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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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,

 

 

MALIBU CITY INACTION CREATES CHAOS ON PCH

Instead of my usual commentary “the city observed,” on public radio 99.1 KBU, and select web site., I’ve labeled this one,“the city suffered,” That is especially if you live on Pt.Dume, as I do, and the western reaches of Malibu, and if for whatever reason you occasionally use the PCH.

I had to early this week., for a can’t miss pre op doctor’s appointments, replete with he usual slew of tests, in Santa Monica. It had been delayed too often, and was a medical necessity, whatever my insurance provider might rule.

Alert to the unpredictability of the PCH, I listened to the welcomed up-to the minute traffic reports on 99.1 KBU, which repeated several times traffic was slow in the Lagoon vicinity,

I also checked the website the city has touted, though as usual it was dated and incomplete. The more reliable Google Maps that morning showed east bound traffic backed up beyond John Tyler. This prompted me to leave an hour earlier, giving me up to 2 hours to get to my appointment .

Good thing I did, for the stop and go traffic was slow, and frustrating, prompting some cars to dangerously jump the median and head toward Malibu Canyon Road and the 101.

There were some close accidents, and one wonders where were the Sheriff deputies. I would guess probably lurking in a speed trap somewhere else in Malibu in wait to ticket for a senior going a few miles over the limit in their dated Prius.

Finally, I got to what was causing the monumental backup: the merging of two lanes into one at the Malibu Beach Inn, to accommodate the installation of a traffic signals for a crosswalk. This incidentally would allow the Inn to park cars on the northside of PCH in the old Hertz lot, and make room for an outdoor pool for its pampered guests on the southside steps from their rooms.

Nice, the Inn’s team of lawyers had once again out maneuvered the somnolent city, for yet another profitable amenitiy. How private interests are forever prevailing in Malibu raises question that needs to be answered, hopefully soon.

For the moment, there was the traffic problem, which I feel based on my hands on planning experiences could have been easily addressed, and saved thousand of commuters, and myself, several anguished hours on the PCH.

Specifically, the parking at the south curb should have been just temporarily banned. This would have allowed the private contractor’s truck, and an occasional Cal Trans car to park at the curb,, and not double park as they were doing eliminating a second eastbound lane and inhibiting the flow of traffic.

The resulting mess was a sad illustration of the planning adage that a road is as wide as its narrowest part.

In addition, the construction could have been timed for the evening at a relatively minor charge to the Inn, instead of costing the public hours of lost time at no doubt substantial sums. Yes, I made my appointment, barely.

Unfortunately lacking in all the parties involved was some common sense and common courtesy. Just having someone from City Hall there to check the situation could have made a difference.

Thanks to a burst of outrage in the social media, the double parking at the Inn is now no longer, thank goodness..

But beware, for scheduled to begin this weekend and run through the summer is some major road construction in the Civic Center area that promises to create a traffic hell. The work, of course, is to accommodate the wave of new commercial development that past self-aggrandizing councils had questionably approved.

Of course,, City Hall tell us the PCH is the responsibility of Cal Trans and the Sheriff’s department, not the toothless, and I would add, clueless city.

However, as KBU’s Hans Laetz has noted, there is much our City Hall staff can do. Yes, and I would add if the staff headed by an anemic city manager only had the gumption, as well as the support of a savvy council.  For the present, it is sadly not happening.

Something to think about when next stuck in traffic on the PCH

 

 

CITY OF VENTURA OBSERVED

This week on public radio 99.1 KBU and websites everywhere, the city observed is Ventura, just to the north of my Malibu, an attractive, still affordable seacoast city, with an authentic straggling main street.

To my transient sensibilities, the city is worth a detour, as it was to me decades ago when commuting most weekends and holidays with the kids to our rustic cabin high in Ventura County, in the Los Padres National Forest, above Ojai, deep in mystic Matilija Canyon. We on occasion ate and shopped in Ventura.

The occasion now for the revisit is the publication of “Talk City,” subtitled “a Chronicle Of Political Life in an All-American Town,’ written by William Fulton, (Solimar), who for eight years served on the Ventura City Council, much of the time as deputy mayor, and mayor.

Of interest to me is that Bill , a friend, is a city planner who apparently brought some design and development sensibilities to the elected positions. He is also a writer of several well received planning texts, and the thoughtful editor and publisher of the informative California Planning & Development Report.This held the promise of something beyond the usual bureaucratic babble and derivative academic dissertations that serve little real planning purpose other to than to pad resumes and pay grade reviews, to collect dust on groaning institute shelves

And as Fulton wrote in a note to me, “bear in mind that some of it is old war stories from Ventura. But a lot of it is what it’s like to be a part-time, overstressed, underpaid elected official in California. That, I think, has some legs beyond Ventura.”

Yes, it does, and perhaps some lessons, too, in particular for my stumbling Malibu, though smaller and more affluent, with some erudite residents, just does not seem to have its governmental act together since becoming a city 26 years ago.To be literal, Fulton does not mention Malibu.

However, in discussing why many small cities in California stumble and stagger presumably including Malibu, he cites the presence of “individuals involved who have taken a high handed approach with taxpayer funds,” and the state’s Byzantine system of local government.

Fulton contends that the progressive strong manager and part time politician approach –originally promoted to thwart corruption – has not worked well. He states this is sadly true when both the managers and politicians are self serving, and when the system “provides the opportunity for public servants to shield their activities from public view. “ That includes their total compensation, trips and gifts.

He adds that the system “also discourages constituents from being watchdogs in that both the governmental and financial system is cumbersome and bafflingly complicated,” and the state’s open meeting law is not much help. So much for transparency.

Among Fulton’s many insights from his years of service is that democracy only works if people pay attention, and sadly oftentimes people aren’t paying attention.

Thank you for the advice Bill, and your service.

 

 

 

MALIBU TRAFFIC; BAD TO WORSE

If there seems to have been more traffic delays in Malibu than usual, it is because there are. Of late there have been several bad accidents, on PCH and also on the two connecting routes over the hill, as I comment this week on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere.

And now there is a rush of construction of the ill advised projects of past pro development roosting city councils ,whose bad eggs they laid are being hatched . This includes a traffic light to accommodate the Malibu Beach Inn, and a rash of road widenings in and around the civic center to serve the approved new shopping centers there.

So don’t expect traffic to get any better, despite the usual mouse squeaks of concern coming out of City Hall. To be sure, even with their doors closed, or away on another expense paid governmental boondoggle featuring free meals and advice, the city’s top staff couldn’t ignore the welling anger of the Malibu constituency, especially those who have to use the PCH daily.

So with only a few days notice the city has scheduled a so-called “informational workshop,” for next Wednesday, the 14th, to ostensibly discuss transportation improvement projects funded by the county Measure M.

But hopefully the audience will insist the entire transportation mess plaguing Malibu will be aired, and not let the city get off the hook by blaming it all on Cal Trans. Malibu could assert itself much more, if it only had the moxIe.

However, if these meetings follow past scripts, those attending should beware of protracted presentation by city and county representatives designed not necessarily to details a list of pending projects, but to take forestall public comment and questions. In short, to bury the audience in bureaucratic blather, and deflect the arrows aimed at those responsible.

I wonder how many past council members, and the present lame ducks will be present to explain why and how they turned our seacoast coast village into a suburban-scape.

Probably not present will be the gaggle of high priced traffic, planning and political consultants that have been feeding at the city’s trough, and supposedly addressing these issues. That is in addition to hosting our neophyte municipal leaders who seem to have outsourced every city hall issue except staff payrolls and pensions, and councilperson trips.

There are so many questions to be asked, and so few answers to be expected. It is I feel frankly the sad and sorry state of local government these days

This brings to mind the urban adage, “People get the city they deserve.” Perhaps it is time to take back some of those awards given out to select past council persons when they retired.

 

 

 

MALIBU’S PLANNING PROBLEM

If any local government responsibility is apt to stir up the citizenry, it is planning; the review of zoning and building codes, and, generally, land use in the design of neighborhood character and the preservation of the environment.

It also is the prime source of wealth, for property owners, as well local builders and realtors,, and symbiotic facilitators, lawyers and lobbyists. And so in select cities where size and location marks status, as in Malibu, planning frankly has become a blood sport.

Certainly, all is not well at City Hall these days; as I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites. Witness the flurry set off by the admission by planning director Bonnie Blue at a recent council meeting that the department has fallen behind in both its reviews of policy and processing of plans.

This in turn prompted the challenged Blue to hurriedly propose several corrective actions, including the reassigning of staff and the hiring of a new planner to replace recent departures. These moves were doubled down by city manager Reva Feldman, who also announced hiring a deputy city administrator, at a salary of up to $190,000, to principally oversee planning and development.

The new city position has to have made Blue’s tenure tenuous, while cushioning the city manager from criticism for the planning imbroglio. It also no doubt will make for a crowded city manager’s suite and increased payroll and perks.

 

Meanwhile, whether adding and rearranging chairs in City Hall will correct the situation remain very much a question. One is hopeful, of course, but those familiar with the all to common government ailment of the hardening of bureaucratic arteries has to be skeptical.

I am, based on my investigative stints as a journalist with New York Times and New York Post, and oversight experiences in the public sector, including with the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. And having witnessed in my dotage Malibu’s 26 year history as a bovine city has made me downright suspicious.

Simply throwing bodies at problems doesn’t always work, and could actually makes the planning mess at City Hall worse, adding another layer to the bureaucracy, heightening the in-and-out basket shuffle, and generating countless do-nothing meetings.

More perhaps can be accomplished by a rededication of staff, letting them do their jobs without the city hall crowd trying to surreptitiously influence decisions.

And the problem actually goes beyond personnel, to the city’s the zoning and building codes, or more precisely, their constant compromise by an appeals process that should be made much tougher. Almost every plan is dibbled with because the city’s lax precedents encourages it, such as the 18 foot height limits forever being stretch to 28 feet.

These appeals frankly also are grist for political favors, friends of friends and lobbyists. City Hall perhaps need fewer back scratching bureaucrats and more rat traps.

Don’t get me wrong. I sincerely wish bolstering city’s planning works. Just think of my comments as a dash of salted skepticism.

 

 

 

MALIBU CITY HALL FOLLIES, CONTINUED

My city observed for this week for pubic radio 99.1 KBU and select websites was written and recorded BEFORE city manager Reva Feldman disclosed some corrective actions in the city’s troubled planning efforts,, and AFTER we requested a copy of the city payroll.

The actions involving several new hires and consultancies sounded hopeful, but from my perspective raises some questions concerning the governance of Malibu, whether indeed it a case of hardening of the city’s bureaucratic arteries.

These question and others I expect to review in time, but for now this week’s commentary stands, and, sadly, focuses in on another dubious deed by a self serving city bureaucracy attempting to feather its nest, and taking advantage of a woeful city council.

To be sure, Malibu is not being blatantly robbed, I hope, but council and staff just do not seem to be putting the interests of the city ahead of their own.

Prompting this latest criticism is the current crisis in the city-planning department falling behind in their varied assignments. This presumably was addressed last week by planning director Bonnie Blue, who announced a host of administrative changes and the intention to hire a new planner in the wake of several departures.

I was going to comment on these managerial maneuvers, while as a reprobate planner suggest the department become more efficient and proactive, consistent with the city’s mission.

In short, be less toady and more proudly professional, and as the long term hard nosed planning commissioner Jeff Jennings commented, not reinvent the wheel but push harder.

Of related interest, the commission is reported had been asked by City Hall last Fall not to call the Planning Staff to ask them questions about items on the Commission agenda.  They were told the staff was too busy to answer their questions.

Then out of left field comes the news that concurrently Feldman is planning to add yet more bodies to her bureaucratic bulwark, in particular a deputy city manger for up to $190,000 a year to help with legislative matters.

I thought that why Lisa Soghor was hired last year, and also for which Feldman just recently received a healthy raise that gives her $220,000 plus generous benefits. That is more than our U.S. senators receive.

As for the city’s bulging payroll, the city contended in an internal memo, “There is no fiscal impact associated with this proposed change in the current fiscal year due to salary savings realized from the vacancies in the Planning Department.” Talk about a shell game.

And this addition to select consultants, such California Strategies, which I have noted in the past has been paid by the city $2million for unsubstantiated services. The figures keep adding up as does the wall around the city manager,

Supposedly overseeing these shenanigans is the council’s administrative and finance sub committee, consisting of local government novices Skylar Peak and Rick Mullen. They meet periodically with Feldman in closed session, and are apparently under her sway. It is all very cozy and questionable.

Obviously needed is some independent oversight.