica’s self-righteous board members as a cash cow for the district, while their own city continues to gentrify, marked by an increasing tax base and a decreasing student population.

If they are worried about losing students, and state subsidies, to bolster their bureaucratic budgets they could easily accept willing transfers from bordering Venice and West L.A.

And even if the district’s projections were correct, student needs should be the bottom line, not money, which incidentally does not necessarily translate into a better education system.

Malibu is essentially a small rural city; Santa Monica an urban entity, with a disproportionate voter ratio of 84% to 16%. As a result, Malibu is consistently on the short end of the stick for district resources.

Make no mistake about it, for all its pretensions and popular liberal image Santa Monica is innately conservative, yielding to a self serving bureaucracy, under a sham egalitarian banner.

Malibu citizens need to be able to rectify their own academic and administrative school issues in a timely, responsible and reasonable manner; and should not need to travel to another town to attend meetings to beg. SMMUSD is the last district in the state of California that joins two geographically separate cities, an anomaly in public school administrative policy.

The separation is a democratic imperative that cannot be denied, the arguments for are urgent, and also frankly ethical.

 

12.5.2015

 

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and Beyond

While combining pleasure and work surveying cultural tourism in Europe a few months ago, I could not help but wonder if there also were some lessons for my Malibu.

And indeed there was one in particular, a diverting arts and entertainment experience in Edinburgh that for years has been hyped by au courant friends and family.

The Scottish city, of course, is on a completely different scale, if not planet than Malibu, with a very successful history as arguably the world’s leading festival city.

Its International Festival was launched in the wake of World War Two, as a much needed celebration of the creative human spirit. It then flowered into a host of cultural happenings: music, dance, film, art, books, drama, you name it.

Most interesting for me, and harboring some ideas for Malibu, is Edinburgh’s aptly named Fringe Festival. Whatever engages and entertains, be it single performers or ensembles, is material for the decidedly democratic festival.

This year’s was a grand affair, hosting an amazing 50,459 performances of 3,314 shows in 313 venues across Edinburgh, in school halls, university auditoriums, a few aged theaters, churches, under tents, in public parks, private gardens, living rooms and on closed streets and dedicated sidewalks.

Everywhere you wandered in the ancient city there was a peek at a production. Nearly 2.3 million tickets were issued, at modest prices, half price near curtain time, and many free.

The challenge was what to see: an acclaimed company performing an act from a London bound play, a comedy team from Germany doing mime, a Korean dance troup, juggling ballet dancers, acrobatic office workers, standup comics, stand down story tellers,, and buskers everywhere, behind every bench and bush, and on sidewalks and streets, to be sure each spot dedicated and subject to scheduling

It was all doable, because performances were limited to an hour or so, and if you were alert to the buzz, you might score the best of the fest.

The result were wild and wonderful, in part made so because the festival amazingly is open all; absolutely anyone so inspired can stage a show or event, though helping would be having a producer and securing a venue and a time slot. There are no auditions, no second guessing by bureaucrats or politicians. It’s about having the hubris and hustling.

Can something like the fringe on a thumbnail scale work in Malibu?

There are certainly scattered spaces and places that can be transformed temporarily into performance sites, schools, churches, city hall, shopping plazas, parking lots, indeed Legacy, Bluff and Trancas parks. For sure not in the crowded summer, but anytime else, thanks to our weather.

Malibu already has the cache. All it needs is the creativity and flexibility.

If the Cultural Arts Commission can ease its bonds with the city’s innately conservative council and faint hearted city government, and tap its laudable commitment, become transparent, and inspire the city’s many talented incipient residents, it can happen.

Speaking as a former if briefly Disney Imagineer, needed is imagination. It is also what the ever candid Scots in Edinburgh would say.

 

 

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