SELF SERVING MALIBU CITY HALL SCORED

It being spring, and Malibu is in full bloom, in particular my landscape. You’d therefore think my commentaries concerning civic matters would lighten up, as has been suggested by a few listeners and readers.

To be sure, as I remark on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, the public school situation projecting the realignment of facilities and the district divorce look promising; and so is the city’s planned purchase of commercial parcels. Maybe it will save the Bluffs Park from some nasty, irrevocable over development.

Indeed, in my semi retirement, I’d love to kick back, limit my commentaries to the arts and entrainment segments that I now also do for public radio and various websites. I certainly can use the time for my travels, landscaping and book reviewing.

But as a long time resident with an abiding love for the unique environment and liberal lifestyles of Malibu, I cannot ignore the decline of the city, exacerbated by the lack of public oversight, a municipal ombudsman, local investigative reporters, and only scattered concerns.

Meanwhile, there is indeed much to be concerned about: Heading a list is the self aggrandizing City Council, naively yielding its prerogatives to a self serving, bloated city administration.

Talk about the hardening of bureaucratic arteries, and in a city of just 13,000, a municipality that seems to out source nearly everything, except payroll, pension and perks. And what some favored consultants are exactly being paid for remains a mystery, and that after sucking up millions of our tax dollars. There is no accountability at City Hall.

Then there are the challenge of pending issues: the air b n bs; the future of the commercial sinkhole of the civic center, Trancas field, a premium dog park, and the constant pain of PCH. Tough questions, especially for a lazy, neophyte City Hall.

As for the planning, the city appears to more often than not to yield to a cabal of dominant developers and their facilitators, commercial interests, rapacious realtors, or the whim of a wily city manager. Those dolphins awards to our politicians are beginning to smell like rotten fish.

The result I fear has been an insidious anomie in a dwindling democracy, aggravated by Malibu becoming more a tacky tourist town of trophy second homes and weekend party houses and less a unique coastal village of caring residents.

And so immodestly, as a seasoned journalist and a hardened planner, I feel compelled to express my concerns. As I used to be told by a tough NCO when I once was a platoon sergeant a long time ago,“it is a dirty job, but someone has to do it.” The adage echoes.

I’ll add, good luck Malibu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOME THOUGHTS FOR MALIBU BEFORE SPRING BREAK

It’s Spring break time for Malibu and other school districts around the Southland. This prompted me to think it also would be a good time for mine, especially since I’m scheduled for a few necessary medical procedures in the next several weeks.

But as I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, as a long time concerned resident of Malibu, I frankly also need a break from some persistent local issue.

These include traffic tieups on PCH, the protracted school divorce proceedings, the homeless, and the raw surface condition of the Trancas Canyon Dog Park.

But before I climb out of my catbird seat for a few weeks, I have some parting comment, of course.

The PCH: Enough already with the blame game and the mea culpas. There’s enough to go around for all: a callous Cal Trans, a sluggish City Hall, servile councilpersons, and inconsiderate developers . And yes also, an angry but not particularly alert public .

Hopefully the recent fiascos on the PCH have taught lessons to all, and the promised fixes will make driving on the dreaded highway somewhat more tolerable. To this I would add some common sense and some common courtesy. But realistically, the traffic will never cease. It is the bane of Malibu. And there is the question whether City Hall can become more proactive.

Concerning the creation of a separate school district for Malibu: Lets continue to exercise good faith, and hope, in the push for an equitable divorce settlement, despite the recalcitrant Santa Monica reps on the board.

But, really, they have to drop their ridiculous demand that after the divorce.Malibu continue to subsidize Santa Monica schools. and for no less than 50 years. If anything, it is sanctimonious Santa Monica that should be paying reparations to Malibu, for the years it has shortchanged educational instruction and facilities in the seacoast city..

But, if being reasonable won’t work, and soon, then Malibu must appeal to the county for the divorce, and back it up with boycotts, protests and political resolve.

As for the homeless, the restoration of the meal program in the civic center is a start, but a more permanent solution is needed. There is a real and pressing need, and we as a city have a responsibility to do something.

But something also has to include the library somehow being made safe and welcoming for the locals, and not have to suffer being a sorry way station for the homeless.

Meanwhile, it was encouraging for me and my Corgi Bobby to attend a recent Parks and Rec Commission meeting., and hear concerns for the raw surface condition of the neglected Trancas Dog Park.

Now let see if was just talk, and that actually something promised will be done, perhaps when I’m on break. But I wont be holding my breath,

 

 

CITY OF VENTURA OBSERVED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for the advice Bill, and your service.

 

 

 

MALIBU’S DOG DILEMMA, CONTINUED

Yes, I know there is real news out there that deserves, indeed demands, my attention and commentary, but I’m also a dedicated dog person, and cat and reluctant parrot person, too, so allow me some latitude.

So this week for City Observed on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, the serial drama of the fate of the Trancas Canyon Dog Park continues, as the Malibu burgeoning bureaucracy does what it does best: postpone any actual improvement as it moves the item slowly between the in and out baskets on their desks.

If you recall, in the last episode of the continuing drama, or is it a farce, of the Malibu City Hall foibles starring my willful Welsh speaking aging Corgi, Bobby the Bad, our canine hero was complaining about the raw surface conditions of the dog park.

They were abusing his paws, and those of dozens other dogs who visit the park, though not having the vocal chords of Bobby, they were not as shrill in their canine cursing of a recalcitrant City Hall that the pets and their owners remember had promised the resurfacing.

But the bids came in well above the $80,000 that had been budgeted, indeed from $132,000 to over $300,000, to replace the current decomposed granite (DG) surface.  The reason for the high bids was said to be the limited vehicle access to the park , one of a number of design flaws in the original design, along with using the cheapest DG.

Cited for this rejection also was that not enough people had complained about the condition, as if there is some magic number before the city acts, or do there have to be complaints when a condition is so evident.

It’s a problem when you have a neophyte city government that plays it cards close to its chest, and is quick to tell you why something can’t be done, rather than how it can.

So for the future there will be no resurfacing of the raw dog park surface, and the pets will just have to try to stoically ignore the pain as they do now while playfully romping.

However, to be sure the city did compose a cautious e mail in which it recognizes that there is a constituency that uses the park.

Perhaps if the city desk jockeys actually visited the parks to review the issue with real people and their pets, they would not have to create an annoying SurveyMonkey poll, as it is wont to do when postponing confrontation with actual taxpayers.

You know them, the minority of the modest 13,000 residents who actually live in Malibu, instead of just partying here on weekends, or rent their house out legally or not, as an air n b, hoping that it will keep appreciating as the smiling realtor promised it would.

Who worries about dog parks anyway, dogs don’t vote, nor do many of their owners show any inclination to get involved in civic matters.

Not that they don’t care, most who live here do, but many unfortunately have been turned off or turned away by a City Hall, with its long, sad history of imperious leadership.

Welcome to small town government in, I fear, a failing democracy, for people and dogs. .

 

 

 

LACMA DESIGN DISASTER STIRS AN “OUTRAGE”

“You will be outraged,” declared the one line email I recently received heading the attachment from Los Angeles County detailing a Draft Environmental Report for 5900 Wilshire Boulevard.http://ceo.lacounty.gov/envirodoc/index.html)

AS I comment on public radio KBU 99.1 and websites everywhere, the draft report details the demolition of the existing core buildings of the landmark L.A. County Museum of Art and replacing them with a smaller smattering of pavilions in the shape of a biomorphic blob sprawling over Wilshire Boulevard.

To be sure, a heat absorbing accretion is not particularly environmentally sensitive. Neither is demolishing nearly a half million square feet of existing construction composing LACMA that could more efficiently recycled, to say nothing of the toxics such as PCBs that might be released. And there are other environmental and health concerns.

The present LACMA might be fractured and flawed, a clutter of galleries and clashing styles, and does need better maintenance and graphics, as well as circulation. But it can and does work for viewing art, which, really, is what a museum is about.

And not mentioned in the draft report is that when all costs are calculated, it will probably cost a billion dollars and take at least five years to complete. That is a long time for the public to have to suffer makeshift exhibition spaces, and limited programs. Need we be reminded that this is a public institution, not a private social club for deep-pocketed patrons.

This protracted public problem also most likely will be after the glad-handing perpetuators of this colossal boondoggle are gone on to new hustles and fraudulent fame.

Just think how that monies could be better spent, such as eliminating all entrance fees, underwriting arts curriculum, and sponsoring artists housing.

A start would be putting a lid on the project’s consulting fees and excessive expenses being run up by the museum’s smarmy Michael Govan and Swiss architect Peter Zumthor.

So, today I observe with a sickening sense of dread what I know, if allowed to be built, is going to be a social, environmental and architectural disaster, a landmark to be mocked for the ages, a bad L.A. joke.

Yes, the trusted writer of the email I received, a journalist experienced in the willful ways of civil serpents and shadow governments, was right: I am outraged. And you should be, too, if it will make any difference in a world increasingly being manipulated by an egomaniacal, elitist autocracy.

In this instance it is our elitist locals orchestrated by Govan and sycophants, who have blatantly hustled the County Board of Supervisors, LACMA being a county project.

But supervisors Sheila Keuhl, Hilda Solis, Mark Ridley-Thomas, Janice Hahn and Kathryn Barger can stop the project, especially now in the environmental review phase. The public has until December 15 to comment, in writing, fax or email, or attending one of several public hearing. Details are available by clicking here. (http://ceo.lacounty.gov/envirodoc/files/NOA.pdf)

May democracy prevail.

 

 

NEOPHYTE MALIBU CITY COUNCIL STRUGGLES ON

 

Observing the Malibu City Council at its last meeting you almost felt sorry for the members, as they struggled with a heavy agenda, lend staff direction, and suck up to speakers in support of the homeless.

Almost sorry. Maybe, for one or two on the dais, as I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites.

Frankly, it was just too apparent at the marathon meeting that the poorly led neophyte city government is sadly not up to the challenges confronting Malibu, and is fumbling others it has stuck its thumb into.

But you actually had to be sorrier for the many who descended on City Hall to express their heartfelt support for homeless services, and those there for other items. I watched the proceedings on television, and even in the comfort of my couch, became weary of the convoluted comments of several council members

Though the meeting did have its humorous moments, such as when one property rights paragon, a hired gun who persistently attends most all meetings, obsequiously applauded the council and staff for its dedication, and then

called for generous pay increases for all at City Hall, which he added the development community would gladly subsidize.

I bet they would, and no doubt throw in a few free lunches as well. That nonsense added a few minutes to the nearly eight hours of proceedings.

Then it was on to the more serious items. These included how to host the high maintenance homeless, address the continued mansionization of Malibu, do something about the corrupted landscape of Legacy Park, and possibly assist select neighborhoods pursuing underground wiring.

It also voted to explore the development of a cultural center. You can add that one to the list of city potential boondoggles.

The focus of the evening was a flurry of mea culpas by the mayor and mayor pro tem for failing to clearly articulate their concerns of a venerated program serving meals to the homeless in the local Methodist Church.

That failure prompted misleading news story about its closing, and a flood of nasty personal threats. Some were read to an audience that really wanted to hear that the meals at the church would continue.

Apparently they will not; apparently because no one seems to be take responsibility, due in large measure to the city’s ambiguous position. They’re for the meals, but…Ah, those buts.

To be fair, the agenda was daunting, and the council did make a few praiseworthy decisions. It voted 3 to 2 in favor of the phrase “neighborhood character” being considered as planning criterion in zoning cases.

And in particular took exception to the School District’s recalcitrance in the present stymied state of negotiations to allow Malibu to create its own district. That no doubt will have ramifications in sanctimonious Santa Monica.

All these items of course are to be continued, with the staff directed to bring back more reports, for more discussion.

 

 

SCHOOL BOARD IMBROGLIO, CONTINUED

The nice thing about a World Series, especially one that goes to a seventh, winner-take-all  game, as did the Dodgers versus the Astros, is that when it’s over, it’s over. There is a finality. We move on.

Not so it seems in the protracted divorce proceedings to separate Malibu’s public school from the Santa Monica-dominated unified school district, the subject of my commentary this week on public radio 97.5 KBU. and select websites everywhere. .

Last Monday the school board held a special meeting with the sole purpose to bring to an amicable close seven years of protracted negotiations and public hearings that would allow Malibu to create a stand-alone school district, separate from Santa Monica.

As they have at numerous meetings in the past, an overflow crowd of Malibu parents and politicians testified to the educational benefits, democratic imperative and moral certitude of the separation. Also noted was the difference and distance between the cities, one a rural seacoast village, the other a suburban city, separated by 20 miles.

The public comments ended, the board’s duplicitous Santa Monica majority. that is unfortunately needed to approve the separation, proceeded to back track on previous agreements.

To the chagrin of the Malibu contingent, the Santa Monica representatives nit picked the findings of its own consultants, ignored the blatant inequities of the schools, and generally bemoaned the financial arrangements calling for Malibu to pay Santa Monica millions of dollars into the distant future.

Label it retribution or more bluntly ransom, however onerous, it was felt by the Malibu representatives to be the price of freedom. But whatever the amount, a board member inanely commented it probably would not be enough to fund select programs benefitting Santa Monica, and should perhaps be continued into eternity. And this after years of studies by bean counters.

Sensing the simmering anger, the board suggested that maybe Malibu can be appeased by some vague form of autonomy, and has called for a meeting to explore possibilities. Another meeting, more talk, and one must ask, to what end?

It is apparent that the board’s majority does not want the divorce, that most prefer the current arrangement in which Malibu in effect subsidizes a sanctimonious Santa Monica.

When weighed against doing the right thing, greed sadly tends to win, hands out and in.

Since rational arguments don’t seem to work with Santa Monica, perhaps shame will, and it’s time for something else. Keep tuned as we dig into our bag of civil rights memories.

 

 

MALIBU’S DREAM DEFERRED

If cities everywhere, in California, across the country, world wide, have a common concern it is not their urban design, as usually explored here, it is public schools.

People may not give a damn about their communities; not pay taxes, vote, mow the lawn, or even nod to neighbors, being nihilists or just plan anti-social. But whether misanthropic or not, having a child in public school connects them to the world.

It is a thin string that tends to bind even the most frail human settlements, and in a democracy, such as ours purports to be, is essential to its function and no less to its future. Schmaltzy I know, but I believe it.

So even if my four accomplished children are way beyond public school, as I certainly am, I am indebted to the institution and as the unquestioned foundation of democracy fiercely support it.

This prompted me the other night to join with the Advocates for Malibu Public Schools to once again rally for an independent school district before a sadly impassive, if not duplicitous, local school board.

How else can you describe the board’s Santa Monica majority dithering inaction made more exasperating by the sanctimonious city’s posture as a bastion of liberal values. Most hypocritical is its treatment of Malibu.

There is just no justifying for Santa Monica, with its 84 percent voter majority, continuing to hold Malibu hostage, with its 16 percent minority. This is further aggravated by the communities being distinctly different and disconnected, separated by 20 miles, one essentially a preening suburban city and the other a exurban village. After all is said and done, democracy’s true test is the majority’s responsibility to guarantee minority rights.

 

So once again the other night the minority made its case, with speaker after speaker making the point that Malibu is simply asking local control of the schools within its isolated city lines, something that Santa Monica has, and takes for granted

Further, convincingly supported by hard facts, they argued that under the current conditions, with a self serving Santa Monica majority on the board, Malibu is being treated separately and grossly unequally; that Malibu is in a phrase was being short changed in curriculum and cash.

And so it continued, late into the night, with the board’s Santa Monica majority dodging the democratic imperative of home rule, and the paramount moral issue of what will best serve the students of Malibu.The board’s utter failure to step up and do the right thing, reminded me of a poem by Langston Hughes:

,

“What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up, like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—and then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over- like syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags, like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

 

 

NEIGHBORHOOD CHARACTER DEBATED BY A CONFUSED MALIBU CITY COUNCIL

If there is a philosophical fissure in Malibu transcending politics, religion, professionals and sexual proclivities, it is property rights: what landowners can and cannot do, as guided by the city’s planning rules and regs, and so I observe on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites everywhere

Even since Malibu became a city some 26 years ago, its planning process has been questioned, challenged and compromised, its City Hall staff scorned, council members cursed, and developers and realtors reviled.

This constant conundrum certainly was a factor in the election last year of the so-called reform slate, which pledged its unwavering support of the city’s mission statement as a persevering rural seacoast community. So much for history.

Meanwhile, Malibu’s confused politics and convoluted planning process continues to generate heat. It certainly was hot in the last City Council meeting, where heading the agenda was the question of what constituted “neighborhood character,” and, if at all, it should be included as criterion in considering proposed residential developments.

It was placed before the Council at the request of the City Planning Commission, which could not come to a decision involving a proposed project on Portshead Road. Its plans meets all city codes, but at 9,000 square feet the proposal is three times the size of nearby houses, and thus raises the issue of  “neighborhood character.”

The meeting unfortunately was a fractured, flatulent affair, as so many in the past have been when councils have had to deal with questions requiring some planning knowledge or administrative savvy. That is rather than as usual just congratulating themselves or select sycophants, or being hustled by government grifters, or pretending to be a statesman or stateswoman.

Nothing really was resolved, despite the city planning staff having prepared a detailed report that reasonably explained both neighborhood standards and neighborhood character; standards being quantifiable, and character subjective.

As usual, the staff skirted a recommendation, though it probably would not have made a difference given the capricious character of the council. It is embarrassing.

The council kept confusing “standards,” and “character,” and asked questions as if they hadn’t read or understood the report. In a split vote, the council directed the woeful city planning staff to come back with a more detailed report in a few months. Don’t hold your breath, especially if you are one of the 86 owners who have a project in the planning pipeline.

Meanwhile, not holding their breath, a parade of resolute local real estate professionals –agents, architects, acolytes – went before the council to lambaste the use of neighborhood character. They claimed in volleys of hyperbole that it would depress property values by not allowing owners to get top dollars by hyping being allowed to build out to the max.

In particular they egregiously claimed this would hurt seniors wanting to sell, and destroy Malibu, as we know it. It was a shameful cheap scare tactic, auguring back to the nefarious days of block busting.

Apparently, the real estate guiding axiom of “location, location, location, has been superseded by “size, size, size,” and the bigger the better, for obviously it means bigger commissions, and more jobs for all. The argument was debunked by a wry councilman Rick Mullen.

I would add that contrary to the specious comments of the realtors that subjective as it is, neighborhood character is actually vital to maintaining the city’s property values; that people love Malibu and buy there for its unique seacoast setting and rural ambience, not for the size of its scattered, already excessive, Mac Mansions.

SO WHAT IS “NEIGHBORHOOD ” ANYWAY

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..