MALIBU’S MYOPIC GOVERNANCE

The willful ignorance of Malibu’s governance is exasperating, exposed recently by the ill considered search to curb mansionization, the fumbling of the rebuild effort  in the wake of the disastrous Woolsey Fire and city hall’s false front.

Putting this into a  larger perspective, the muddle in Malibu can be sadly considered a local manifestation of what select pundits have described as a rupture of the link between the governing and the governed globally that has exacerbated no less than the crisis of climate change, the continued deterioration of the environment and the dispiriting economic disparity. I fear for my children and grandchildren.

However, there is a faint hope in our bubble of Malibu that we can do something to modestly begin to mend the rupture, specifically at the moment to pressure the conflicted City Council to kill the proposed square foot reduction ordinance approved last week by a confused City Planning Commission. That if you recall was despite the strong reservations by concerned residents who packed City Hall. You had to be impressed by the turnout and the heartfelt comments.

To be sure, many as myself are opposed and repulsed by mansionization, concerned that it would invite blatant commercial use as unwanted rehabs or obnoxious AirBnBs. But they also clearly recognize you can’t really codify  (8500 sq ft ?) what constitutes mansionization or a “McMansion,” as I can’t as a design critic immodestly cited by Wikipedia as a reference. I literally coined the phrase 30 years ago in a book review for the L.A. Times entitled ‘Out of Place: Restoring Identity to the Regional Landscape.’

In search of a measure rather than an arbitrary square footage that incidentally can be hid by good landscaping, I suggest the colloquial expression, “I know it when I see it.” That subjective phrase parenthetically was used in 1964 by United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, in attempting to define what exactly, constitutes hard-core pornography.

Of course, what the council should be doing, as it has repeatedly promised, is provide some needed oversight and light a fire under a sluggish city hall, and its bloated bureaucracy and cadre of consultants, manipulated by crafty city manager manager Reva Feldman. All else could be considered broadly as pornography.

MALLEABLE, MUDDLED MALIBU

Being misanthropic Malibu, it will not be surprising if the city’s attempt to thwart tacky “McMansions” most likely will end up just feeding its bungling bureaucracy and frustrating a planning conscious public.

And given the city’s protracted politicized process, I suspect it also will fatten the suspect facilitators of deep pocket developers, and compromise whatever ordinance might be approved, as they have in the city government’s pathetic past.  

Yes, there is finally a report out from the city’s Planning Department recommending an amendment to the zoning code that may have the effect of possibly limiting square foot development of select projects in select residential zones.

The attempt to somehow institute an ill defined goal of neighborhood character is scheduled to be aired before the Planning Commission July 1st and presumably eventually by the City Council.

But after reviewing it, and despite being an adherent of neighborhood character, as an experienced planner and long time resident of Malibu, concerned for its preservation as a livable community, I reluctantly oppose the proposed ordinance.

Primarily I do so because I fear however limited it would only make the city’s rebuild effort more muddled, exasperate many of the burned out Woolsey fire victims of modest means, and further discourage their return, hollowing out the economic and demographic diversity of the city.

 And this while encouraging flipping, to no doubt the cheers of prevailing, ever-avaricious realtors.

Even if the proposed amendment to the dense zoning code somehow is clarified to address neighbor character, the problem that has plagued planning in Malibu since its founding persists.

Bluntly that is a mostly inept and lazy municipal government, conniving administrators and vain glorious, generally neophyte city councils. And this sorrowfully includes some good people whom I consider friends, but if truth be told who are not particularly politically or planning savvy.

No matter how noble the city’s mission statement, and how well intentioned the city’s codes may be, I feel they can be only as effective as are those who administer them.

As for the report, it does not in its own voluble wording address the findings requested by the council for site plan review and minor modification “that the projects does not adversely affect neighborhood character.” It is a bad read.

Not incidentally, it was written by a former city planning director and now a consultant; heaven forbid the city with its overblown staff headed by an overpaid city manager attempt to do any heavy lifting or heavy thinking. Our bean counters do love their consultants to the tune of millions of tax payer dollars that instead could be going to improved services.

What we have gotten is a lot of lip service from the City Hall crowd posing as friends of Malibu, all the while surreptitiously raising the fear that limiting development and square footage would limit price and profit. For this we must credit local rumormongers.

As I have stated previously, real estate value is based on location and neighborhood character, and that out-of-scale mansionization tends to diminish value. They also tend to be poorly detailed and in bad taste, and generally bad neighbors, earning the approbation of “McMansion.”

I first used the phrase back in the 1980s when as the LA Times Design Critic described the practice in Santa Monica of building the largest size house possible on a site, which led to a domino effect that ultimately compromised the character of neighborhoods and accelerated gentrification.

In Malibu, I recall too well a case years ago in which an over designed plan for a prime site on Cliffside Drive had been objected to by neighbors, but nonetheless was approved by the city after an emotional appeal by the owner.  He and his tearful wife pleaded that though possibly over designed the house nevertheless was the family’s dream, where they intended to live into the sunset. 

Within a year after completion, they flipped the house for a huge profit, and flipped off Malibu. There have been too numerous similar incidents, orchestrated by special interests scamming a malleable Malibu.

Yes, Malibu needs some tough codes to protect what is left of its “neighborhood character,” but what it really first needs is a committed and courageous City Hall.

WHITHER MALIBU

  It is no surprise that the Malibu City Council approved extending the contract with California Strategies, despite no public accounting for the more than $2 million it has paid the Sacramento firm over the last dozen years, and a violation of accepted municipal practices.

The extension was recommended by City Manager Reva Feldman, who continues to mesmerize and manipulate a susceptible, neophyte council to safeguard her sinecure while wily wrapping a somnolent city in a bureaucratic web.

To witness the last council meeting it seems forgotten was that our $300,000 plus a year de facto mayor Feldman failed to prepare the city for the Woolsey fire disaster, mismanaged the evacuation, abandoned the emergency control center when most needed, neglected to advocate in the civic chain of command for a local first response, and then chided those who stayed to fight the fire while praising her staff and herself for a job well done.

 We are talking here of gross malfeasances, further aggravated by the city’s lack of ethical public service norms, while the city manager hires staff and consultants such as California Strategies as foils.

Sadly for those who had cheered Malibu’s cityhood, there is no effective municipal checks and balances, nor council oversight, in particular its heedless fealty to Feldman.

 Perhaps the disastrous fire took the fight out of residents for a responsive and responsible local government, or maybe the hard fact is most who have the good fortune to live in Malibu really don’t care and don’t want to get involved.

 After all, what does City Hall actually do? Malibu doesn’t have its own police and fire departments or garbage pickup, nor can do anything about the traffic on the PCH. It does put out a lot of promotional press releases.

But frankly when it comes down to an explication, the Council is not much more than a self-important ceremonial construct, its commissions a local conceit. (Yes, I did serve, but we never built the playing fields or affordable housing, or instituted the view protection, that was and are still needed.)

 Let’s face it: Malibu has become a honey pot for bureaucrats, some of whom are committed to public service, but others who are self serving public serpents. And then there are the less than competent or caring office holders who seem to be tragically gaining in power globally. One wonders whither democracy, here in Malibu, and elsewhere?

TIME TO LIGHT A FIRE UNDER REVA

Time for Malibu City Council to halt the reflex approvals of the past, and start questioning some of the consultant relationships proposed by wily City Manager Reva Feldman.
Yes, the persevering overpaid, under achieving city manager who just told the municipal finance challenged council and her staff they must be frugal.
This is particularly needed in the wake of the disastrous Woolsey Fire and the acceding to the righteous request of waiving rebuild fees for resident victims. (And hopefully not for the real estate vultures waiting to snap up burnout sites.)
With this in mind, I have urged the Council to reject tonight’s item (3.B.11.) extending the contract with California Strategies, pending a transparent detailed accountability of the more than $2 million the city had paid it over the last dozen years.
This request has been made in the past, with, typically no response from the stiff upper lip City Manager, and a curt dismissal by the consultant.
In a long and questionable relationship with the city there has been no written report available to the public, of any indication of service, contrary to the best practices of municipal management.
One has to wonder what the firm has accomplished on behalf of Malibu other than glad hand and host select councilpersons and the city manager?

IF YOU CARE ABOUT MALIBU

If City Manager Reva Feldman was so determined rallying resources on behalf of Malibu in the disastrous Woolsey Fire as she is preserving her sinecure perhaps the present local quandary could have been avoided. Who knows?

If you happen to care, what we are sadly seeing at City Hall these dark post disaster days is a classic double defense of its questionable administration, the conscious construction of a bureaucratic bulwark by a wily city manager Feldman.

 And perhaps more sadly with Malibu suffering “fire fatigue,” it seems to be working.  It has been six months since Feldman failed the city and no criticisms have been forthcoming as of yet from a decidedly split, compromised City Council.

To be sure, it is waiting, as we all are, for the report of a well connected, perhaps too well connected, team of management consultants who are reviewing the city’s performance during the fire, and hopefully will address Feldman’s failures.

I added “hopefully,” given their indicated predilections otherwise cited by the indefatigable documentarian and local watchdog Paul Taublieb.  Will the report be a smoke screen?

Meanwhile, the city manager continues to laugh all the way to the bank, depositing her $300,000 a year salary and benefits, not bad for a neophyte pencil pusher with just three years chief ranking managerial experience.

Of course, that does not include her years as a fledgling under Malibu’s menace Joe Edmiston, of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. There no doubt he passed to her the apparatchik ability to haughtily ignore any criticism or critics.

Feldman’s first line of defense has been simply to be unapologetic, keep a stiff upper lip and not to take responsibility for having failed the city at its most crucial time during the firestorm, and pathetically continuing to fail it, while padding her payroll.

 Those who witnessed the city’s manager’s megaflop might be able to forgive her. That is if she admitted her failures, but they can’t forget her not preparing the city adequately for the disaster, mismanaging the mandatory evacuation, closing down the emergency control center when most needed, failing to advocate in the civic chain of command for a focused first response, and then dismissing and actually hampering those who stayed behind to valiantly fight the fire. 

Talk about grounds for dismissal!

No amount of bureaucratic obfuscation can hide the simple truth that if individuals such as a city manager and mayor had any sense of fidelity for their positions of trust, they should not be making excuses for their inaction and blaming others. Not apologizing also is just bad manners.

The second line of defense which we are now witnessing with a certain amusement is her obviously contriving awards for herself and staff from congenial consortiums, and taking credit for whatever half truths can be manufactured surrounding City Hall stumbling in the fire and after.

So for the State of the City, her fattened PR staff produced what I would label a public disservice video obviously at some expense in house, Now being played on the City’s social media and the City TV channel and available on-demand on You Tube, the slick video takes some egregious liberties from my perspective as an Emmy award wining reporter/producer.

Particularly sharp were the comments Taublieb, also an Emmy winner, included in an email to the city inquiring about the cost of the video. He added:

“BTW, the video is quite nice – great shots of fireman at work, but missing the ones of frantic homeowners waving at fire trucks riding by and refusing to stop and help!  and really love the coverage of the relief effort at pt. dume marine science and the boat relief – both efforts the city had nothing to do with and actually tried to stop!  or in reva’s words to me, “if you stayed behind you were not the responsibility of the city.”  but heh, we’re in the shadow of hollywood and taking credit for things you didn’t do is almost a local tradition!”

How will this farce of a City Hall end? I hope sooner rather than later, for I really don’t want to continue as town grouch, preferring instead to pursue cultural offerings, travel and tending my landscape.

But I also hate to witness my Malibu of many, long, loving years being hustled and compromised by greedy bureaucrats and special interests, orchestrating the sorrowful Woolsey Fire experience to their advantage.

5.25.19/6.1.19

BEYOND THE PCH

Couldn’t make it to Paris this Spring?

If regrettably not, you should consider for compensation most definitely going to  “A Paris Love Story,” at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, on stage May 24 through June 9th.

There the incomparable Hershey Felder as a story teller and pianist will be conducting a personal virtual tour of the romantic metropolis as he explores the life and music of the French composer Claude Debussy.

As I write for The Local and select websites, Felder is very much an original who in the past has fashioned staged portraits of such musical  notables as Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Chopin, as well the more contemporary Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein.

The productions with their staging and costumes might be a little hokey, but they also have been entertaining and informative, making the engaging Felder, fake beards or not, an international star, and box office favorite.

The theatrical Felder no doubt will find Debussy a particularly succulent subject, for the composer is considered the foremost musical expression of the Impressionist and Symbolist movements at the turn of the 19th and 2oth centuries.

Not only known for such major works as “Clair de Lune, ”Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun,” and La Mer, Debussy also had the reputation of being somewhat of a rake, with an active love life that was marked by a touch of tragedy.

 This should evidently prompt some staged histrionics, for which Felder is famed, and also make for a fun evening’s entertainment.

TIME FOR CITIZEN BUDGET OVERSIGHT

Some good news, that is if the neophyte City Council and concerned citizens can assert themselves in the discretionary municipal budget review now going on at a paranoid City Hall.

That is a big “if” in the face of manipulative bureaucratic city manager Reva Feldman, who heretofore customarily scripted Malibu’s budgets to, yes, granted, serve the city, but also her personal political prerogatives. And she gives every indication of haughtily continuing to protect her job as de facto mayor of Malibu

As I write in The Local and other select websites, churning out budgets is the heart of public governance, theoretically directing where moneys are allocated for whatever priorities dictated by duly elected representatives, presumably acting on behalf of their constituencies. The bottom line is that budgets are the essence of what governments do.

Except in too many governments, in cities such as Malibu, the constituencies, out of ignorance or indifference, too often relinquish the budget process to a rapacious burgeoning bureaucracy. And their priorities unfortunately tend to be self-serving rather than public serving, such as padding their payroll and pensions, and cozying up to and coddling consultants and special interests for whatever nefarious reasons.

With that admittedly prejudicial view of government, I note Malibu’s City Hall these days is following up on the heartfelt recent pleas of the Woolsey Fire victims that prompted, if not shamed, the City Council to direct staff to revise the municipal budget. This is being done to allow permitting fees for rebuilding burn outs be waived by at least 75 per cent, which could save befallen homeowners up to $10,000.

That it had to take a determined, vocal contingent of victims to get a mostly mealy mouthed council and addled staff headed by a controlling city manager to act six months after the fire says something about the city’s callous, greedy governance.

To be sure, there has been a lot of hand wringing at City Hall over the fire. But according to many victims there has not been much shoulders-to-the wheel help from an inconstant staff, and an unrepentant hard assed Fire Department. Some of the experiences reported on social media have been harrowing.

What was the worst fire in Malibu’s history demands the foremost response by City Hall, financially, administratively and personally. And really so what if it would set a precedent, as an ever-cautious councilperson warned, and that the budget would be compromised.

It was calculated that cutting the fees would cost the city at least $2 million, and that if it wanted to maintain a desired undesignated “rainy day” reserve and balance the budget, it would have to cut some programs.

Various programs were mentioned, including postponing the solar  paneling of city hall, but typically the reworking of the budget details was bounced by Council back to staff, and that means back to the city manager’s desk, behind closed doors.

That is exactly where it should not be these days when her performance is being questioned by a growing contingent of concerned residents, and hopefully a consultant team hired by the city. She should not be given the opportunity to favor select people and programs in exchange for support, as she has baldly done in the past and is in position to continue.

Instead, I suggest the Council consider as other cities have instituting so called  “participatory budgeting,” a transparent process in which citizens participate in open decisions what  programs are to be funded or not.

That includes the cherry consultant contracts the city quietly awards and the generous travel expenses the city manager approves for herself and select councilpersons.

I suspect there is a lot of gravy hidden in Malibu’s budget that could be better used to ease the pain and suffering caused by the Woolsey Fire, rather than on some questionable junkets, and grants and contracts for arbitrary projects.

Too bold for a buttoned-up governance like slothful Malibu? Then in the interest of home grown democracy, how about some citizen input and oversight?

WHAT I TOLD THE MALIBU CONSULTANTS


In its information gathering efforts, Management Partners, the firm retained by Malibu to evaluate the responses to the Woolsey Fire by city manager Reva Feldman and the city government, asked that the interviews be confidential. 

While acceding to the request concerning THEIR comments, I nevertheless replied that in the interest of transparency in public matters I felt free to reveal MY comments made in my extended interview.

As to the question that Management Partners having a conflict of interest as reported in The Local, employing as it does former city managers and underwriting their professional association in which city manager Feldman is active: I felt as an experienced journalist I would take the firm as its face value, and judge its effort by the anticipated report and recommendations.

Meanwhile, as I write in The Local and other select websites, there were no surprises in the interview, because actually the questions asked had been raised and answered in my commentaries since the disastrous fire of six months ago that remains a haunting memory for many.

Concerning history, I noted before the fire the city had been repeatedly urged by myself in print and others that emergency precautions be instituted in the wake of the deadly fires elsewhere in the State and the continuing hazardous conditions. But little was done, by a blithe, neophyte city manager harboring a defensive bunker mentality, which unfortunately persists.

Then when the fire roared into Malibu, the city not surprisingly proved woefully inept; its mandatory evacuation was a near disaster; it failed to advocate for the city in the county’s chain of command, and egregiously shut down its Emergency Control Center for 16 critical hours in the heat of the disaster.  It also impeded and speciously reprimanded residents who stayed to fight the fire.

I repeated my opinion in the interview that at her bloated salary Feldman was not being paid to make excuses, and then further to not apologize for the city’s blatant failures, while incredulously publicly praising herself and staff.

I added that her fumbling has continued in the Woolsey aftermath; that the Rebuild effort is a muddle; that in its critical launch period she went to Paris on vacation, only to return to contrive for herself a dubious award as city manager of the year, and then request a raise. That’s chutzpah.

In concluding the interview, I was asked what three recommendations I would make to improve the city’s governance in the wake of the fire and in anticipation of the next disaster.

I answered that the first would be the restructuring of city government to create councilmanic districts to improve communications, encourage civic involvement and organize emergency services.

 Second, I would reboot the city’s bureaucracy, to be more responsive to residents and efficient, scrutinize its consultant contracts, and consider establishing an oversight process and hiring an ombudsmen.

But I added that the city politic was depressed by the fire, divided and demographically skewed, and that it only would begin to heal itself when Reva Feldman resigned or was fired. That was my third recommendation.

I know that is a tough call, but there is cause, and let’s face it, the Woolsey fire disaster demands it, and no less than the future of Malibu depends on it.

5.2.19

BEYOND THE PCH: DANCE

Contemporary Dance continues to top my cultural check list as a theatrical experience, combining as it does music, movement and drama, using the stage as a tableau to make an audience feel alive.

It has been a particular pleasure of mine ever since witnessing its emergence from formal classical ballet, to exploratory modern, to the more expressive contemporary, first as a wide  eyed teenager at New York City’s performing arts high schools and one dollar a seat concerts, a long, long time ago, later as a guest at Jacob’s Pillow, the renown center for dance in rural Massachusetts, and wherever my travels have taken me.

.And now in L.A. , where dance has been emerging in recent years as a prime cultural attraction, to be enjoyed downtown at the Music Center, in Westwood, at UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance, and  most recently at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex on the Cal State east L.A. campus, with an offshoot in the city’s arts district  which is finally living up to its name.

Any list of a place in L.A. to experience dance also must include  the Heidi Duckler Company that performs, indeed celebrates, dance in non-traditional settings, be it vacant lots, laundromats, gas stations and who knows where next.

But most engaging for me recently this has been a most diverse schedule of dance performances at the very accessible Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills.

As readers of my cultural commentaries in The Local and other select websites in Malibu and beyond might have noted, in the first few months of this year I have attended several performances at the Wallis.

These have included the very edgy dance company Ate9, under the artistic director and choreographer Danielle Agami.  Always presenting the unexpected, the program featured live vocals of Spanish indie pop singer Lourdes Hernandez, also known as Russian Red, and in another piece percussionist Glenn Kotche playing on stage, while the dancers performed.

Then a month ago was a rare U.S. performance of Cuba’s Malpaso Dance Company, “malpaso” in English meaning misstep, which is what the company was labeled when it broke away from the originally state sponsored theater.

But the company has persevered to become renown, blending as it does a variety of modern dance styles, featured a repertoire of favored old and challenging new.  Of particular delight for me their performance of Fielding Sixes by the late, great choreographer Merce Cummingham.

Upcoming next weekend, May 10th and 11th, appearing will be the ever challenging Jacob Jonas Dance Company, which has been in-residence at the Wallis.

Known for its distinctive mix of contemporary ballet, breakdance and acrobatic movement, the company’s final appearance  features the premiere of “There’s Been a Study,” directed and choreographed by Jonas to an original score by rock vocalist and pianist Nicole Miglisa piece.

Adding a most definitely political dimension to its program, the Jonas Company also will perform “To the Dollar,” described as a physical representation of a speech about equal pay for women by Presidential hopeful Senator Elizabeth Warren.  This I have to see, and no less in decidedly affluent Beverly Hills.  It should be memorable.

REVIEW OF CITY MANAGER POSTPONED

The latest: The City Council in a closed session DECLINED to act on the review of Reva’s performance, and have put off the item until April 8th. This has to be encouraging to the many who feel the over paid and under achieving Reva has been derelict in her duties as City Manager, and has been scamming the city. These had been my prepared remarks I submitted to the council prior to its closed session:

“One has to wonder what it will take for Malibu to come to the sad awakening that it has been poorly served by its city manager who presumably was sworn to protect us?

The question before us now is Whether the failures of Reva Feldman can be forgiven by this City Council, and a status quo conscious citizenry; failures that include the city’s lack of preparedness for the fire, its mishandling of the mandatory evacuation, and its witless disregard of the besieged residents in the aftermath of the fire.

These debacles and their disastrous consequences can be laid at the feet of Feldman, who actually at first had the temerity of praising herself for her efforts during the fire, and conspiring with then Mayor Rick Mullen to blandly attempt to try to deceive the public.

But when she was exposed as actually abandoning City Hall and the Emergency Operations Center there during the 16 hours when the fire was ravaging western Malibu and Point Dune, she pleaded she was just following the mandatory evacuation and had no authority over the response of the Fire and Sheriff’s departments.

Cited were state laws and codes concerning a declared state of emergency that limit the authority of a city manager and all local government officials. But whatever regulations there are, in the immediacy of a disaster local governments are not excluded from the manifest chain of command, indeed are a much needed link in the communications that flows up and down the chain in combating the fires.

The harsh fact is that during the critical hours of the fire Feldman failed the city; wasn’t even a self described “messenger” for which she incidentally is obscenely paid $300,000 a year, despite her lack of proven supervisory experience.

She was challenged by the fire, and was found wanting.

As for the appeals not to be divisive, and the contention that Feldman as the city manager is vital to the rebuild effort, that is simply answered by her going on a Paris vacation at a parlous time.

She is really superfluous, and thank goodness there are staff beyond her entourage known to be competent, if not dispirited by her closed door, closed mouth mismanagement. If this was the private sector, she would have been shown the door long ago.

Of course, if the council listens to the anguish of its constituencies, it could vote to remove her, now. She could also resign, and save the city a lot of angst, and herself further embarrassment.”