MID CENTURY ARCHITECTURE AND A CITY CELEBRATED

This week on arts and entertainment observed on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, it is architecture, and a new and attractive book, entitled “Mod Mirage.” Written by preservationist Melissa Riche and resplendently photographed by Jim Riche, the book’s focus is the singular desert city of Rancho Mirage, a seasonal retreat, of, 17,000 plus.

It is a pleasant place to live, according to its boosters, if you like dry, hot weather, and can afford its lifestyle in this day and age of increasing income disparity in a declining democracy.

What distinguishes the city for me and is celebrated in “Mod Mirage,” is its wealth of the very livable Midcentury Modernist architecture, a distinct inviting style marked by economical post and beam construction, minimal support walls, and the maximum the use of glass, exposing the surrounding landscape.

The flair for flat cantilevered roofs, creating a light, horizontal   machine look, reflects its severe predecessor International Style, out of the pre war European Bauhaus movement, and heralded by the condescending design fraternity. But Midcentury was more.

However loosely labeled, the style extols Southern California benign climate and casual culture, and deserves prominence in the pantheon of design. The unabashed appreciation for the architectural style and affection for Rancho Mirage by the book’s author wife and photographer husband makes for a coffee table must for Midcentury fans, which include many in Malibu

Lending a welcomed perspective is an exuberant foreword by Brad Dunning, who observes that, “since most homes in the desert (in the 1950s) were second or seasonal homes, they represented not only leisure, relaxation and health, but also debauchery and frivolity. It was only natural the more flamboyant and joyous architecture mirrored the association.”

No doubt another book can be written on that theme, given the host of celebrities that frolicked there, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and the Marx brothers, to name just a few.

To be sure, being in the entertainment business, the celebs also obviously had an appreciation of architecture as a stage set of sorts for their lifestyles, and employed a host of distinguished designers of the day, encouraging them to be inventive.  These included Wallace Neff, Richard Neutra, Paul Williams, Quincy Jones and William Cody. They were very much up to the task, as the Riches document in a descriptive text and exquisite photograph, in an elegant design for Gibbs Smith publishers. Glad to see they are still doing architecture books.

“The budgets, the clients, the views, and the unique environment all encouraged architects to think differently, “ writes Riche. “The result was an unparalleled collection of modernist designs at its most refined.” And a modest, desert city like no other.

Kudos for all who have rallied to preserve the distinctively styled architecture in Rancho Mirage, and also to Melissa and Jim Riche for faithfully documenting the history.

 

 

MALIBU POISED TO SLAP DOWN DEVELOPER,YES!

Finally, Malibu has an opportunity to make amends for its somnolent city administration and drive a nail into the expansion plans of the Malibu Beach Inn, which threatens to exacerbate the already frustrating and dangerous PCH traffic.

On the Planning Commission agenda for this Monday are several items that would effectively block the Inn from constructing a parking lot across PCH. There’s considerable pressure on the commissioners from sheepish council members and chastened city’s officials to slap down the Inn, and certainly not to eat there anymore.

If you might recall, that expanded parking was why the infamous cross walk was needed, so the Inn’s vehicle valets can dart back and forth across the PCH servicing guests.

And talk about a local “lebensraum,” the infamous German term for an aggressive, nefarious land policy used as a rationale for the start of World War Two.

The lot on the former Hertz property in effect would have allowed the Inn to expand, build a swimming pool and other amenities, and not incidentally covering its ass from having abused the city’s commercial zoning code and local coastal plan, adding seating and not providing parking.

The construction of the crosswalk severely screwed up commuter traffic for several days, prompting road rage, at least that is what I felt being late for an anticipated medical exam. Also angry was local architect Lester Tobias, who to his credit critiqued and pressed the issue.

Caltrans had typically mindlessly approved the crosswalk, while the city, also typically mindless, had explained that the PCH was not its jurisdiction. That‘s bureaucracy for you.

Though Caltrans in making excuses said that it is always open, indeed welcomes, the comments of effected local government. But Malibu City Hall is said to seldom say anything.

No surprise there, given the pro private property rights proclivities of our liaisons with regional and state agencies, and their lamentable primping (pimping?) beyond Malibu for perks and positions, now and in the future. Those expense reports do add up.

Perhaps that will improve after Laura Rosenthal and Lou MaMonte are termed out and replaced in this Fall’s election.

Meanwhile, the crosswalk calamity and the public protests could augurs well for increased local involvement.

It therefore will be interesting to see the turnout Sunday, for a gathering to discuss keeping the Santa Monica Mountains safe, announced for 11 AM at King Gillette Ranch, up Malibu Canyon to Las Virgenes and Mulholland. Just follow the signs there.Ostensibly recent shootings there are on the agenda.

But hopefully someone from the should-be frightened Malibu also will raise the issue of the proposal by the SMRCA for an asinine, arsonist-friendly overnight camp in Puerco Canyon, and whether that includes private weddings and film shoots there. Time to put the feet of our public officials to the fire, figuratively speaking of course.

 

 

 

AT THE GETTY, BEYOND THE NILE

 

Finally made it to the Getty to see its premier attraction of the last several months, entitled “Beyond the Nile, Egypt and the Classical World.”

I am very glad I did, for it closes September 6th, and now having seen it I recognize to might have missed it for some poor excuse or other, for me would have been unfortunate.

And I ‘m glad I ‘m reviewing the exhibit for public radio, 99.1 KBU and select websites, with several week left before it’s gone. Maybe it’ll prompt others to see it. And this is an exhibit that should not be missed, certainly notfor anyone curious about art and history, and past civilizations. To see the artifacts –the jewelry, the sculptures, the statues, ceramics and mosaics, that were produced thousands of years ago – is breathtaking.

Just to think how, why and where they were crafted, is mind bending. And there they are, many as pristine as produced yesterday, others quite conspicuous beneath a patina of age. It is Getty Museum at it best.

Enthralling also is to think these artifacts were traded and given as gifts by the Egyptians and Greeks, as early as the Seventh Century B.C. as they and others traversed the Mediterranean, and up and down the Nile.
As the dominate civilization in the ancient world, with its mastery of astronomy, mathematics, medicine, and writing, Egypt wielded much influence. That made its arts and crafts coveted, even as its power waned in the wake of the Roman Empire, and why incidentally so much of it was in time found in Italy.

Fascinating as they may be, as displayed in the exhibit, most captivating for me actually was a densely-scripted papyrus manuscript, written mostly in Egyptian.

A handbook of sorts, according to a curator, it addresses a catalogue of revealing topics, such as how to commune with the gods about the future, how to attract, and get rid of, a lover, and how to kill someone. But also noted is how to heal, including blindness and migraines, among other things.

 Few people then could read, so the manuscript apparently was not a best seller. But it did survive the ages, and there it is now, on a museum wall in Los Angeles. You have to be impressed.

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PCH CONTINUES TO PLAGUE MALIBU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

WHY DID THE LA DA RELEASE THE DOGS?

The case still is sealed revealing what and who prompted the county District Attorney to turn loose 22 investigators on a recent morning to search two residences and a business in Malibu linked to long time local resident and present pro tem Mayor Jefferson Wagner.

As I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, who might know is not saying, certainly not now having seen the support for Wagner, guilty of whatever or not, and the questioning of the actions by the DA’s office. We’re not talking here of potential crimes against persons and property, terrorists acts, drug deals and me too entertainment industry incidents, certainly not in our Malibu.

To be sure, DA Jackie Lacey has some explaining to do, and not in a vague press release slipped under the door on Saturday morning of a holiday weekend. It is time for some transparency to counter the paranoia swirling on the local scene.

This is a case that should not disappear, whether the city comes to the defense of Wagner or not, as has been urged by an outpouring of city residents, some of whom have funded a lawyer for Jefferson.

One asks what else does the city council do anyhow, except bark like trained seals in approving the issues and items dutifully prepared for them like fish snacks by the inveterate city manager and city attorney in the bunker that has become City Hall.

Meanwhile, the fumbling governance of Malibu by a sadly neophyte City council continues to exasperate, witness its distressing yielding to a self serving, bloated bureaucracy and well compensated consultants. And for this the council actually congratulates itself. Lost in its hazy, lazy ways is oversight and accountability.

It is no wonder that specious conspiracy theories persist, as well as rumors of past favors and future sinecures. Yes, small town politics, be it middle America or Malibu, stumbles on.

Sustaining it is what can be described as a cult of amiability, cultivated by Malibu’s modest size where most people know who their neighbor are, if not their names, certainly the names of their pets, thanks to social media.

It is this cult that no doubt prompted Wagner to in effect apologize this week for the no vote of confidence by his council colleagues while testifying to their good intentions.

Amiable, yes, and that is what makes Wagner so liked. But it also makes him not as forthright as what is needed now to save Malibu further embarrassment as a slipshod city.

And I say that as a friend, and also as someone concerned about our failing democracy, locally as well as nationally.

 

 

 

 

 

REMEMBERING BILL: ON WILLIAM McPHERSON (1933-2017)

By Sam Hall Kaplan

The recent death of book editor and writer William McPherson prompts heartfelt memories of a moment in a bygone East Coast literary Elysium that he shepherded — incidentally changing my life.

No doubt Bill, editor of the Washington Post’s Book World, would caustically comment that, as a first sentence to a remembrance, the words above were too sophomoric and sentimental. Especially because they reflected on him. I can see him looking up with a friendly smile and calling the sentence self-aggrandizing and “schmaltzy,” which I would take with a grain of salt as a waggish nod to my roughhewn New York ethnicity.

But then, back in the late ’70s, Bill might haughtily approve of the campy lead as something that would appeal to our typical maudlin readers. And off we’d go, along with whoever else was standing in his book cluttered office at the time, into the eternal debate over who the reader we were writing for actually was.

I might have cited such self-anointed authorities as my former editor at The New York Times, A. M. Rosenthal, whom I remember declaring that the archetypical reader was a precocious nine-year-old. But of course Abe would say that, Bill would retort; he himself having the disposition of a nine-year-old. Bill was wonderfully witty and judgmental, which made him a beloved editor among us bitchy scribes.

Or maybe the reader was the bright, bookish special assistant to a calloused congressman, as Bill’s quick-with-a-quip boss Ben Bradlee might suggest. Jane Howard, my then companion, would remind us that the reader was likely a she — and she’d be right.

Jane was a best-selling author (A Different Woman) and close friends with Joan Didion, with whom she’d been celebrity writer for a celebrated Life magazine. Jane was also a longtime friend of Bill’s. She and I would visit him in D.C., as would other writers, in effect forming a floating salon.

Wanting to end the blather about our readers, Bill would offer up a remark from the comic strip Pogo: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” Bill had spoken, a second cup of coffee or glass of wine would be poured, and we’d move on to the next topic or personality to be skewered.

One day at the Post in the fall of 1978, as I stood in Bill’s office looking through a stack of recently published books to chose one I would review, the topic he casually introduced was the possible end of his tenure as the editor of Book World. My immediate concern, of course, was that a new editor, as is their wont, would have his or her friends and favored reviewers, and my assignments would therefore diminish, if not end. But then my thoughts quickly turned to friend Bill.

As Bill told it, that morning Ben Bradlee had, almost off-handily, asked him whether he wouldn’t rather be a writer or book critic, rather than editor of Book World. This would give him time to work on that novel he wanted to write; besides, he himself had always contended that writers had more fun than editors. We writers agreed, even though we thought editors were paid more for being less creative while sitting in a comfortable office protected from the elements, with an intern close by to get them a coffee. What did they do, really?

Apparently Bradlee had already offered the editor’s job to Book World’s dependable deputy, Brigitte Weeks, who had received an offer from the then ascending Los Angeles Times. Bradlee did have the reputation, in those haughty post-Watergate warrior days, of atabbing employees in the heart with a sharp rapier, which, we all felt, was better than being stabbed in the back, as is the style of most senior editors.

It might be of interest to nostalgic readers that the man overlooking the “soft” news and Book World at the time was the smarmy, smiling Shelby Coffey III, who would later become the unctuous executive editor of the Los Angeles Times. Try as he might, Coffey could never exude the spirit and style of the benevolent Ben, and it would have been easy for Bill to stand his ground.

But it was hard for Bill to argue with the august Bradlee, since it was the Post that hired him in 1958, at the age of 25, as a raw copy boy, despite him having dropped out of college twice. And after becoming a reporter a few years later, Bill impetuously left the Post for a job in book publishing, but Bradlee had lured him back with the book editor position. Not only that, he signed the checks. And if you were nice, he and his glamorous wife Sally Quinn might invite you to their storied dinners.

There would be no discussion among friends and associates that day, for Bill declared he had accepted the new assignment. He looked forward to being a journalist again, and, in time, a writer. He added that he actually had the beginnings of a book on paper, with the story shaping in his mind, though would say no more.

It was this jumping from rock to rock in the merging currents of journalism and literature that made Bill a kindred soul, for I too had a fractured career. Among questionable pursuits, I had worked on New York’s waterfront as a “shtarker” and upstate as a seasonal farm laborer; Bill had been a merchant seaman. But I had eventually graduated from Cornell University, which, after a forgettable stint in the army, had no doubt helped me score a job as a copy boy with the New York Times, also in 1958.

Thus we became confiding friends, in the spirit of strangers sitting next to one another on a long sleepless flight, sharing confidences. Except that Bill and I would meet again for years to come, sporadically, especially after I left the New York Post, where I was briefly an editor for Rupert Murdoch, to take a position with the newly minted Carter administration in Washington.

And so, that day, while friend Bill was talking about his new job and reassuring me Brigitte would make a fine editor, and, presumably, be pleased to continue to use me as a reviewer, he stopped and smiled broadly. Then, after a pause for dramatic effect — 40 years later, I remember this distinctly — he suggested I should immediately apply for the book editor post that Brigitte was, at that very moment, calling LA Times editor Jean Sharley Taylor to turn down.

He declared I would be perfect for the rising LA Times, having written reviews for the New York Times under the tutelage of Eliot Fremont-Smith, and for the edgy Village Voice under editor Dan Wolfe and infamous publisher Norman Mailer. And, of course there were the pieces I had written for him at the Post. He noted that, thanks to my Ivy League education, I dressed British, but, being from Brooklyn, thought Yiddish.

Bill handed me his phone, and I got through to Taylor, who said, yes, Weeks had just turned down the job, but the paper had a second choice in the wings, their columnist Art Sidenbaum. He had accepted just minutes ago. Then Taylor mentioned that the cover the paperback of my book The Dream Deferred had prominently quoted a rave L.A. Times review — and asked whether I’d be interested in coming to the coast and discussing Sidenbaum’s former job as an urban commentator.

My hand over the phone, I relayed the query to Bill. He nodded yes enthusiastically. Bill was, of course, right. My professional job in government was mostly bullshit, a divorce was pending, my fickle friend Jane was researching another book and had sublet her apartment, at my suggestion, to former colleague Syd Schanberg, who was returning from the tragic killing fields of Cambodia to become city editor of the N.Y. Times. For those of us who had climbed on the journalistic wagon in the late ’50s, it was a small world.

What the hell, I thought, flew out to Los Angeles the next weekend, loved what I saw, and moved a month later. My thought was that the assignment was, in effect, a generous travel and study grant to Southern California, and I’d probably return to New York in a year or two. That was nearly 40 years ago.

I never saw Bill again. We were going to have drinks, but instead said our goodbyes by phone, promised to keep in touch, and didn’t. I did send him a note in 1984, congratulating him on the praise for his novel, Testing the Current. He never answered, and when his second novel, To the Sargasso Sea, came out in 1988, I didn’t send a note, but I was happy for him.

Bill left the Post a few years later, more or less when I left the L.A. Times. I heard he had gone to Romania as a freelance writer, which would not have been my choice. I became a creative consultant to Disney Imagineering, while continuing to write. When I asked John Gregory Dunne, whom I had met through Jane, why he thought Bill had become an ex-pat correspondent, he had no answer. This was soon after the great success of John’s True Confessions. Changing topics from Bill to me, John asked, ruefully, why I had stayed in Southern California. “It’s comfortable, “ I said. “Corrupting,” he added. And, for the literary world, “corroding.”

Then, inevitably, mortality began taking its toll. First Jane passed, then Art, John, Sydney, and Dick Eder. Others. Not having heard from or about him for years, I thought Bill had also passed, only to read in 2014 that he was back in Washington, his health dwindling, and his finances worse. He chronicled his ill fortune in an essay for The Hedgehog Review, titling it “Falling.”

It was a sad, indeed tragic, tale. But the topic was substantive. As an editor, Bill would have approved. It was worthy of a novel, or at least a long discussion at a salon.

ARCHITECT FREDERICK LYMAN’S MALIBU MASTERPIECE

Recently published by local author and architect Cory Buckner is a richly illustrated book, focusing on the Lyman House, one of Malibu’s late and lamented landmarks. It is also a reminder when the community was an exurban outlier, as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites.

The book entitled “The Lyman House and the Works of Frederick P. Lyman” is an estimable testament to a talented but relatively unheralded architect, and his singular project, an intellectually considered, crafted canyon house.

To be sure, Lyman was a Yale graduate, had worked in the office of the prestigious Richard Neutra, and in time was president of the local American Institute of Architects. He also was involved in the fledgling efforts for Malibu’s cityhood.

But he was never what you might call today, a star architect, a big name with a big ego, nailing big commission and big headlines.

Indeed, his reputation was based in large part on the Lyman House, a design of 1200 square feet he crafted for himself in Malibu, essentially as a bachelor pad. In the preface, renown architect Ray Kappe, a contemporary of Lyman’s, declares the house a masterpiece.

Built in 1960, apparently using no nails, the house was very much in the spirit and style of Japanese design, which he had studied. I would add he apparently was influenced by the vernacular dwelling known as the “Minka,” specifically of a modest mountain structure called a “sanka.”

It was eventually sold to another architect, and who in making what he considered improvements, naturally corrupted the design, and flipped it, reportedly at a hefty profit, which he enjoyed telling Lyman. So Malibu.

What was perhaps also indicative of Malibu, from an architectural historian’s view, the bastardized house mercifully was destroyed in the Las Flores fire of 1993. Perhaps there is such a thing as architectural karma.

And talk of karma, the house in 1969 caught the eye of a young art student, who stopped to sketch it. Emerging out of the house, Lyman asked the student whether she wanted a job. She did, and for the next ten years Cory Buckner worked as his apprentice, and in time became a recognized architect in her own right, and an author.

This of course lends the book a rare and welcome perspective, and the Lyman’s design of the house and the wealth of his illustrations the distinction that they deserve. Lyman mentored Buckner well, and she has most respectfully repaid him.          1.7.17

MOVING SAM MALOOF

For my pubic radio commentary this week, an unusual topic involving an uncommon craftsman and a distinct historic landmark, chronicled in singular book by an adroit architect.

It makes for an interesting read, especially for historic preservation buffs, and prompt a visit to Rancho Cucamonga. You will not be disappointed.

The topic is the diligent relocation of a two woodworking studios, a hand crafted residence, guesthouse and 20 odd mature trees out of the path of a planned freeway to a protected site three miles away.

The book title tells it all: “Moving Sam Maloof,” with an explanatory sub title, quote “Saving an American Woodworking Legend’s Home and Workshop,” end quote. Revealing also was that it was written with empathy by Ann Kovara , who not incidentally was the relocation project’s construction manager.

You usually do not get this literary quality from a practicing architect or perspective from a writer.

Packing the contents, taking down several detailed structures, uprooting a score of select trees, then moving it all a short distance on local streets, and reconstructing and replanting it all, is not your usual dramatic subject for an engaging book.

But “Moving Sam Maloof,” surprisingly is, especially if familiar with the original bucolic compound and a friend and admirer of the owner.

When I got to know Sam he already was an acclaimed woodworker, a true California Living Legend, indeed the first craftsman to receive a MacArthur Foundation so called genius grant; his exquisite furniture was in demand, back ordered for years, and workshop thriving.

Nevertheless, he always found time to open his shop and beguile my students venturing out of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.

Those days for me ran into evenings and relaxed meals with him and his lovely wife Alfreda and children at an accommodating nearby restaurant. He also gave his time freely for several TV segments I produced.

Kovara captures that spirit of Sam that was truly tested when the State made clear its intention to run a freeway through his 5 acre compound of 45 years.

Tough negotiations followed, during which time preservation grants became available, the overseeing bureaucrats became sympathetic, and the elaborate relocation details were resolved, with all involved bending a little, not unlike a rare pliable hardwood.

Sam witnessed the move, which took 3 years, from 1998 to 2001. He sadly passed, in 2009, at age 93.

The relocated house and studio is now under the care of the Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation, and can be toured. Contact the foundation for days, hours and other details.

 

A TIP OF THE HAT TO ARCHITECT ZAHA HADID

Dusting off and putting on my old beaten down architecture critics hat, I tip it in a farewell gesture to Zaha Hadid She died much too young recently at the age 65; indeed tragically as her career as a designer seemed to be soaring, just as do her many singular signature structures.

Having garnered a Pritzker Prize, architecture’s highest award in 2004 at the relatively young age of 53, based on just a few finished projects at the time, she took off like a comet, winning scores of commissions for her distinctively complex sweeping designs, despite having a reputation of being difficult.

Though one wonders if that was just the canard of her male competitors, as I comment in my weekly city observed on KBU FM and radiomalibu.net

Be that as it may, that her office in London employed 400 at the time of her death is a testament to her success. Incidentally, the number is more than the enrollment of some architecture schools. And those who try to imitate her distinctive style is legion.

A notable friend and an admirer, an equally individualistic and renown architect, Rem Koolhas, described her as powerful and fragile, and like her buildings, was generous, crafting public space in and out.

As much as I had taken exception to the to the label stararchitect, out of concern that it seems to bestow the professional a license for indulgences that mock context and community, as well as cost, Dame Hadid was a happy exception.

She said what she meant, and meant what she said.   I loved it, even when I disagreed with her. She was a person I would describe as one who stabbed you in the chest, not that back. No doubt she learned that having been stabbed in the back multiple times as she made her way up the ladder of success in a much too male dominated profession. That she also was an Arab made her even more vulnerable.

She was not a bullshiter, in a profession where they are too many ; that say one thing and design another, and say anything when surreptitiously smiling to secure a commission. That was the hearsay, for unfortunately I never got to interview her during my tenure in the 80s as a daily critic . Though her quotes echo is my abiding concerns for our cityscape:

“Cities should invest in good spatial organization that has more impact than just making a terrible cheap building, which you see a lot of.” Amen.

 

 

Planning Concerns Close to Home

Aired July 11, 2015

Some reflections on a Malibu Planning Commission hearing I attended this week.

It was the latest of several I have recently witnessed at City Hall concerning a host of planning issues confronting Malibu. For a small city of about 13,000 it does generate considerable controversy and discontent, giving some weight to the adage, the smaller the city, the more small-minded the politics.

Some of our city leaders are disturbed by the citizen protests, but I consider the grumblings healthy, an expression of down home Democracy. Though, frankly, I prefer they weren’t so often shrill, and ill informed.

I place much of the blame for this on the City’s failure to communicate, whether out of timidity or preferring to keep things close to their vests. For the record, my description in a commentary of the council being timorous did prompt Mayor John Sibert to take exception.

In an e-mail he states that far from being timorous the council has taken the initiative in host of issues, citing among other things scoring a needed study of the PCH and funds for improvements. And he added, and I quote, “if you think we don’t stand up to developers, you really do need to do a cranial/anal inversion. “ end of quote. Nothing timorous in that statement.

The mayor continued, saying the council for all its efforts gets no support from the-come lately spectators, who only descend on City Hall to carp. While wincing, I have to add that it is at least comforting to know that the council is listening.

This prompts me to cite yet another adage, a mathematical formula popular among journalists that states: public service equals megalomania, divided by paranoia.

But on occasion one must sympathize with those who volunteer for public service, donating their time for no compensation other than the reward of good citizenship. This was evident the other evening at the planning commission hearing considering an application for the remodel and expansion 29042 Cliffside Drive.

Aside from the questionable design, I testified that I felt the indicated construction of 49% is a blatant attempt to have the project declared a remodel and not a new structure, with its additional constraints and fees.

However, my prime objection is based on my experience as the past chair of the city”s View Preservation Task Force, and as a planner.

I fear as do current Cliffside residents that if this application is approved, and however it compromises the blue water view of any property, even by a sliver, it will also clearly affect their property values.

My view is not affected, but others are, and with the result of lowering their property values, mine also would be affected.

This did not bother the city’s wavering planning department, which recommended approval. But happily the commission did not. Member Jeff Jennings was particularly forthright . So was Mikke Pierson. And chairman David Brotman displayed his forte as an architect noting that the layout with its five master sized bedrooms, each with its own bath, was more indicative of a residential medical clinic than a family home.

Such residences have become the bane of Malibu, since only State approval is needed to convert an ostensibly private home to a clinic. Though, consultants for the corporate owner said this was not intended; that the house will be a retreat for a large extended family.

Obviously sensing the commission’s sentiments and a looming no vote, the applicants asked for a continuance. The neighbors hope in the two months given the applicant will attempt a redesign that preserves views. That is the hope, but deep pocketed developers in the past have not been so accommodating. We’ll see.

Im Sam Hall Kaplan, and this the City Observed, on 97.5 KBU and radiomalibu.net.