THE EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL

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.

11.30.15

PT. DUNE SCHOOL PLANS QUESTIONED

A seemingly sincere Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District and a cadre of its consultants descended on Pt. Dume several day ago for a public meeting to review a draft environmental impact report for its proposed ambitious realignment of Malibu schools.

A sparse audience of about 20 Point residents and parents heard that though the report raised some hackles, it was nevertheless needed to expedite the project that will combine the Pt. Dume and Cabrillo elementary schools on the Pt. Dume campus; in the first phase in temporary prefabs and a second stage in a new classroom building

As I comment on public radio 99.1, KBUU, and select websites, the audience had to be wary, given the Santa Monica dominated district board’s long history of short changing Malibu schools. And this despite the real estate rich seacoast city’s disproportionately subsiding the district’s budget to the tune of millions annually.

In summarizing the dense 700 page plus report of mostly boilerplate bureaucratic blather, the district contingent sought to minimize concerns. In particular, these included the traffic impact on local streets and the siting of a two story, 28 foot high, bulky classroom building fronting Grayfox street.

There also was an impassioned call immodestly by me wearing my proud Pt. Dume parent hat for the flexible design of a community school with a progressive curriculum, to serve adults and seniors as well as students, and lend the Point a prominent public presence.

The consultants tried to assure the gathering that the traffic generated by the school doubling its capacity to nearly 400 students can be managed by tweaking commuter patterns. Good luck to that.

As for the indicated siting of the permanent classrooms, district spoke persons said that was just a so-called place holder to expedite the approval process in the project’s first phase, and that the eventual design process in the project’s second phase would include broad public input. And good luck to that, too.

It also should be noted that designating a place holder is a violation of state planning laws, but the district stumbles on.

To be sure, there is little question that in principle that the Malibu school alignment project is needed, as is the pending passage of Measure M to fund it. Malibu schools are a half century old and outdated.

Certainly it will enhance the city’s image and desirability, and while most importantly serving its children and democracy’s paragon of pubic education. And as a bonus it can be expected to boost real estate prices.

It also should prompt the inevitable, and I feel imperative, school district divorce allowing Malibu to establish an independent district, hopefully without paying an exorbitant and unjust ransom.

 

 

 

PLANNING IN MALIBU: HOPE OVER EXPERIENCE

Being observed in particular these days is the 18 acre so called Christmas tree lot at the southeast corner of Heathercliff and PCH, now that the city has purchased it and revealed, surprise, it does not have to be used for a Metro park-and-ride site.

That use originally disclosed by city manager Reva Feldman was suppose to be in return for the city receiving $2 million from Metro toward the total purchase price of $42 million for the lot and two other commercial zoned parcels in the city.

As I comment on public radio 99.1 KBUU and select websites, the purchase was ostensibly deemed a good deal, approved by our neophyte, undiscerning council; no one at least publicly wants to see more commercial development in Malibu.

But it was subsequently made clear that residents do not want it paved over for a not needed park-and-ride lot. And there are other considerations, dare I mention aesthetic in this age of philistines, for some sort of eco friendly project to serve as a focal point for public use and pride.

Beyond its seasonal use for the overpriced sale of forlorn fir trees, the lot has to be one of the non descript blights among many that mark the city’s fragmented PCH façade.

Yes, Malibu’s spectacular seacoast setting of sprawling beaches set beneath a backdrop of striking mountains distinguishes it as a singular rural seacoast village, arguably one of the prettiest and pricey settings in the world: as the city’s gateway signs proclaim: “21 miles of scene beauty.”

But by any architecture and landscape measures, most of meandering PCH through Malibu is sadly unsightly, studded with strip commercial, off-putting restaurants, bland housing, and vacant lots mooning its main street:

21 miles of schlock that if its wasn’t for glimpses of water would be not much different than most of Southern California’s inland sprawl,

So the central question is: whither the Christmas Tree Lot at the ignominious ugly entry to Pt. Dume? Will it be used for a community amenity or just as another political exercise for a paper shuffling bloated Malibu City Hall? And where is that “robust and transparent” community dialogue promised? Or is it just more bureaucratic b.s?.

It should be noted that some interesting ideas for the lot have been proffered in the social media and in response to KBUU commentaries. And some respected design locals have indicated they would volunteer their talents in an open planning effort, a welcomed gesture of hope over experience.

One does have to be wary, given the city’s nefarious history of subterfuge and obfuscation, hiring servile staff and consultants, yielding to special interests behind closed doors, and generally compromising the Malibu.

Governance in Malibu is clouded, and not a pretty picture, and as a result neither is the Malibu cityscape. Perhaps the promised planning of the three parcels will be an exception. Perhaps.

 

 

 

 

 

]\

 

HOPE FOR A POINT DUME COMMUNITY PARK

A surprise out of our less than transparent City Hall: It appears that after all there is flexibility in the agreement with Metro to build a park-and-ride lot at the front door to Point Dume. We may not have to.

As originally announced by wily City Manager Reva Feldman and a braying council, the agreement was in exchange for $2 million to be used toward the total $42 million plus needed for the purchase of three prime commercial parcels. And as I comment on public radio 99.1 KBUU and select websites, that includes the 18 acre so called Christmas Tree lot at Heathercliff and the PCH.

When first reported as a park-and-ride site the announcement prompted a wave of protests and several alternative proposals. These included mine for needed, well-designed affordable housing for seniors and those who serve the city, but most others were for community facilities and open space.

Well, according to the city attorney, it now seems those Metro funds CAN be used for more broadly defined transportation purposes, not necessarily park-and-ride. It seems a lazy and bloated City Hall just hadn’t pursued a more flexible MTA. So what else is new?

But now there’s word that the city motivated by the public protests will soon initiate a public outreach program, to come up with some alternatives for the lot, and others, and that the effort will be “transparent,” as promised.

There are a number of specific uses that come to mind, beyond my housing proposal, which for now is here being put on the back burner, given the tenor of the times fed by misinformed recalcitrant locals, and also that it might be better located elsewhere, say in the civic center. Hope springs eternal.

The other uses include the long sought playing fields, which I recall, from my Little League coach and Park Commissioner days, was once proposed for the site. Go Point Dume Dodgers.

A sensitive sitting of the fields also could allow room for a community garden, a demonstration landscape, protecting the ESHA there, and, if designed well, some flexible parking to satisfy Metro and serve park users. And there is the possibility also of a multi use facility and band shell.

Not incidentally, that also could take the local pressure off for more recreational facilities on the hallowed Bluffs Park.

The city should have the funds for this, and not be put off by lame duck Laura Rosenthal, who warned at the recent Council meeting that without the income from short term rentals the city may not be able to pursue the development of the sites.

As for her questionable argument allowing de facto hotels in residential zones, more on that in a later commentary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PT.DUME PARKING FIASCO; WILL THE CITY EVER LEARN?

So the supposedly solvent, financially canny, city of Malibu, to get a relatively modest $2 million from the MTA, needed to complete the $42 million plus purchase of three prominent parcels, has agreed to the questionable construction of a two acre park-and-ride lot at the entry to Point Dume.

There are so many things wrong about that decision: Unwise, not needed, and lazy are a few words that come to mind, though I feel sadly it is typical of a small town-and-minded Malibu, as I comment on public radio 99.1 KBUU and select websites.

If it is any comfort, other cities across the country also are reported beset, our tenets of democracy everywhere facing a mounting wave of ignorance and incompetence.

And in Malibu, further burdened with a part time pampered and uninvolved population, so much for the promised “robust and transparent” discussion. That was to be pursued by the city with the community over the public use of the parcel at PCH and Heathercliff, known as the Christmas Tree lot.

What we can say is that if the city has its thumb in the pie it typically will yield design prerogatives to obsequious consultants and uncaring staff, whomever, with the probable result the egress and access of the lot will be eyesores, the landscaping poorly designed and planted, and the environmentally sensitive gulley there threatened.

To the backburner unfortunately goes my persistent hope for attractive, landscaped, affordable, planned unit development, sponsored by a local, morally motivated non profit consortium, not big government, to serve those who serve us.

We are not proposing stereotypical low income housing for a potential criminal element, as had been claimed by a few neighbors who should know better. We are talking local teachers and fireman here, maybe even a city employee, though frankly it would be nice to hear from them.

Meanwhile, a bloated bureaucracy and neophyte council again out of ignorance and laziness, or whatever, have compromised the public face and planning potential of the sadly fading rural seacoast village character of Malibu.

Don’t want to sound too dramatic, but these seemingly minor decisions affecting a few acres here and there, a parking lot, a structured garage, arbitrarily and most time behind closed doors, are what really shape our aesthetic experience, and pride in, and value of, our city.

It is an old, and true, adage that cities are shaped not by pricey master plans, but by one project at a time.

And incidentally, the $2 million the city said it needed to close the deal is about what Malibu has paid our State consultant California Strategies, for the last decade, and still now, apparently just to glad hand our councilpersons and city staff when boondoggling in Sacramento.

Certainly it does not seem to have gone to influence the MRCA, Coastal Commission, or MTA. As a former strategic planning consultant to MTA, I’m confident the agency would have been more accommodating, if the parties involved displayed more concern for the community and not just for the money. And the paper shuffling.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING FOR THOSE WHO SERVE MALIBU

This week some thoughts prompted by Malibu’s purchase of three parcels of land, the development of which is promised by City Hall to be explored in a “robust and transparent process.”

Nice catch phrase, as I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites. But looking over the deformed and unattractive development to date of Malibu, from the perspective of a former architecture and design critic, for the LATimes, among others, I have to be wary. And as a long time resident of Malibu, I have to sadly add, downright distrusting.

So before the usual suspect cast of commercial developers, rapacious, resident realtors, city hall would-be wheeler-dealers and neophyte planners start their back door discussions, an immodest suggestion:

My focus is on two of the three parcels, the nearly 10 acres in the fractured so-called civic center known as the chilli cook-off site, and 18 acres at the entry to Point Dume, at PCH and Heathercliff, know as the Christmas Tree sale site.

Maybe, just maybe, at long last, the timing might be right for Malibu to pursue the development on the sites of much needed, indeed desperately needed, affordable housing, for those who serve us well, and many of our long persevering, seniors.

Developed modestly and tastefully by a non-profit consortium, the parcels could yield several hundred plus low rise apartments in an attractive landscaped setting.

It is time in particular to provide housing options for our public school employees, some who commute several exhausting hours a day because they love working here, which is reflected in the quality of education. Nice.

And with Malibu hopefully soon to establish it own public school district, the housing could be a real bonus attracting the best teachers, some of whom have shied away from Malibu because of the prices here and the commute.

The same goes for our first responders, who would make great neighbors, especially given the disasters Malibu is so prone to, and the worrisome recent rise in petty crime. Schools could use their kids, too.

And Malibu definitely has a need for affordable senior housing. As heard in the debate over the Airbnbs recently, many elderly residents must rent out rooms regularly to make ends meet, and so be able to stay in the Malibu where they have lived most of their lives and love. And we love them!

With senior housing available, they will have the option to sell and still stay, which would be windfall for them and many of our realtors. They’ll also be in walking distance to shops, which will be good for our frail community-serving businesses. And there’ll be less commuter traffic.

Finally, pursuing affordable housing could begin to refute the city’s reputation as a selfish, spoiled community, which true or not, emboldens rogue bureaucracies like the MRCA and Coastal Commission to ignore legitimate local concerns.

Meanwhile, I wonder what the five city council candidates have to say. Keep tuned.

MALIBU PLANNING FOLLIES

Observed with dismay was the recent Malibu Planning Commission and the city’s compliant staff, twisting themselves into a knot at a recent meeting reviewing the Malibu Beach Inn’s latest development requests.

A painful review of the convoluted chatter rfevealedthat after commission indicated it would probably reject the requests, it wavered as city staff blabbering on suggested some half-witted and unattractive alternatives.

This included painting a questionable “do not block” traffic zone in front of the Inn, ostensibly for guests and parking valets. Also suggested was allowing a particularly ugly multi level parking lift fronting the hotel site, by relocating a proposed swimming pool. Talk about dumb and dumber

As I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, you would think staff was in the employ of the developer, and not working for the city and therefore sensitive to residents and the city’s mission to protect its rural seacoast character. The only person making any sense at the hearing was Lester Tobias, a local architect, rising from the audience to take exception to the requests and the city’s mishandling.

You would have hoped that at least the commission would remind staff of its job, but they, like the council members who appointed them, tend to be self absorbed. Malibu, we have a problem, that the next local election may, or may not, solve.

Meanwhile, as for the commission hearing, it involved the beachfront hotel requests to park on the landside of PCH, in the former Hertz property. This would allow it to build the swimming pool on its present inadequate parking lot.

The formerly immodest motel has been consciously compromising the city’s building and zoning codes, and the local coastal plan in recent years as it morphed into a high end hotel and over priced restaurant. To be sure, this has been accomplished legally, however arbitrarily, while a less than competent city smiled, however amiably.

The latest incursion was the construction of a signaled cross walk that screwed up commuter traffic for several days. This compounded the crush of cars already there for the slavering celeb scene at nearby Nobu.

As I have previously riled, Caltrans had typically mindlessly approved the crosswalk, while the city, also typically mindless, had explained that the PCH was not its jurisdiction. It is, if City Hall would only assert itself.

But after being chastened, city council members indicated it would not approve the hotel’s latest artiface, though after the planning commission aired it. That was the last meeting, where the air was unfortunately hot air.

Another hearing has had to be planned, which unfortunately will be the night before the Fall election. Hopefully the rejection then will be a no brainer. Actually, considering that the planning commission and city staff will be involved, better make that a half-brainer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

PCH CONTINUES TO PLAGUE MALIBU

As I have commented in the past, on public radio KBU and select websites, the PCH is the bane of Malibu, and the city does nothing.

Reminding us of this recently was a frightening fatal crash on a stretch of the roadway that I happen to drive almost daily, to the Trancas Canyon Dog Park, and weekly to the KBU’s very homey recording studio.

Indeed, almost every day there seems to be something delaying and diverting traffic on the PCH. And sometimes you don’t even know what caused it, be it a serious accident, a fender bender, or wayward bicyclists, riding tandem hogging a lane. Or simply a double parked car.

Then there is the badly timed or badly planned construction, a cross walk or a truck making deliveries to a building site, approved without thought of time and traffic by an uncaring county or Caltrans bureaucrat, or witless city worker

Or it could be just a failed or faulty signal, too many cars driven by tourists in the wrong lane at a snail’s pace taking pictures of the views, or just too many cars, going too slow or scarily too fast: traffic hell being others cars and drivers.

Whatever, also maddening the traffic improvements that could and should have been be made, and have not been, the millions spent on studies, and the continued twiddling of thumbs by not particularly conscientious or competent city and its consultants. Need an example?

How about the promised right turn lane at Trancas and PCH, requested by Malibu west residents, agreed to by all, principally the Vintage Market, only to be nullified behind closed doors at City Hall by an overpaid public serpent at the quiet request of the developer, saving all money, of course?

And when the City and Caltrans sheepishly admit this was an error, then doing nothing about it, puts the dunce cap on all involved. This might be a minor item, considering all that is wrong with Malibu’s main street, but these things add up.

Still, the city is yet to take the initiative, parroting the excuse it is not within its jurisdiction, at the same time increasing it budget, staff and benefits. And for what? To look for ways to avoid taking responsibility for the safety and servicing of those who live here.

It is definitely time for some oversight, and perhaps an overhaul of the city’s staff and priorities. It may not clear up the mess that is the PCH, but it could be a start.

 

 

 

 

 

PUERCO CANYON A TEST FOR MALIBU CITY HALL

The Puerco Canyon carbuncle continues to fester in the form of the pending proposal of an overnight camping and cook out conceit heralded by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.

I know festering carbuncle is an ugly image, but uglier is the devastation in the wake of a wildfire, the probability of which locally will be dangerously heightened by the ill conceived project born out of a blunder by a former fumbling Malibu City Hall. (So, what else is new?)

As I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU, and select websites, it is unthinkable that any self-proclaimed environmentalist posing as a conservationist could promote such a project in a tinderbox canyon in this day and age of hot and dry weather, sporadic wildfires and constant threats of more.

Meanwhile, there is the Authority’s continued use and abuse of lands entrusted to its care and management, much to the concern of canyon homeowners and neighboring residents. Indeed, all who care about our fragile environment also should be concerned. (And that includes our feckless leaders.)

This abuse included the recent invasion of the canyon top by a film crew for a shoot involving explosive approved by a permissive rouge Authority, but apparently not monitored for fire danger as required by State and industry guidelines. Also observed was a designated smoking area, in violation of public lands prohibitions

And the abuses continue. Just last weekend, as fires raged across the State, the public canyon was leased out by the MRCA again for private use, this instance for a large wedding party. Residents reported vehicles constantly running up and down the canyon during the day. (No inner city kids seen.)

Though presumably this time not privately profiting was the family of MRCA fat cat, autocrat, Joe Edmiston, as they used to be for such leases, and subsequently admonished by the State. Shame, for this and other reported transgressions by the self-serving Edmiston.

Nevertheless, Edmiston perseveres, a tin pot power broker on the public tit, who plays a tough hand of poker, cajoling politicians and dominating the MRCA’s board and advisors.

This includes Malibu’s reticent representative, Patt Healy, who declines to speak out on the canyon conflict, until, she stated in an e-mail, she studies the yet to be issued E.I.R. Though it should be noted, the usually discombobulated City Hall already has actually expressed concern, and it is her responsibility to represent the city, not herself. (A friendly reminder.)

To be sure, the abused canyon site is outside the city limits, on State land. But the lone road to it from the PCH road winds through the city of Malibu. This gives the city a wild card to play if it wants to, either by taking the rare initiative or if pressured by vocal residents.

As has been pointed out by KBU’s Hans Laetz, the city can delay, delay, and delay by various strategies hindering any improvements the steep, switch back road may need, to make it safe for access to the campsite. And it can dead end it.

The city also should raise numerous issues in the E.I.R. , suggest other sites, more studies, and generally become obnoxious, as Edmiston most certainly is.

And why isn’t Malibu’s State lobbyist, California Strategies, pressuring the MRCA on behalf of the city. Just what has it done for the $1,000,000 plus the city has paid it over the years, other than glad hand councilpersons. ( Oversight anyone?)

It’s time for City Hall and friends to try to earn their keep, and our respect. Consider the Puerco Canyon conundrum a test.

THE PUERCO CANYON TINDERBOX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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