WHITHER OUR NEIGBORHOODS

Sometimes I feel my city of Malibu and neighborhood of Point Dume is becoming less a stunning singular coastal enclave , and more a non descript monopoly board; where a house is less a home and more an investment, a safe deposit box of sorts.

What is happening in Malibu and several other desirable neighborhoods in Southern California is that housing is becoming more and more difficult for most families to buy.

That is unless they have deep pocket parents, or they themselves are obscenely wealthy, thanks to our inequitable economy, as I comment on an upcoming 97.5 KBU, radiomalibu.net and select websites.

Though difficult to track more than anecdotally, an increasing number of houses on select streets are being snapped up as weekend retreats.

These buyers are known as zombie owners. If and when seen, they tend not to be friendly, and not particularly concerned with issues beyond their locked gates. So much for a sense of community

I am, of course, prejudice, having grown up in Brooklyn, in an neighborhood where you hung out on stoops, and everyone knew everyone, and their business. I later lived in a gritty East Harlem project tower, but its lobby, streets and playgrounds were friendly.

A sense of community also persisted later, when raising a family in Princeton, New Jersey and Port Washington, Long Island. Schools and local politics bonded you.

It was the same when I moved to L.A., in Santa Monica, with a few more kids in tow, before the wife found a house she loved in Malibu. That was 20 years ago.

There living across the street was an elderly couple in a house shared by their reclusive son and several dogs. We and our parade of pets became friendly, keeping an eye on each other. But they sadly passed, as did the dogs, and in time their inconsolable son. The house was put up for sale.

We looked forward with trepidation to whom would buy, and perhaps demolish it and construct a macmansion, as what was happening in our former Santa Monica neighborhood.

Ironically, I had been quite critical of this trend in my writings 25 years ago, and immodestly am credited by Wikipedia with having indirectly coined the phrase.

Of course, neighborhoods transform. My Brooklyn once populated with European Jews is now a hipster haven. Who would have guessed. If there is one constant in cities it is change.

We were relieved when a pleasant couple with two children bought it 3 years ago, and proceeded to attractively rebuild the house, and landscape it.

But now they have put up their homey house up for sale. The taxes, mortgage, college costs, a wavering economy, a rising real estate market, whatever the reason, they are moving. Call it flipping or not, they seem sad to move. We wish them luck.

So, we are again hoping someone doesn’t buy to demolish the house for a macmansion Or use it as a weekend retreat, or a party house, and on the side, rent it out as an airbnb. Worse could be a clinic. There are certainly enough of them in Malibu already.

You have to worry, given the city’s planning passivity and reluctance to get involved, and Malibu’s avaricious lawyers and realtors.

It’s Malibu Jake, where, the saying, “there goes the neighborhood,” is becoming more than a cliché.

 

AFFORDABLE HOUSING NEEDED

If there is one paramount planning issue challenging cities these days it is the shortage of affordable housing, so say the academic number crunchers and pundits who note that California population continues to increase.

But you don’t have to tell that to those who live here , and so I comment on my weekly broadcast on 97.5 KBU and on select websites . Finding an apartment to rent or a house to buy has become as frustrating as freeway traffic. And that has gone from bad to worse.

Whether the cities want to confront this issue is another matter, that is do something more than talk about it in bureaucratic backrooms, and bemoan it at idle conferences.

In L.A , there have been a series of pronouncement by Mayor Garcetti, who unfortunately seems tied up in an archaic zoning knot, and hounded by nimbys.

In New York, affordable housing was one of the post election promises of Bill De Blasio, but so far it’s been all talk. What few plans have been put forward by ever ready architects are languishing. The mayors frankly don’t put the needed money with their mouths are.

Then there are the comfortable cities, like my Malibu, with its multitude of real estate agents, and provincial politicians that don’t even talk about it, and seem to be content to let the private market driven by supply and demand reap its profits.

Real estate is the mother lode of Malibu, and those who bought early and those with the means or moneyed parents who have bought more recently. Both seem to be content with the status quo, adhering to the adage that they got theirs, and too bad for everyone else.

And that everyone else includes the local workforce: the city employees, school teachers, first responders, shop clerks, waiters and waitresses, the gardeners and handymen, all those that smile and serve. Most live beyond the 27 miles of scenic beauty that is Malibu.

That is because they simply can’t afford the city’s ever increasing real estate prices. Most have to commute long distances daily to get to work, and yes, they are among the vehicles that exacerbating traffic on the PCH.

And it’s getting worse, what little affordable housing there is, increasingly is being taken off the market for short term rentals, or sold as vacation or weekend homes to deep pocket buyers. And not just in Malibu, but in nearby communities.

To find housing, our workforce is moving further and further away, which means longer commutes. And it also discourages them to send their kids to Malibu schools. So there goes what little diversity the city has, economically, racially, and culturally, and we are poorer for it.

Yes, this is another entreaty for needed housing to be somehow appropriately designed and developed, and in Malibu located in the civic center.

Label it as you will, workforce or affordable, and add some senior and assisted housing to the mix, and it will unquestionably transform the civic center from its present sad state as a fractured commercial conceit catering to tourists, into a real, more livable and equitable coastal village.  It’s the right thing to do.

 

 

LOCAL POLITICS PERSISTS IN MISANTHROPIC MALIBU

Forget the hysterical national political campaigns for the moment. In neophyte communities, such as my misanthropic Malibu with its entitled population, local politics persist as the stuff of daily drama.

Here the center stage is the embattled Civic Center. It is a fractured mess, as I comment in my latest broadcast heard on 97.5 KBU and radiomalibu.net. and read on cityobserved.com and select websites.

It is more scattered than centered, more commercial than civic, more tourist serving than local friendly, more commonplace than colorful, and besides, driving there is a drag, the circulation sucks and the parking a pain.

Unlike other sister seacoast enclaves, such as Laguna Beach or Del Mar, Malibu’s Civic Center is neither quaint nor attractive, not for promenading, or for meeting friends. I would not call it particularly neighborly.

For that the Point Dume or Trancas shopping centers are much more disposed to be serendipitous, even stretches of our accessible beaches, thank you Coastal Commission, no thank you our key Nazis. The Zuma walk, Bluff’s Park or the indiscriminate Trancas Canyon dog park are friendlier.

So it was that after too many years in planning and politics, I welcomed a Santa Monica College satellite campus to the forlorn and much too retail ravaged misnamed civic center.

Finally, the City Council recently stumbled forward to barely approve the project by a 3 to 1 vote.

Of course, it wouldn’t have been just another city council hearing without some heartfelt objections to the project And most likely I would’ve been sympathetic if the objections were directed at yet another commercial conceit, especially pricey and tourist oriented.

But clearly the college proposal with a new sheriff’s station and communication tower attached would be a community benefit, and as much as I take exception to the council notorious tendency of granting variances, in this instance it was justified. A better, more green, and user friendly building will result .

The respected architecture firm of Quatro Design of which I am familiar deserves our thanks for persevering. Not many firms would have in the face of the maelstrom that Malibu’s politics.

\Ah, local politics, you have to love it. It is our theatre.

If anything, I hope that the campus, with its parade of students and promised community outreach to all ages and interests, will generate a sense of place for the civic center, based on public service rather than crass commercialism.

 

 

 

 

Malibu Ponders Civic Center Mess

Is there any hope for Malibu’s Civic Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

If Words Were Water; Pronouncements Viable Projects…

If words were water the Los Angeles River would be overflowing its banks; if pronouncements were viable projects, a very green sustainable Southern California is in the offing.
 
There certainly were a lot of words and pronouncements at the recent industry heralded “FutureBuild” convocation in Los Angeles, staged by the venerable VerdeXchange with the Urban Land Institute.
 
Attending were an estimated 700 persons so-called marketmakers, including a large design and development crowd. This prompted me to put on my commentator’s hat to do blogs for the cityobserved.com, and the Architect’s Newspaper, http://blog.archpaper.com/2016/01/going-green-ulis-verdexchange, and broadcasts for KBU. FM and radiomalibu.net.
 
Of major interest was a keynote session entitled “A River Runs Through It: Reimagining L.A.’s Water Way,” with opening remarks by the city’s personable Mayor Eric Garcetti, to be followed by a widely promoted panel prominently featuring celebrity architect Frank Gehry.
 
Garcetti was his smooth self, reviewing the rise and fall of the river’s prominence through the city’s history, touting its present planned revitalization by a concerted community effort, and its critical importance to the future of the city. It was a variation on a speech the mayor has been delivering for several years,
 
However, it did not assuage the announcement that Gehry had bowed out at the last moment. His appearance had been anticipated as an opportunity for him to reply to the skepticism surrounding his appointment by the mayor’s L.A. River Revitalization Corp. to master plan the 51 mile waterway.
 
Instead of being viewed as a second coming, the selection roiled river advocates who had been involved in various long term and long suffering efforts, marked by team planning and transparency. They charged that Gehry with little landscape experience has come late to the party, attracted by the publicity it is generating and a $1.4 billion price tag.
 
Gehry has been sharply dismissive of any criticism, while his fans including the mayor and his minions have been hinting at the architect generating concepts that will catapult the city to prominence and also enhance its bid for the 2024 Olympics.
 
They will have to wait a little longer, according to Tensho Takemori, Gehry’s surrogate, who said the office was still gathering information while working on a 3 D model of the river. “We are not holding our breaths,” commented architect Gerhard Mayer.
 
Indeed, in addition to the one on the L.A. River, the sessions covering every shade of the rising “green” consciousness, from energy to infrastructure, were mostly standing room only. Said an architect trading candor for anonymity, “we’re here not for Frank, nor really for the presentations, but for the networking.”
 
Green is hot. That’s good.
 
 

Misanthropic Malibu Ponders Legal Appeals

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

L.A. River Continues to Roil

My latest commentary for 97.5 KBU, heard everywhere on radiomalibu.net. and can be read on cityobseerved.com:

The L.A. River continues to roil, as it has since several months ago when it was revealed the irrepressible and much honored Frank Gehry had been surreptitiously anointed to master plan the entire 51 mile expanse of the mostly raw water way.

Seemingly ignored by the powers that be – namely the city’s star struck Mayor Eric Garcetti and the LA. River Restoration Corp. ‘s cipher Omar Brownstein –that the celebrity architect had not been even remotely involved in the last 40 years of dogged grassroots efforts to improve the river, and is known primarily for his singular structures and definitely not city planning nor landscaping.

That the mayor mistakenly identified Gehry the Olmsted of L.A. –he is a legendary landscaper –even embarrassed the usually imperious Gehry, who recently was feted by the equally imperious Getty that once rejected him. How the wheel turns in a capricious L.A. of short memories.

Even as a critic of Frank’s past failures of form over function   –how buildings look rather than work – I warily welcomed him with the hope his involvement might bring needed attention, and funding, to the river.

And optimistically, perhaps he and his noteworthy team, including a famed Dutch hydrologist, might generate some interesting design iterations. Though instead of looking at computer models, I suggested maybe they should tour the river, that if it is to be revitalized, it will happen in a series of small, contextual site sensitive projects.

But Frank apparently just could not be content with the Getty honors, a cluttered of a warehouse of models  exhibited at LACMA, a career-crowning, celebrity studded book by the critic now fawning biographer Paul Goldberger, and the constant veneration of peers and the public.

He succumbed to that constant equation that for me explains much about our celebrity obsession, that personalities in the public eye are the sum of an equation of megalomania, divided by paranoia.

Agreeing to an interview by my alma mater, the ever august New York Times, the paper of record, Gehry proceeded to dismiss criticism of his involvement, and further denigrated its his critics, telling them to “grow up.” He also suggested that if they wanted to help the revitalization they should become worker bees, with the assumption he would be the queen bee.

Meanwhile, Gehry might happily have had a filter put on his mouth, but the diatribe unfortunately keeps echoing.

The long time river advocates no doubt he was referring to include I assume Lew McAdams, who selfless efforts have been absolutely vital to raising the awareness of the river. He is definitely not a jerk; vain maybe. Neither is Mia Lehrer, the river’s principle professional designer to date. She may be covetous, given the convoluted city politics. But not a jerk.

If Gehry needed to identify the jerks to date, let me suggest the vain glorious Mayor and his sycophants, an ever development and headline hungry pack of river rats. As if the revitalization of L.A.River did not have enough challenges.

10.31.15

 

Traffic Continues to Challenge Misanthropic Malibu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Malibu City Government Hits a Speed Bump

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

10.10.15

 

 

 

THE SEARCH FOR THE SOUL OF CITIES CONTINUES, ABROAD AND HOME

My search for what I label the soul of cities, continues, abroad, and home.

For me, these are the prime public places, the existential life of the city, its genius loci.

These are the places people experience and take pride in. Varying in form from city to city, layered with tradition, these places are what I feel lend a city and its people that evanescent quality of soul.

My trip to old haunts included the La Rambla in Barcelona, Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, and the museumplein in Amsterdam.

Others places with rich memories come to mind: Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, the piazza del campo in Siena, and Washington Square park in my hometown of New York.

As for my public Malibu, where I have lived for the last several decades, not so.

To be sure, there were select communal times with the kids on Westward Beach, on the Pt. Dune elementary school lawn, and in the play area edged by the picnic tables in the country mart.

More recently with the kids sadly gone but happily self sufficient, out with my sociable Corgi and irrepressible Shih Tzu, the Trancas Canyon Dog Park and its transient pet lovers have for me lent Malibu a rare sense of place — except when its too hot, or it rains. .

The search goes on, especially with civic center overrun by tourists and luxury outlets catering to their indulgences, and that of Malibu’s one per centers in their weekend safe deposit boxes.

However, take heart, a few miles west are two promising places that I feel lend hope for a more friendlier, public Malibu.

It just is some chairs and tables. a few comfortable couches, in a small field stone apron, centered on a modest fountain, and edged by the clubby Bank of Books, in the Pt. Dume Village center. But, increasingly it is populated by locals, enjoying family, friends and tolerating leashed dogs. Umbrellas and plantings help.

Add to this the venerable Lilly’s and an array of other eateries, and you have, a sense of place, where more often than not you see a neighbor, smiling hello.

It is reason enough to frequent the stores there, if only you could grab a parking space without having to circle the lot several times.

Also coming into its own is the Trancas Country Market, thanks in particular to a friendly Vintage Grocers and its Friday night concert series.

A recent offering there drew an estimated 300 locals, many walking from West Malibu, and turning a modest lawn into a celebratory space, if only for a few hours.

An attraction no doubt was Lenny Goldsmith, a long time Malibu resident and accomplished rock and roller, whose many gigs include the Tower of Power. Here before a hometown crowd he performed with a band appropriately named the New Old.

For me, it was great to hear Lenny, but also see friends and neighbors. It made me feel after a long trip abroad, very much at home, and that is what a public place is suppose to do.