On tap for the next Malibu City Council meeting is a review of the phrase “neighborhood character” as a criteria in considering proposed residential developments.

As I comment this week on public radio 97.5 KBU and websites everywhere, the issue was dropped into the laps of the council by the planning commission, when after a protracted emotional hearing, declined to vote on a proposal for a nearly 9,000 square foot project on Portshead Road.

The project sited on a particularly large lot apparently meets the building code as calculated under Neighborhood Standards.

But being about three times the size of the 50 or so surrounding houses on Point Dume has raised the issue of neighborhood character, which, unlike neighborhood standards, cannot be quantified, and is subjective.

\To aid the council in its deliberations – what exactly is neighborhood character and how it possibly can be applied to proposed projects – planning staff has admirably prepared a report that lays out several rational. if convoluted, alternatives.

But as we have sadly observed, this fractured and frankly not particularly conversant council is not always rational. And neither was a gaggle of neighbors who testified before the commission, including a former mayor, who said the owner actually should be allowed to build anything he wanted. So much for the city’s and coastal commission’s rules and regs.

It was at that meeting that the owner passionately argued that the project should be approved. That was after shedding some crocodile tears in the social media in which he said the family was abandoning what was described as its dream house, however bloated the plans.

It was noted at the commission that the city recently had ruled against a property owner in a similar case where the proposed size of the project was legal, according to “neighborhood standards,.” However, “neighborhood character” was considered, the project labeled mansionization and rejected.

For some perspective, various sources describe neighborhood character as the ‘look and feel” of an area, in particular residential, and can be both descriptive and prescriptive. Nevertheless, along with a host of social, cultural, ecological, and economic factors, neighborhood character does shape where we live, and therefore is considered of significance in the planning process.

Meanwhile in Malibu, as a planning and design critic, I consider the city’s present neighborhood standards reasonable, detailing as it does allowable heights, size and bulk. But the problem over time has been administering them, subject to a parade of pandering neophyte politicians.

The standards are too often appealed, and permitted by a development friendly city, particularly when confronted by a well-connected facilitator and the threat of a lawsuit.

As for what exactly constitutes “neighborhood character,” it is a tough question, and I do not expect it will be easily resolved. Perhaps helpful would be applying a Supreme Court decision in 1964 I have always liked, in which Justice Potter Stewart is quoted that he could not describe pornography, adding “but I know it when I see it.” I feel the same way about neighborhood character..




Against my own advice not to get involved in personal zoning issues, I find I’m compelled to comment on the current city conundrum involving a proposed house on Portshead Road.

The issue has gone too public to ignore, especially since the Planning Commission, after a protracted hearing, declined to vote on the proposal for the 8.800 square foot project and instead kicked it to City Council.

Beyond the emotions it has generated –should the applicant be allowed to build two and a half times the size of his neighbors’ houses– there is a major planning issue involved, concerning the definition of neighborhood character., as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites.

Indeed, in a similar case recently, citing size, the city ruled against a property owner where all other conditions also had met, as they have on Portshead. This set an important precedent.

Nevertheless, the Portshead applicant went before the planning commission, obviously confident that his plans for what he described as his dream house would be acceptable.

However, there were objections, and a petition reportedly was circulated objecting to the size of the project. This prompted a lament by the applicant, which stirred a well-spring of sympathy and an antithetical petition to approve the project.

That sentiment was echoed at the commission hearing, no doubt a factor in it backing off from a decision. With a polite nod to the heart felt sentiments, I feel zoning is not an issue to be decided by petitions, circulated on behalf of whomever.

That should be the purview of the planning commission, and city council. And as often stated at hearings, zoning cases should not be based on how attractive the project or appealing the applicant, but on their compliance with city codes and applicable precedents.

In addition to the echoing of the phrase “neighborhood character” so were the terms “mansionization: and “mcmansion.” This struck a chord with me, for I am cited by Wikipedia as one of several authors that coined the phrases, specifically when I was the LA Times architecture critic in the 1980s. Having also written several books on planning immodestly made me an authority.

I first used the phrase in describing the practice in Santa Monica of building the largest size house possible on a site, which in turn led to a domino effect that ultimately compromises the character of neighborhoods and accelerates hyper gentrification. .

In Malibu, I recall too well a case years ago in which an over designed plan for a prime site on Cliffside Drive had been objected to by neighbors, but nonetheless was approved by the city after an emotional appeal by the owner.

He and his tearful wife pleaded that though a “mcmansion,” the house nevertheless was the family’s dream, where they intended to live into the sunset.

Within a year after completion, they flipped the house for a huge profit, and flipped off Malibu. It therefore makes one wary, especially knowing that the larger the house in Malibu, the much larger the profit, say realtors who always seem ready to pump up properties to maximize their commissions.

.The size of the proposed Portshead project was defended by the applicant, who stated that it may be excessive, but he wanted to include such amenities as a gym and a screening room to make it a fun house for his family.

However ingenuous the remarks or not, the real issue persists whether the project is out of neighborhood character. It is a tough question, which calls for some common sense, and common courtesy, and frankly not crocodile tears.

Meanwhile, the applicant might want to consider a more modest house, which his respected architect said was possible, or build elsewhere where the project would be more in character. There are such streets in Malibu, though Portshead is not one of them.


Summertime in Malibu, and that means staying close to home as much as possible, and trying to avoid the PCH, and so I comment this week on public radio 97.5 KBU and websites everywhere.

But if you have to go anywhere, do check KBU and also maybe Google Maps for the latest traffic conditions, and time your forays as best possible to avoid the crushes.  And Malibu being the scene this summer of increasing fatalities and accidents, and more and more frustrating delays, talking about the PCH appears to have drowned out a host of other local issues, at least at the present.

This, I guess, is a relief of sorts for residents concerned with the future of Bluffs Park and the drift of local planning.   And I would add a relief also for City Hall itself, given the conflicts and confusion of our Council and a passive-aggressive staff. Yes, I have resorted to a psychological disorder definition to describe our under achieving and over compensated bureaucrats, at least some of them.

They are a wily group, whom really it is hard to blame, reasonably concerned as they are with preserving and perhaps feathering their nests, especially considering their capricious overseers.

While concern with City Hall may not be a paramount concern, any mention of PCH traffic, on the air, or in the social media, is sure to prompt opinions. Solutions are another matter.

In a torrid of recent comments, we have been reminded the PCH is not the autobahn, certainly not the speedway I remember when a long, long time ago I briefly test drove there.

Even if it is designated as highway, officially State Route One, PCH for stretches actuality is an urban street, indeed Malibu’s main street. And according to a host of studies, a dangerous one., especially during congested peak hours and during seasonal uses.

A tool kit of traffic tweaks have been recommend to hopefully make it safer, which Caltrans is expected to begin shortly. But frankly don’t expect traffic to lessen. It even might make busier, with more vehicles being attracted to the improved conditions.

And even if the green lit La Paz and Whole Foods shopping centers are never built, and the cemetery really becomes a dead zone, the traffic on PCH I predict will just get worse, That is the way it is in every growing metropolitan regions the entire world over, due to rising populations and wealth, no matter what public and private policies are adopted to combat congestion. That includes more mass transit, charging tolls, scattering work places, or whatever.

For the time being, it seems to me the only relief is a comfortable, air-conditioned vehicle with a top of the line sound system, hands free phone, and if you must commute, add a dash of patience


The Citizen Saint: Jane Jacobs on the Screen, the Page, and the Streets

The Citizen Saint: Jane Jacobs on the Screen, the Page, and the Streets

By Sam Hall Kaplan

Nearly 60 years after the publication of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and a decade after the passing of its author, Jane Jacobs, her street-smart homilies echo louder than ever. The latest of these echoes is the recently released documentary film, Citizen Jane: Battle for the City.

First, the quick take, in keeping with our twittering, capsulated, commercialized present, and with deference to friend Jane, who loved a critical quip: the widely publicized and reviewed documentary by Matt Tyrnauer is unfortunately flawed and superficial.

But it is also recommended — and no doubt the Jane I knew would have appreciated it — for regardless of flaws, it does raise public consciousness about urban design and an appreciation for the potential of grass roots advocacy. And that is what she sought to do in her classic, written against all odds and the powers-that-were. The documentary celebrates her spirit and effort, and should be praised on that basis alone.

This public consciousness is becoming ever more urgent. The future of the world is urbanization, intensifying and voracious, frustrating and challenging. And so Jane’s thoughts are ever more relevant for those who must somehow survive it, there being little alternative.

Be she labeled Citizen Jane or Saint Jane, her pitched public battle against the prevailing planning and development dogma of a half-century ago represented a rare victory of the common citizenry over the unholy alliance of builders, bureaucrats, and politicians. It offers a faint ray of hope in similar battles to come, involving property rights, political power, and the promise of profit.

I remember when Jane first laid out her prescriptions for a more livable city in the late ’50s and early ’60s, over cheap beers in a haze of carcinogenic smoke at a local bar with friends and a few fawning journalists (at the time I was both). That was in the heyday of New York City’s then modest and affordable West Village, where “truth to power” was preached to whomever would listen, and buy a round for the gathered ensemble. The Scranton-born, middle class-bred Jane conveniently lived a few short blocks away from the bar, in a disordered apartment above a vacant store, with her staunchly supportive husband Bob and three children — early urban pioneers bucking the suburban tide of the times.

(For the real estate obsessed, the Jacobs bought the three-story building in the early ’50s for, as I recall, a measly $7,000, which, I noticed recently, is now a month’s rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the gentrified neighborhood. As for the bar, it is now an enlarged, teeming tavern catering to tourists and Wall Street types.)

So much for the documentary’s absent back story of a once garrulous social scene that included renowned political and urban theorists Michael Harrington and W.H. (Holly) Whyte, authors, respectively, of the seminal tract on poverty, The Other America, and The Organization Man, which exposed the insidious rise of the conformist corporate world.

These and a clamorous chorus of other opinionated ladies and gentleman informed the then aspiring, decidedly left-leaning journalist Jane, as well as me. And though we didn’t realize it then, the scene was a harbinger of the anti-war, feminist, counter-cultural movement that would explode into the national consciousness a few years later.

It was primarily Whyte, a respected senior editor at Fortune magazine, and Douglas Haskell, of Architectural Forum, who mentored the indefatigable Jacobs, feeding her heady assignment on the then struggling center cities. Much to their pleasure, expressed in retrospect to me, the work she brought back revealed a refreshingly contrarian take on the lock-step city planning theory of the period, raising eyebrows in the Times Inc. board room and among the catty academic and self-anointed design and urban planning authorities of the day.

And with Whyte’s assistance, despite her lack of architecture and planning schooling, or maybe because of it, she snared a prestigious Rockefeller Foundation grant. This validation came at a time of strained family finances, and was critical to her being able to write her heartfelt, perceptive, neighborly Greenwich Village-inspired tome.

Impressed by her enterprise and bottom-up urban perspective, Whyte and Haskell further helped her find an interested publisher, the august Random House, and an esteemed editor, Jason Epstein, one of the founders of the New York Review of Books. A devotee of his adopted city, Epstein took a particularly patient interest in the self-described “plain Jane,” whose thick glasses and rumpled house dresses belied her raw intellect, sharp wit, and deadline-driven writing.

To be sure, Jane was not an Ivy League grad with a degree in English lit, which made her a breath of fresh air in publishing circles. She had fire in her gut, for which those who knew her loved her.

Though Citizen Jane is devoid of what I feel is a most relevant and engaging political context and personal drama of Jane as a dedicated activist author, it has nevertheless been enjoying a relatively successful run in art houses, and will likely end up on civics lesson plans in classrooms. The documentary may even reverberate the sycophantic gaggle of community activists, city savants, planning professionals, and apparatchik academics who have held the torch for Jacobs book over the past 50 years. Maybe the book will now be read, as Jane had originally hoped, by neighborhood activists all across the country, who can use it as a guide in their confrontations with avaricious developers and toady local bureaucrats.

Doing what marketable biopics do, Citizen Jane simplifies Jacob’s thesis and presents a classic story of the battle between good and evil, with Jacobs as Saint Jane, and the all powerful, condescending, bombastic bureaucrat Robert Moses as the devil. The battle culminates in Moses’s defeat and demise, and an all victorious and acclaimed Jacobs riding off into the sunset, to Toronto. (And thus taking her two boys out of the draft and harm’s way in the Vietnam War, which she and Bob were vociferously protesting.)

The film gives only a cursory glimpse of how cities are shaped and misshaped, coached in clichés for which the filmmaker could be excused, having been born and bred in suburban Los Angles. But I have to take personal exception to his misreading of East Harlem, where I lived during the tumultuous ’60s and, not incidentally, was Vice Chairman of its Planning Board.

Yet the documentary does provide evocative visuals. Much credit should be given to editor Daniel Morfesis, the archival producers Susan Ricketts and Samantha Kerzner, and the archival researcher, Amilca Palmer. The latter have mined wonderful clips from the morgues of television news stations, which capture the mood of the times and the flavor of the swarming streets. I particularly loved the elderly woman who spoke from the guts against a proposed lower Manhattan expressway that would have devastated her neighborhood and impacted Jane’s beloved West Village; she embodied the salt needed for Jane’s chicken soup.

More of that saltiness and fewer self-conscious talking heads in studio settings would have helped reflect Jane’s passion and commitment. We need advocates rather than apologists. And in updating Jane’s theories, perhaps scenes from the Zuccotti Park protests in lower Manhattan of a few years ago would have been more on topic than stock clips of the high rises of China and the Mideast. We need people not projects.

Ironically, it was the focus on projects rather than people that, in the final analysis, led to Moses’s fall and Jane’s victory, which should be a lesson for neighborhood activists, as well as documentary filmmakers.



The proponents of a sprawling recreational center atop of Bluffs Park persist, with pleas and petitions to prompt the Malibu City Council to reverse itself and approve an environmental impact report for their wish list of facilities.

So what if the costs are going to be prohibitive, the Coastal Commission most likely will reject the plans, and probably suggest the city look elsewhere. I certainly do, wearing various hats that include a former little league coach.

But where there is a hope, there must be a way, declare the sincere if misguided playing field proponents. And by the way, they add, why do people opposed to the plan hate children. Personally, as a father of four, I don’t.

Their arguments have been particularly emotional. These include the fatuous playing of the gender card since all three council members who voted for the park’s status quo were male, to the more pertinent review of the promises of playing fields not kept by past councils.

The councils did have several opportunities to increase the playing fields, without compromising Bluffs Park.

There was what is now Legacy Park, which was proposed 20 years ago when I was a Parks and Recreation Commissioner.

But City Hall and several successive servile mayors back then had their own agendas. (That they are now publicly quoting the Mission Statement in support of compromising the Bluffs is pure hypocrisy.)

They had worked out a back door deal with a few commercial property owners, and opted for a water treatment plant. That would satisfy an E.I.R. to allow more civic center development. while covering the plant with vegetation, call it a park, and let the city and gullible locals pay for it.

I feel Legacy still could be sensitively landscaped for a few playing fields, if the city really pushed it.

And then there is Trancas Canyon Park, whose exercise field can easily accommodate several playing fields, and with a few inexpensive touch ups, almost immediately, certainly much faster than the city putzing around with Bluffs Park.

Again, all the city has to do is amend its specious agreements now banning active sports there, which it did to please a few vociferous locals. It is not like the park doesn’t host active sports now, at least what I view daily from the dog park overlooking the field.

Hey, neighbors, times change, needs change, and it seems many of the kids in active sports are from west Malibu and Point Dume. It certainly would be convenient. Then there is also Trancas Field and its potential. Hopefully the city didn’t buy the fields as a private front lawn for few dozen homes.

This prompts me to suggest that city first and foremost contract for a new needs assessment study. We know what the park advocates want: everything, of course. But what we really should know is what actually is needed: how many kids are expected, from where, now and the future. Details please.

This was not done three year ago to by city’s cozy, costly, consultants. Their workshops were a charade, as is the city’s bumbling planning process.

Needed also is a site analysis: what can the Bluffs’ geology actually accommodate: more structures, cut and fill, or just light footed outfielders?

Those are questions that should have been answered first if City Hall didn’t do things ass backwards, and before some council members made promises.

Hold the divisive grandstanding, Lets get the facts, and then consider the options. Come on city, play ball!





When it comes to the city fiddling with the dreaded PCH, it is one step forward and one step back, as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites.

Actually, the PCH is a state highway and the city really can’t fiddle with it, only make suggestions to the bureaucratic overseer CALTRANS.

And given the city’s proclivities, politics, and personnel, fiddle may not be the correct word. Let me suggest the Yiddish “putz” around with it.   So we have situations like no right hand turn lane at Trancas Canyon Boulevard, and other screw ups.  Or the latest involving parking on PCH.

And perhaps instead of describing the action as a step back, let me morbidly suggest the image of a brightly vested young valet parking attendant, darting back and forth on PCH, as if his or her life depended upon on it, because it just might.

Their life and perhaps the driver of the car that swerves to avoid hitting the jaywalking or running valet, and collides with oncoming traffic or a parked vehicle.

For the probability of this tragic scenario, I feel, has been unfortunately heightened by the hapless Malibu City Council’s approval to allow a hotel to park their cars off  its property, and most probability relocate them across PCH.

The request was made by a local anything-for-a buck architectural firm on behalf of the Malibu Beach Inn, to allow the hotel to replace its existing on-site parking with a swimming pool for guests. Nice.

Of course this opens the door for any oceanside hotel, motel or B&B to apply for off site parking to better use and profit from their guest serving facilities for whatever, a swimming pool, a sauna, a smoking lounge, maybe even a few more guest rooms.

Each case will be decided on site specific particular, so whomever might see dollar signs in all this, just pay your fee to the city, and get on line.  And don’t forget the extra charges for having the city and its ever-ready consultant produce the necessary studies on how traffic will be affected.

But anybody who has driven on PCH when hotel or bar patrons, or the valets, are desperately trying to park, or retrieve cars no doubt can guess the affect: scary. And not incidentally it will naturally slow traffic, assuming that you value life and your car.

Ignored in the city’s rush to please a commercial developer is that this is a case of local spot zoning, compromising established state highway standards dating back 70 or so years, and just may be illegal. Yes, another city screwup.

I can understand councilpersons Lou La Monte and Laura Rosenthal voting for it , given their accommodating view of anything commercial to add to the city’s coffers, and their business friendly posture in their lame duck term.

But the vote of first responder Rick Mullen is a puzzle. He did indeed comment that the proposal seemed to be bad for traffic and safety, yes, before voting for it anyway. Go figure.




Time for a local gut issue, and there is nothing better in Malibu to seed anxieties, send a shiver down most spines, and set teeth gnashing: what to do about traffic on the city’s main street, the dreaded PCH.

Forget the debate over Malibu as a sanctuary city, whether it is a conceit or courageous. It’s political posturing that after all the rhetoric will affect no one.

But traffic on the PCH affects everyone, in Malibu, and more specifically the haphazard parking along the PCH that exacerbates the traffic.

Now that is an issue all living in Malibu, or just visiting, or passing through, in a car or on a bike, can relate to., and so I comment this weekend on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites

Traffic is an emotional and frustrating issue, and it is on the agenda Wednesday night at City Hall, where there will be a joint meeting of the public works and public safety commissions.

They and anyone interested will hear a final draft report of a protracted study of parking along PCH prepared by the city in collaboration with the Southern California Association of Governments and Caltrans.

Making this study especially appealing is that in addition to examining current road and shoulder conditions , it notes parking related collisions, assesses safety, and concludes by making specific recommendations, for troubled stretches of the PCH, which of course is most of the PCH.

And it boldly prioritizes them, all 63 of them, weighing them 1 for highest through 8. In a world of bureaucratic babble, you have to love the detailed recommendations. Though I suspect some people will take exception.

In particular, since there will be a loss of public parking, it be interesting to see how the Coastal Commission reacts. Will its commitment to public access yield to public safety concerns, or vice a versa?

The parking issue is particularly urgent, prompted by recent deadly accidents involving pedestrians along the PCH. And then there has been the obvious increase in the visitors to Malibu, as evidenced by the chaotic, indeed frightening, scene edging the PCH on most weekends.

Can it be made safer, by limiting parking, narrowing driving lanes, and better signage and striping? And what about more policing? And how about revisiting speed limits, and just everyone going slower?

If the hearing ever gets to public comments, expect a recitation of studied concerns, churlish complaints, and probably an obscenity, or two. A prayer might help.

The recommendations if implemented no doubt will make PCH safer, and prompts me to amend my opinion in the past, that if Malibu is a piece of heaven on earth, as many residents contend, then the PCH has to be its hell. Perhaps more apt would be to describe driving PCH as a form of purgatory, an intermediate state between heaven and hell.

However, as a planner, I should note that improving roadways almost always generates more traffic; traffic being like water, flowing downhill, to find its way into the most conducive channel. And if I need to remind those who live in Malibu, the PCH is the one and only channel,




If you live in Malibu, as I do, you have to love Bluffs Park, with it engaging range of out door diversions on a spectacular site with stunning views

Physically, it is one of the outstanding features on Malibu’s singular seacoast, and a treasured public open space, in all of California.

But politically, for the poorly served city government, it is a swamp. into which City Hall appears to be sinking, as witnessed at the recent council meetings, as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU, cityobserved, and select websites, and in the LOCAL.

A prime problem is the park’s proposed plans, which after much fumbling and feinting is an ambitious, if not unrealistic, wish lists of facilities. This includes a few new ball fields, an aquatic center, a skateboard board park, a dog park, and more parking

The problem: not only there were no price estimates; worse, the Coastal Commission staff took strong exception to the proposed excessive facilities, and their sitting compromised the Bluffs’ environmentally sensitive acreage and an unstable slope. I

In short, the woeful plan was given faint hope of approval by the Commission.

City Hall had to expect this; they had been cautioned, but as is the city’s s.o.p., the pubic was deluded. All those planning sessions, consultant fees, and council posturing, they are long gone and forgotten.

Nevertheless, the council called for a hearing, and out came the persevering proponents of open space, as well as the ever-hopeful coaches and kids. But before pleading their causes they had to first suffer through hours of strained poetry and murky engineering.

All this also was for naught, just as the past hearings had been, for the facilities most likely wont be built on the Bluffs and if the city keeps bungling, sadly nowhere. The open space advocates will win by default, sadly because many also are in favor of the sports facilities, as long as Bluffs Park is left as is.

Or is it bungling? Maybe its bad advice? Or maybe City Hall really doesn’t want to build it, but instead just keep it on their desks shuttling between the in-and out baskets, as bureaucratic busy work.

It is not like the there is some special private interests promoting ball fields, or as in the past like a water treatment plant to satisfy an E.I.R to accommodate more civic center development and serve nearby luxury housing. Then cover it with earth, some plants, call it a park, and let the city pay for it.

Actually, what is now Legacy Park was once considered for the needed ball fields some 20 years by the city’s Parks and Rec Commission, on which not incidentally I as a little league coach was then serving.

But City Hall back then had its own private agenda, worked out a deal with a few deep-pocketed property owners, and buried the ball fields for the treatment plant. Lots of money was involved.

So here we are again, searching for sites for sports facilities. Bluffs Park isn’t going to work.

Maybe we can renegotiate and reconstruct Legacy for the needed ball fields, or buy some civic center sites instead of seeing them go for not-needed malls? And certainly one or two can easily fit onto Trancas Field without disturbing the neighbors?

The search certainly is going to be a test of Malibu’s moxie and civic will.





 In Malibu, where talk is cheap but real estate expensive, talk continues among neighbors whether the City should declare itself a sanctuary city, or not.

As had been argued at length in local websites, the declaration is seen as a gesture of defiance and in protest of the executive orders of a not very presidential Trump, calling for a crackdown on illegal immigration, and unfortunately sending a shiver through the millions of legal immigrants.

In roughly equal comments, some unfortunately personal and perfidious, the declaration was put down as an empty gesture, indeed a conceit, since the city of Malibu can do little to protect and aid the illegals. Resistance has its responsibilities.

Nevertheless, the council was unable to get to the agenda item at its last scheduled meeting, and hear the anticipated milling audience. Instead, the council, as its wont, became immersed in the continuing debate over the proposed plans to enlarge and enhance Bluffs Park, as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites.

Actually, that debate has been going on for decades, at least back 20 years when I served on the city’s parks and recreation commission. While speaker after speaker, including a batting order of bright eyed kids, argued for more playing fields and an aquatic center, an equally heartfelt contingent of sluggers followed them to the dais to make an emotional case for open space, and to leave the Bluff’s essentially as is.

No one argued against the need for more active facilities, especially more and better accessible soccer and baseball fields. A strong argument also was made for the aquatic center, citing Malibu’s renown for its water polo teams and diving and surfing.

But repeatedly raised was the nagging question that whatever and how many facilities might be agreed upon, would the omnipotent Coastal Commission approve?

To put the hearing in perspective, it was noted that the present Council conundrum was prompted by Coastal staff in the past turning down or discouraging several more ambitious plans. They were cited for both being too “local,” catering to mostly Malibu residents and not regional serving, and also encroaching on an environmentally sensitive slope.

Indeed, Coastal was the elephant in the auditorium, silent and menacing. And despite the parents and children wanting more ball fields, and wanting to the city to throw spitballs at the beast to get it to move off, it was obvious to those who have been in this jungle before this elephant is very much a stubborn bull, has longevity, a long memory, and doesn’t read petitions..

Meanwhile, standing impatiently in the batter’s circle, waiting to step up to the plate, are the kids. swinging away for a ballfield. Somewhere, soon, I hope, a location can be found for one.

And before I forget, this coming Tuesday, March 7th, there is a single item on the ballot in Malibu, Measure H, a modest increase in the sale tax for a limited number of years, which promises to bring desperately needed help to the homelessness.

There should be no argument against this measure, and actually in the official ballot there is none. Only obvious endorsements.


3.4 .17


If you unfortunately didn’t have anything better to do on a recent Monday night, you might have inadvertently turned to public access Channel 3 and glimpsed the City Council follies. I did, as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU, and select websites

Talk about binge watching an amateur production of what might be labeled City Hall E.R., as staff and consultants in a discordant concert with a fractured City Council struggled to patch up an overblown proposal for a single-family house on Wildlife Road.

Starring in the pitiable production for the developer was Malibu’s Mr. Fixer, Don Schmitz, and a scene-chewing, off script councilman, Skylar Peak in a role that sadly for him, and unfortunately for the audience, seemed beyond his skill set.

In lesser Council roles was a confused Laura Rosenthal, who kept unusually quiet, and neophyte Rick Mullen, who tried to lend some reasoned perspective to the proceedings, in a shining but in vain monologue.

Not being able to steal a scene, Mayor Lou la Monte let the farce run into the late hours, as the audience drifted off. Most had been there for a Trancas Field item.

There also were walk-on roles for the house builder, Richard Sperber, known locally for being one of the developers of the Lumber Yard project, and as a member of the Civic Center Design Standards Task Force, an appointment of Laura Rosenthal. His family also founded the Valley Crest Landscaping, which in the past has done business with the city

If I am prejudiced it is because of the involvement of Schmitz, who seems to be everywhere when a developer needs a hired gun, such as for the civic center’s La Paz and U2’s Edge’s residential proposals. When he is for something, I tend to be against it.

Then there was the protagonist, the next door and former friendly neighbor Chris Farrar, whose objections prompted the tortured chronology of the Wildlife project and the latest City Council hearing.

As for the back story, what had been a relatively routine proposal for a typically immodest Malibu residence of 6600 square feet, plus the usual pool and an unusual bocce court , turned into a farce when changes to the original plans by Sperber were approved over-the-counter by a city planner.

The changes involving shifting the building site and extensive landscaping should have required a public hearing, a fact the City later admitted when pressed by neighbor Farrar, and tried to correct while ordering a construction stop.

Too late, said Sperber. No, it’s not said the city. And that was just the overture to the first episode. Appeals and law suits followed.

It all presumably ended Monday night when the Council voted 3 to 2 to approve, with a confusion of conditions added by Peak. Hearing him redesign the project from the dais was like following him trying to knot two live wires blindfolded in a hidden electrical outlet.

My view is flavored by having been an adjunct in the UCLA graduate landscape program for several years, and where I continue to serve on juries. I would have to give Peak a failing grade.

Voting against the project was Wagner and Mullen, and another indication that the much hyped slate they formed with Peak in the past election is not functioning as a reform bloc as promised.

Ending the evening on another ominous note for those who had hoped the City be less pro development was the mumbled announcement by Mayor La Monte that his interim appointment to the Planning Commission would be long serving former mayor, Jeff Jennings.

Jennings is known for his articulate support for development, however it might compromise the city’s code and mission statement. Paramount is property rights. I expect we can expect some more heated debates on an enlivened city’s public access channel.

Better set my timer to record.