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.”

BURNTOUTS PONDER FUTURE

It’s been four months since the Woolsey Fire, but for many of the burntout victims no doubt it seems like four or more years, as they grapple with whether to give it all up to the devil and move elsewhere, or rebuild with the intention of selling, or eventually moving back.

As I write in thelocalmalibu.com, these are hard choices for persons who profess their love of Malibu as a seaside rural village with a distinct sense of place and community, for when ultimately deciding what to do they also must consider their age, finances and fleeting feelings of an evolving city.

 It should be noted that almost all encountered were long term residents of western Malibu and Point Dume, and the streets there of more modest homes of mostly nuclear families; that is when compared to the up scale beach streets with a more transient and less neighborly population. Those garage fronts and gates are uninviting,.

 It was the relatively more modest streets and canyons that were hit hardest by the fire, and that has raised concerns that if many of its residents don’t return, how Malibu will change over the coming years after the rebuild?

The question I proposed was, will there be a hollowing out of Malibu, from a community of more congenial households with a local history to a more anonymous tourist town and trophy luxury houses for the off-putting, wary one percenters, people who can afford the costlier rebuilds.

Those informally questioned were frankly hesitant to reveal their plans, because they truly hadn’t decided yet, or had nagging concerns about insurance, the Rebuild process, escalating construction costs and the time all would take.  Seniors were most concerned.

               There was nothing particularly revealing in the city’s update of the fire damage, which reported the residential structures destroyed totaled 488. There also were 100 residential structures damaged, and 222 “other” structures destroyed or damaged, including mobile or motor homes.

This brought a estimate of “residences” affected by the fire to about 600, out of the city’s 5,500 households, according to City Hall. Realtors and others have further estimated that about a quarter of the total households are mostly second homes and a lesser number of short term rentals.

If as assumed by the census there are 2.32 persons per household, putting his the total directly affected by the fire at a roughly 2,000 persons, a substantial quarter of Malibu’s permanent population, estimated at 8,000 of the  posted population of 13,000.

As for the arbitrary few burntout victims cornered, almost all, without prompting, expressed palpable anger how the city and first responders had failed them, and how this has exacerbated concerns over the future of the city.

They noted with varying emphasis and anguished adverbs the pathetic preparations, the woeful frustrating mandatory evacuation, and, most of all, the apparent botched deployment of fire fighters and equipment. If they blamed anyone, it was City Manager Reva Feldman, further reviled for being self-aggrandizing.

Yes, this was a repeat of what was voiced at the several forums in the wake of the fire, but for victims and others who witnessed and felt the heat of the catastrophe, it is something that will probably haunt them for a long time.

 It certainly haunts me, and I am obliged to repeat it, less we forget who failed us, and who might fail us again in the future fires, sure to come, to a changed Malibu, sure to be.

3.13.19

MALIBU’S FOLLIES, CONTINUED


So, the attorney for the over reaching Malibu Beach Inn has threatened to sue the city if it does not approve a public-be-damned proposal calling for a traffic light on PCH so the high end hostelry can accommodate quest parking off site and a private swimming pool.

Such brazen threats by attorneys in the past have been known to intimidate Malibu’s City Hall, which too often has tended when browbeaten to yield on planning issues, especially when confronted by resourceful applicants.

That is except when generous attorney fees could be charged to the city to hire help for its in house legal efforts, though given the city’s poor record in the courts raises questions whether the expenditures were worth it.  Well, rumor is that city attorney Christi Hogin is going to retire soon, anyway, as I comment in my city observed, here and in TheLocal.com and select websites.

Meanwhile, to its credit an emboldened Planning Commission at its last meeting rejected the Beach Inn’s proposal that unquestionably would make worse the tortured traffic on PCH, what with valets and guests darting back and forth, and a another light only a few steps away.

 The proposal now goes back to staff to putz around with, and may come back to the Commission and possibly City Council, accompanied no doubt by echoing threats to sue. By the way, threats are cheap; law suits expensive.

The Commission’s rejection came despite the recommended approval of the Inn’s proposal by the city’s Nit picking Parking and Zoning Police Department, which operates under the nom de plume of the Planning Department, and the twitchy thumb of director Bonnie Blue and the heavy hand of city (Mis)Manager Reva Feldman.

Not incidentally, the well compensated nodding doll duo no doubt is impressed by the PR enhanced Malibu money and celebrity crowd, to be sure as others are, which does frankly make living and working here perhaps more lively, if not pricey. It also exposes the municipal mismanagemernt.

With the unctuous Reva unquestionably taking the lead, the duo have the arrows in their City Hall quivers to be able to accommodate however surreptitiously the local deep pocket real estate rabble, which has been known to pick up an occasional check at the local overpriced eateries. These include the Inn which yearns to be a second choice for the over flow high spenders at its overpriced celebrity spangled neighbor Nobu.

Reva certainly is known to like her perks, milking her Malibu identity, and traveling often on city business, as she did recently to pick up an reward as City Manager of the Year, from an association of peers, which she is coincidentally an officer, and for which the city picks up the tabs.

 Whatever the association’s criterion is for the award, it haughtily refused to discuss them with Paul Taublieb, a contributor to The Local whose journalistic experience includes a few Emmy Awards. This can unnerve despotic bureaucrats who are used to bull shitting underpaid and untutored journalists on compromised community media outlets.

Though perhaps we really don’t want to know how she wrangled the award, for Reva has been shown to be wily, as evidenced by her $300,000 plus annual salary and benefits she receives from Malibu.

 And this after just a few years of administrative experience and no pertinent graduate degrees, having been previously a behind–the-door bean counter for nearly a decade, though obviously knowing where, and how, the bodies are buried in bureaucracies. Being also able to pad her payroll with faithful lackeys and tap outside consultants, obviously helped her public image, at least enough to impress Malibu’s neophyte councils.

Exercising as it does scant oversight, past councils of mostly undiscerning half-baked politicians over the years have tended to be fond of handing out generous consultant contracts, in return reportedly of being glad handed and validated off campus. And what hints of administrative abuses may have been uncovered, they were ignored, consistent with the cult of amiability that pervades local politics.  

Hey, Jake, Malibu may not be Chinatown, but being a mythic and more-than-well off desirable seaside village with the reputation of having a mostly distracted, self-satisfied citizenry, it is well suited for burrowing bureaucrats in search of sinecures. Where else can an inexperienced city manager earn more than the governor of a State with the 5th largest economy in the world.

MALIBU HAUNTED BY THE FIRE AND CITY HALL SERPENTS

The thought of the fire still haunts me, as I am sure it haunts many in Malibu, especially the burnouts but also persevering residents who are acutely concerned how it will effect the future city, other than at the present being a cash cow for select public serpents.

 If you think “serpents” is too strong to describe select bean counters in our City Hall these day, read the last few paragraphs to this commentary, that also appears in Thelocal.com  and select websites everywhere.

 Meanwhile, I can still see from a sandy perch on free Zuma beach that monster cloud, dark with toxic ash, slowly drifting from above a west Malibu exploding in spasmodic flames, to cast an ominous shadow over Point Dume that fateful Friday afternoon. 

That image and the view the next day of the smoldering ruins of homes of friends and neighbors, and our house miraculously still intact, will be with me for a long, long time. No need to bring up the few photos I took those days to conjure up memories..

“So so fucking lucky,” commented my New York learned lawyer and litigator daughter who usually picks her words carefully. Or what I know my deceased father would say, as he said to me once after a personal misfortune,  “So, you‘re free and still got your health.  Enjoy it.”

 He should know, having somehow survived a world war, a revolution and a civil war in a ravaged Russia and some miserable years after journeying through a menacing Europe before settling in Paris. And as my mother would inevitably caution, “survivors shouldn’t look back.”

Nonetheless, the memory of the worst Malibu fire in history still weighs on my consciousness a full four months after, as I consider what to write for my commentary, while growing increasingly perturbed over how too many fire victims are being treated by miserly insurance companies and, worse, city apartichiks. And then there is an unapologetic, covetous city manager Reva Feldman smirking behind closed doors.

Exceptionally heart rendering and harrowing are the very personal stories of victims I hear in the coffee shops, on lines at Costco, and gossiping at the Trancas Canyon Dog Park, now that is finally open after being closed for two years (canine calculated).

Most plaintive is the candid comments posted in the social media, notably in Nextdoor Pt. Dume and Neighbors. It is must reading for anyone remotely involved in the Rebuild effort and needs to know what victims and others are thinking, and most importantly, feeling.

Personally, it makes me really angry To quote from just one written by a Point Dume resident of 59 years:” The city staff and employees are our public servants. How can it be that they are not offering, assisting, and helping homeowners with filling out forms? They should have samples for and a road map for success and directions to follow for applying for all of these processes. They should be ashamed of themselves and for their unprofessional and poor behavior in our community.  Our City should be fighting for and aligning with us in these challenging times. If these rough tactics are not curbed right away, we may have another generation chased out of our once beautiful town. “

That greatly concerns me, and others. As another involved resident wrote:   “What the city government really owes us is to make it possible for Malibu to return to its old self. We all know what Malibu used to be and the only way to return to that Aloha feeling is to allow rebuilding by those who have been forced out. Part of that is for the city council to tackle rent gouging with strict enforcement of the laws, lower the rebuild fees and stop the takeover of Malibu by short term rentals. Our locals need to live in Malibu…

As for the City leveling permit fees, I again echo what stalwart burnout victims advocate Gail Block has declared; that “there should be no more excuses; no obnoxious means tests; there should be relief, now!”

And by the way, a quick comment about an issue I trust does not slip by an already overburdened council: that Reva and entourage has quietly set aside $300,000 (for two years of salary plus benefits) in the City Library budget, reportedly in anticipation to award former councilmember Laura Rosenthal with a sinecure on the Library Foundation.

A review of the Library budget further found several other egregious abuses, which to their credit Mayor Wagner and Pro tem Farrer apparently axed to the tune of $1 milllion, but were covertly put back by the city manager’s office. The bollixed budget is on the council’s agenda for next Monday.

As the articulate head of an investigative task force with which I once was associated said discovering similar shenanigans, “This shit has to end!

WHITHER MALIBU THESE DARK POST DISASTER DAYS

When asked what one word would best describes post disaster Malibu, I offered “fractured,” then amended it to “hurting,,” then “changing,” followed by “challenged.” Actually words really don’t describe the conflicted feelings residents have for their Malibu these days.

 No, make that “anguished feelings” correcting my City Observed commentary in the Localmalibu.com and other select websites.

 Still, others asked have suggested “sad,” “frustrated,” or bluntly “fucked,” depending if their houses were burnt to a blackened heap, or are still standing but covered in toxic ash, or damaged in myriad ways, and  whose  estimates being questioned by obnoxious neophyte insurance adjusters from another planet.

To be fair, there are others more fortunate and found their insurance adjuster sympathetic and with an appreciation of what things cost here in a grounded Malibu rather than in a disparate Kansas City: that for instance ash just can’t be cleaned by a $11.50 an hour hire for two days, as a I heard had been determined in at least one instance. Ha.

It is too bad that many anguished homeowners affected by the fire have felt the need to hire a private insurance adjuster, if not a lawyer, to represent them.  Some have suggested the more aggressive, if not intimidating, the better. (Though I have found my rose with-a few-thorns of a determined Irish smiling wife to be effective.)

 Coming out of this quandary, I hope someday soon there will be a consumer’s report of sorts to evaluate home-owner insurance policies. And maybe at City Hall some sort of ready help desk for belabored homeowners not filing rebuild plans but in need of answers to a host of practical questions, or perhaps an advocate.

Now there is a concept, indeed a challenge, for City Hall denizens that can perhaps begin to mend some of the antipathy many resident feel for those who supposedly are to paid to serve them.  Among the pressing complaints these dark post disaster days is the city charging permit fees for people struggling to rebuild.

 As the irrepressible Gail Block said in an appeal to the city to drop the objectionable fees, “We aren’t getting permits out of choice; it’s out of necessity. The faster and easier we make it for the permanent population of Western Malibu to back to their properties., the better it will be for all interested groups–schools, small businesses, realtors, and especially the displaced people (self included).”

The ever-persuasive Block notes that L.A. County and the city of Santa Rosa have waived fees, among other gestures to somehow ease the pain, if not the trauma, of the rebuild process.

It isn’t that those fees are needed to pay for the staff headed by our overpaid city manager, the unapologetic Reva Feldman, despite what fawning former mayor Rick Mullen might mumble for whatever reason.

 Certainly someone who billed the public for $250,000 in over time in a recent year, most of which was sleeping at a fire house, would not be a person expected to conduct a personnel evaluation, administer a payroll, or to aid those struggling in rebuild hell. His house was saved, served reportedly by a fire engine seen on Ramirez  for that sole purpose, ignoring the pleas by neighbors for help.  As if another reason was needed for the recall of him and Skylar Peak.

Then of course there is the majority of Malibu residents in the civic center and east whose homes were spared, though are undoubtedly concerned, touched as they are by a survivor’s guilt, or virtuous feelings for their neighbors to the west, or just how the fire will affect real estate prices, in the present and future.

So too are the hordes of real estate agents that compose the city‘s principle employment and represent its number one industry.  They have tended to see fires in the past as opportunities, with prices in the immediate at bargain lows and inevitably in time rising to new highs.

And this prompts  the local old Testament types to answer the question of what one word defines Malibu these days with, naturally, a question,  “So what’s  “fractured,”or even more  metaphysical and introspective, “what Malibu?”  

That is also what we should be concerned with, for unquestionably many burnt out residents, particularly families, wont be returning, raising the question of what will be the Malibu of the future. Something to ponder.

To end on a positive note, a plug for somehow Izzy’s Donation Center to continue serving victims of the fire, under the magnanimous management of Maggie Luckreath.  Be it in the old post office building behind the Post Office, as she suggests, or as a free rent pop up in one of our vacant village center stores, somewhere to keep that flame of local philanthropy burning , warming our hearts and serving those still aching.


2,28.19

LOVE THE HAMMER

You have to love the HAMMER MUSEUM, lending a cultural component to the commercial clutter of Westwood, and relatively convenient to my Malibu, that is if you time going there when traffic is relatively light on the PCH. Good luck.

The HAMMER and its diversions of special exhibits and programs also are free, open and inviting to all, as I contend all museums should be. In addition there is reasonable parking beneath, and a pleasant atrium eatery for a snack or a leisurely meal.

Modestly tucked under a non descript office building, not an arbitrary architectural conceit reflecting a director’s sorry edifice complex, the Hammer is a most egalitarian singular cultural establishment that has been under the creative Ann Philbin, its inspired director since 1999.

But as I write in The Local and on select websites, I must caution those who consider attending the Hammer to be most open minded, for as the museum declares, it “champions the art and artists who challenge us to see the world in a new light, to experience the unexpected, to ignite our imaginations , and inspire change,” Going beyond the personal, it adds:

“The Hammer understands that art not only has the power to trans[port us through aesthetic experiences but can also provide significant insight into some of the most pressing cultural, political and social questions of our time. We share the unique and invaluable perspectives that artists have on the world around us.” It is a view I embrace with prejudice.

That said, the Hammer’s opening exhibition for the new year is a comprehensive survey of Los Angeles-based artist Allen Ruppersberg, a pioneer of conceptual art. The show runs until May 12th. Since conceptual art is an artist pursuit for which the idea behind the work is more important than the finished art object, it can in my opinion be almost anything: memorabilia, everyday objects, found objects, happenings, performances, or simply the written word.

Some silly, some studied, be they self portraits or scenes of others, the exhibit is like wandering through Ruppersberg’s cluttered studio, unkempt house, and junk filled garage. He explains: “I am definitely a custodian of obscure and disappearing things of all sorts.” Revealing, fascinating, yet also tedious. Perhaps that is the purpose.

More conceptual art of other artists also can be viewed at the Hammer in an concurrent exhibit entitled “Dirty Protests.” They are among a selection from the museum’s collection and recent acquisitions of paintings, sculpture, drawings and multi-media installations of 30 artists, established and emerging. It runs until May 19th.

If you have the stamina, there are several other exhibits at the Hammer. Included in one labeled “Tshababalala Self,” is a project entitled “Bodega Run, which “examines the neighborhood convenience store as both a gathering place for community and a microcosm of how current economic and political issues are impacting people’s lives.” Think of several coffee houses in Malibu. Or the one in the museum’s atrium.

Also at the Hammer there are some upcoming scheduled programs of interest: documentaries, talks with Q and A. Check events and times on
INFO@HAMMER.UCLA.EDU

SHAKING UP CITY HALL: ITS PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL

I am being asked why so hard on the city manager, urging her ouster, and also disparaging her entourage, labeling them overpaid and under achieving, and together trashing them for their failures during and after the disastrous Woolsey Fire?

And let’s not forget my utter disappointment in the questionable performance of our first responders in the horrific hours of the fire. But that may be in part because of my contempt for our former mayor and fire captain Rick Mullen ‘s feeding at the pubic trough, albeit legally, padding his pay and overtime to $400,000 plus a year, and not even apologizing for it. His lack of shame does not augur well for Malibu.

How many more needed firefighters could have been hired in the slop of overtime he and others have consumed? We were told a recent pubic meeting the department was short some 500 to fight the fires, down from 1200 of a few years ago.

Still, this hasn’t seemed to bother some amiable Malibu locals, who suggest we look beyond Mullen’s machinations and also Skylar Peaks’s poor attendance record on City Council, where it has been observed even if present he is absent.  And Reva is just blandly duplicitous. 

As much as I try, I just can’t forget or forgive what I consider their foundering in face of the fire, and their false excuses. And as I write in The Local https://www.facebook.com/thelocalmalibu/ and other select websites, neither I believe should the city, if it really expects to rebuild for its persevering burnt out citizens. 

Being so judgmental I guess comes with my abiding calling over the years as a cultural critic, beginning as the Queens Teens columnist for the Long Island Daily Press in 1952, continuing periodically to the present, combating my dotage at large for various venues. It unabashedly prompts indulgent memories, and questions: 

Can it be that somehow the youthful years of boring hours of what I thought then was nonsensical recitations from the unforgiving Old Testament teachings actually took seed in my being, and now sub consciously shape my judgments?

 Perhaps blame it on that I am a born and ill bred New Yorker, and despite enjoying the last 40 years in L.A. and more than half in relatively mellow Malibu, I have little patience with feigned niceties or blatant bull shit. 

Or maybe it is because my skepticism was honed first as a police then metropolitan reporter 60 or so years ago when city newsrooms were for me classrooms, crowded because no one ever wanted to go home; work was actually too much fun, the off-the-record stories too captivating.

My graduate school happily was a then rough hewn New York Times, more Front Page than Society page, remembered in the late 50s and 60s to be clouded with choking cigarette and cigar smoke, and smelling of cheap liquor coming from the pints hidden in plain paper bags in easy reach below cluttered desks. 

Alcoholism I hazily recall was the bane of the august Times, as sex was for its neighbor and then competitor Herald Tribune. Later as an editor of a New York Post under a raucous Rupert in the late 70s I sadly remember it was drugs and divorce.

And then there was the cacophony of the constant ringing phones and echoes of garrulous laughter. It could be deafening, and indeed may be why I am now hearing impaired. Riding clattering subways half my life also certainly did not help.

The skepticism actually served me well years later when I became immersed in planning and development, principally in the wilds of New York City, and in later years in the brambles of Los Angeles. They were experiences I consider in retrospect to be a form of penance for which I arguably paid for my greed that in part prompted my move to Malibu.

 Also on occasion in those formative years I was enlisted to partake in several select New York State and federal investigations, I am not prone to discuss. However, to be sure those experiences certainly made me alert to abuses I view in the governance of my present Malibu.

Yes, for the last several decades, and hopefully the next few, I am contentedly settled in a comfortable Malibu, where in addition to my specimen succulents and cacti landscaping, hopefully my urgings for a reformed City Hall will take root.

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