THE LOOMING LOCAL ELECTIONS

The bloated local ballot in Malibu needs some attention, that is if we can possibly tune out the inanities emanating from the national elections, where the gut issues of the day are being drowned out in the nit picking of a trumped up Trump, and a harassed Hillary,

For the first time they are being held the first Tuesday in November, concurrently with the national and state ballots, in hopes a decent turnout, as I comment in The Local, on 97.5 KBU. FM and select websites.

Ever since the city of Malibu was founded 25 years ago the local elections had been held in the Spring, with the results there has been a depressing decrease in voters.

Generally the turnout over the years has registered about 25 percent lower that state and national elections.

The reasons have been many: The time of year, which occasionally conflicted with Spring break for schools and families going on vacation; and no gut-wrenching issues threatening residents, such as the closure of PCH, or a blatant municipal scandal.

In addition, a self satisfied, comfortable public seemed frankly content with the status quo, whether just an illusion, the lack of municipal transparency or an undiscerning local media. Whatever.

To be sure, there was a quiet complaint that the low turnout feed a favored a select clique of residents who dealt in personal favors. But this was put down as scattered whining .

That is, until recently, what with traffic on PCH becoming increasing intolerable; the civic center being stripped of local serving business for high end shops; the public schools being neglected by a distant school district, and a languid City Council, except when it came to self aggrandizing.

But even it could not ignore the low turnouts and the heightened concerns, and subsequently approved moving the elections from the Spring to the Fall, to coincide with State and National elections. No doubt a factor was that the move gave incumbents an extra 9 months in office.

The question now is whether it will actually improve the local vote. That will require voters to wade through the top of a long ticket, plus some 17 propositions,  before having to ponder the local elections, and the six candidates vying for the 3 council seats.

For some indication of that task coming soon in the mail to every registered voter is a 224 page Voter Guide, said to be the most voluminous election guide in California history.

Voters are just going to have to be more alert than ever, listen harder, and think more about what the candidates, are saying and doing. That especially applies to our local candidates judging from the recently launched election campaigns.

All six presented themselves to a crowd of about 100 elbowed into the community room in City Hall at a recent forum sponsored by the local Democratic Club.

Most of the statements of the smiling candidates tended to be indistinguishable, all pledging their commitment to uphold the city’s mission statement to avoid suburbanization and commercialization, try to somehow to better handle traffic on the PCH, and to encourage a transparent and responsive City Hall.

The most excitement came after, when the club voted to see whom it will endorse. It was chaotic, raising questions concerning the eligibility of some who voted and whether the balloting was handled correctly, and should the vote be nullified. It is a mud pile that whomever emerges no doubt will be sullied.

One hopes the official balloting in November will go more smoothly.

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THE REDCAT THEATRE, THE CUTTING EDGE OF L.A.

 

From my catbird seat in Malibu I love the cultural blooming in Los Angeles, in particular the avant-garde art, cutting edge dance and-music, experimental theatre and inventive film. It is what I feel makes L.A. such a great place to live and learn.

What I frankly don’t love is getting to the varied venues scattered across the Southland. Traffic downtown, to the arts district, to Bunker Hill is most times off putting, driving a pain and using mass transit actually worse.

You have to learn to beat the traffic.

That is one of the reasons I like the Redcat Theatre, tucked in the southwest corner under the Disney Concert Hall at Grand Avenue and Second Street, almost as an after thought to the iconic, undulating Frank Gehry conceit. The theatre is about what happens in it, not the architecture.

Curtain time for its evening performances are at 8.30, a little later but allowing for traffic to lighten or lingering at a dinner. Best for me are the Sunday performances, scheduled at 7, when traffic tends to be even lighter, parking painless and returning home easier and earlier.

But first and foremost is that the Redcat founded by the trendsetting California Institute of the Arts – known as CalArts – has been a well spring of creativity, outshining the region’s other more prevailing, and pricey, institutions.

In my opinion, if you want to be on the cutting edge of culture, and get a glimpse of the future, now, get to the Redcat. Whatever is being presented might not work, might indeed by uncomfortable, but for sure you’ll stay awake and be challenged, and probably will not easily forget what you have seen.

Me, I’m going to the Redcat this weekend to catch a dance performance of the center for national choreography of Monteplier, France. The performance is said to be wild, combining contemporary dance with folk dances, in an explosion of vitality by eight male dancers, energized by two on stage percussionists.

In its review, the Le Monde of Paris declared the performance “the joy of being alive, of being together momentarily, and the visceral excitement of dancing. “

Certainly sounds like more fun than beating the visceral excitement of driving in heavy traffic.

 

TIME TO CELEBRATE IN MALIBU? NOT YET, BUT…

The legal hostilities over what to do about the PCBs on the Malibu High campus hopefully are over, now that a federal court in effect slapped the hands of all involved.

This includes the litigating parents and the school board, with an extra kick in the pants to the District to clean up the toxics on the Malibu High campus.

It was not a victory as all have claimed, certainly not for the reputations of the district and high school, nor, for that matter, Malibu’s, as a congenial community with safe public education facilities, as I comment on 97.5 KBU, radiomalibu.net and select websites everywhere.

Of course doing well, were the lawyers and consultants hired by the School District who opposed the parents, who originally gathered under the banner of Malibu Unites and now America Unites for Kids.

Sadly, I feel all could have been resolved from the outset years ago, when parents became rightfully concerned by reports that several teachers in classrooms with window caulked in material containing PCB had been diagnosed with cancer.

Not helping was a defensive School Board and a muddled District bureaucracy that never had been particularly sympathetic to Malibu’s concerns: spurning transparency they instead circled the wagons, and brought in the lawyers.

The District was never clear if all the PCBs would be removed, prompting the parents to become more concerned, and the District more guarded.

It became even more recalcitrant by the entry into the fray of a Washington DC whistleblower support group, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

This happening in high profile Malibu involving a skittish school bureaucracy and a vainglorious parents group was like throwing in a raw piece of meat into the cage of the DC group. The cancer card was played up.

Though PCBs have been linked to cancer, whether there was or is a cancer cluster on the Malibu campus has not been proven. Many people have cancer for as many reasons, and identifying clusters is reported difficult, and unlikely to be caused by a single environmental factor or exposure.

 Meanwhile, the District pursued a clean up program on the Malibu campus, following the so-called best management practices prescribed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

This nevertheless was questioned by the involved parents. Hence the lawsuit.

Enter the City Council, which with any leadership might have calmed the situation. But instead to curry favor, it awarded a token of public funds to the protesting parent group, in effect compromising the city’s efforts to divorce itself from the District. The city’s school advocates were chagrined,

But putting the cacophonic conflict in perspective, I feel there was oddly a winner: Malibu’s valiant efforts led by AMPS to diverse itself from the Santa Monica dominated school board.

And this in my opinion is big, and rises above the fray.

Say what you may about the parent group’s persistence and public rants, it did unquestionably light a fire under the negotiations between Santa Monica and Malibu, and appears to have prompted a settlement.

Hopefully in time what ill feelings might have been generated by the fracas will be mitigated, as will the PCBs; the schools repaired, and eventually, so will be Malibu’s reputation.

9.10.16

 

 

GERMANS AND JEWS BEYOND GUILT

Having in maverick past written and produced documentaries, I have a special affinity for its capacity for story telling, using real events and involving real people.
 
I also have liked the documentary’s latitude for encouraging advocacy and personal expression, which I must confess I have indulged in as an unrepentant commentator.
 
But most of all I have appreciated the documentary’s potential for presenting issues that challenge my personal biases, as I comment this week on 97.5 KBU, radiomalibu.net and select websites everywhere.
 
So if you have ever thought about, or frankly sought to avoid, the issue of Germany and Jews, consider finding time to get to one of the two Laemmle Theatres, in West L.A. or in Encino, to see the documentary “Germans & Jews.” It runs for a week.
 
The film explores the complicated relationship between Germans and Jews in postwar Germany, with Berlin a focus. As described by others and echoed here, the film is “at once uncomfortable and provocative, unexpected and enlightening.”
 
Beginning with a gathering of second generation Jews and non-Jewish Germans at a dinner table, the film moves from the present to the past, and back again, surveying the waxing and waning of guilt, anti Semitism, and, yes, holocaust fatigue.
 
Along the way we learn that Berlin and Germany have been increasingly attracting Jews, and have the fastest growing Jewish population in Europe. And that includes an influx of Israeli Jews, taking exception to their country’s treatment of the Palestinians.
 
Most of all we hear from both Jews and Germans of the struggle to come to terms with their tortured past, with perhaps I thought a soft touch of self satisfaction. For some it is no so easy to forget.
 
Whatever your roots from wherever, you more than the likely will experience the well crafted and composed film on a personal, gut level. I did, as a first generation cultural Jew from Eastern Europe.
 
Havjng once done a documentary on a Berlin that I knew before and after the Wall. I was snapped to attention by the film’s opening interview consisting of the quote: “My father said there are two kinds of people in the world: Jews and Nazis. “
 
It was what my “shtarker” father had similarly barked on awkward occasions, and that I had purposefully forgotten at the urging of my mother, who counseled that the mark of a survivor is not to look back.
But as the documentary Germans & Jews reminded me, sometimes you do.
 

CALIFORNIA INCLINE BETTER; SANTA MONICA TRAFFIC WORSE

The opening of a reconstructed California Incline is a cause for celebration. Or perhaps not, as I ask in my City Observed commentary for KBU, radioimalibu.net and select websites.

To be sure, the landmark connecting downtown Santa Monica with the PCH, has been redesigned to accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists, and most importantly seismically upgraded.

And as before the 17 month reconstruction, the bridge edging the Palisades Park cliffs offers great views of the sprawling shoreline curving westward to the Malibu ocean front silhouette.

Nice, if you are a tourist framing a selfie, and perhaps recalling scenes from the movie “Its a Mad, Mad, World.” or “Knocked Up.” And the view of the sunsets from the Incline is in a word, spectacular.

The storied sandy beach beckons, and so does the diversions of the Santa Monica pier.

But it is not so nice if you are one of the 80,000 commuters who drive the PCH daily; it being a long. long traffic light at the Incline, and particularly frustrating for the estimated 15,000 who actually traverse the Incline between the PCH and Santa Monica.

The crush of increasing traffic on PCH is bad enough, what with rush hour now expanding to most hours of the work week, and the weekends near impossible with the rising waves of beachgoers.

But worse is downtown Santa Monica., whether just driving through it and having to negotiate the stop and go traffic and the pedestrians seemingly impervious to cross walk cautions.

Add to this the bumptious bicyclists, with the result traffic becomes a frustrating crawl, block after block, and maddening if you are looking for a parking space.

What is happening is that area residents, and that includes those living in Malibu, as well as the Pacific Palisades and also Santa Monica itself, are simply avoiding downtown.

They’re seemingly are abandoning it to the tourists and the L.A, at large crowed, reminding one of the old faded Westwood weekend scenes 40 years ago, only worse.

To be sure, on the surface Santa Monica is booming: restaurants are full, retail sales are up, and rents and property prices at record highs. All of this is filling the city ‘s coffers, fattening the already bloated local bureaucracy and making the bean counters happy. Or so it seems.

It certainly has Santa Monica’s voluble city manager Rick Cole, concerned, who stated in his blog that city traffic officials have “never seen this number of people and volume of traffic” in Santa Monica before.

He noted that crowds were getting bigger and visitors are staying later, and declared the city has “finally hit the tipping point, with many local residents are saying, ‘Nobody goes Downtown anymore, it’s too crowded.'”

To ease the situation, Cole did announce several mitigating measures, including promoting more walking, biking and public transit, facilitating the traffic flow, and adding more fringe parking. They might help.

Meanwhile, I’m glad the incline has been made safe.

But frankly I don’t expect the traffic situation to improve in downtown Santa Monica or on the PCH, and that more and more Malibu residents will be avoiding the Incline and Santa Monica, as well, preferring going over the hill to Agoura and Westlake to shop, eat, go to a movie, whatever.

There are certainly lessons in this for sanctimonious Santa Monica, and misanthropic Malibu too.

9.3.16

 

 

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.

 

MALIBU CITY HALL CONCEIT, CONTINUED

 

Still needing more comment is the recent candidate and city leadership workshop at Malibu’s City Hall. which I had presumptuously labeled a gabfest. It actually was more.

The event was sponsored by the Malibu Times as a non-partisan presentation of what one needs to know to run for office in Malibu, or at least to be involved. It also exposed a few municipal conceits, as I note in my City Observed commentary for public radio KBUU and select websites.

As I had commented previously, the gabfest began with a session focusing on the workings of the City, delivered with a modicum of megalomania and a pinch of paranoia.

Displaying a touch of the megalomania was recently anointed mayor Lou La Monte, and seemingly enjoying it.

The paranoia was expressed by skittish city manager Reva Feldman, persevering city attorney Christi Hogin, and planning apparatchik Bonnie Blue. The gist of their remarks is that Malibu is a preferred city manager form of government, ostensibly relying on professionals, in short themselves.

This conceit had been adopted across California in the last century to avoid local government being infested by political appointees. However, some feel that over time it has replaced political corruption with bureaucratic corruption, at the whim of local office holders.

The afternoon session was to be a discussion of specific issues, not a forum for airing grievances, or candidate grandstanding. This would make a rare Malibu event.

Despite being weighted with pro development panelists, the session did get off to a coherent start with school board member Craig Foster giving an optimistic update on Malibu’s efforts to divorce itself from the Santa Monica dominated School District.

He noted that the issue of finances was methodically being resolved, as is the safety and upgrading of school facilities. And this despite the persistent criticism of a self-promoting parents group and the unfortunate over reaction of the district. That brew over the presence of PCBs and what to do about them has been politically toxic.

Then it was on to the rising resident concern of over development, with realtor Paul Grisanti stating how it was undermining the pressing need to upgrade the city’s water infrastructure.

Echoing that concern was lobbyist Don Schmidt, who went on a length to comment on the imperative of development, adding that the city was going to have to let property owners build or it would have to spend big bucks buying them out. More tempered was former conservative mayor and now planning commissioner Jeff Jennings.

Long time resident Barbara Cameron also was on the panel, but being on the city payroll she wisely kept mostly quiet. Not so the iconoclastic John Mazza, who reportedly elbowed his way onto the panel, as he is wont to do, and argued convincingly that Malibu already was overbuilt and PCH just cannot handle more traffic.

And so it went, with mostly Schmidt and Mazza trading observations, making me feel that I was sitting cramped between the two in a car on gridlocked PCH.  8.24.16

MALIBU CITY HALL GABFEST

If anyone wanted to glimpse the conceit of small town government and get a discordant earful of local issues, a good seat would have been at the candidate and city leadership workshop last Friday at Malibu’s City Hall.

The workshop was hosted by the Malibu Times as a non partisan presentation of what one needs to know to run for office in Malibu, or at least be a conscientious citizen. Attending were a gaggle of candidates, lobbyists, city hall junkies and my ever curious self, for Malibu’s KBUU and select websites.

The gathering attracting an estimated 40 or so persons was heralded by Times editor Arnold York as a public service, though a few ruefully noted that the newspaper no doubt will make a pretty profit from the political advertising sold in the next two months until elections. Not seen was anyone from the sadly withering Surfside News.

Actually, it was less a workshop than a gabfest, with the morning session focusing on the workings of city hall, its organization and management, and financing and budget, delivered with a modicum of megalomania and a pinch of paranoia.

Featured were neophyte city manager Reva Feldman, and persevering city attorney Christi Hogin, always ready to tell why the city can’t do something, except if certain interests want it to, and the city can afford the additional legal fees. She did not disappoint with her convoluted comments.

Nor did Bonnie Blue, officially the city’s planning director, but in reality its top zoning apparatchik; real planning in Malibu I feel having been left to developers and accommodating consultants.

Stirring comment at the session was the reminder that Malibu with its 15,000 or so residents was not a rural sea coast village, as it likes to be described, but with 15 million annual visitors, it is in effect a tourist town.

Those 15 million and rising, about equal to Disneyland’s annual attendance, is what actually drives the city’s pricey development; and that the increase in traffic on the PCH, which is not really from people wanting to go shopping in Malibu, but rather primarily to go to the beaches and parks.

Also revealing was the remark by genial mayor Lou La Monte, that all anyone needed to know about how the city works was in a thick packet council members receive from staff detailing upcoming agenda items.

Too bad it’s all buried in bureaucratic babble, making it maybe legal but difficult to dredge and understand. If the city is sincere about wanting citizen involvement, this information needs to be transparent, and somehow summarized and prioritized for the public.

That would be a real service by City Hall rather than grinding out as it now does reams self aggrandizing press releases.

More easily consumed was the free lunch, the cost of which apparently met in part by the donations of the Pepperdine School of Public Policy, whose conservative politics I thought are not particularly sympathetic to free anything for those in need.

Lending some humor to the proceedings at lunch was the remarks of a political campaign consultant, playing to four of the six city council candidates vying for office who attended. Trying to stay non partisan, no names will be mentioned here, but you can guess.

.The afternoon was a lively panel on the issues, which I will review in future commentaries.

 

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POINT DUME RESIDENTS PREVAIL

Malibu needs to move on from the latest local government debacle, specifically the resolution to compel property owners to remove landscape encroachments from the municipal right of way edging roadways.

Not to belabor the issue, but I feel it is important to get the facts right and dampen the emotions that are still swirling in the aftermath in which reason argued by concerned residents prevailed over a too often ill informed City Hall.

As I comment on public radio KBU, radiomalibu.net and other select websites. the victory needs closure: the council thanked for its decision to rescind the resolution, and the residents for their persistence not to see the resolution simply suspended, but buried.

A big also is for the city to stop the nitpicking enforcement on homeowners and selective streets. Oversight will be needed, be it a Point task force or some sort of consortium of the concerned.

Let’s hope some lessons have been learned; that, as our founders commented, vigilance indeed is the price of democracy; that civil servants need to be civil, and city council must be transparent. And all, more courteous.

Already under fire for being too friendly to developers and special interests, the Council did not make their admittedly tough jobs any easier by stumbling over what could have been a reasonable plan for the Point, generating some validation in its waning days in office.

To those just tuning in, the ill-considered resolution was a questionable tailpiece on to what I have described as a traffic mismanagement plan. The plan had called for a grab bag of remedies that included lowering speed limits –good – and a smattering of questionable speed humps –all presumably to calm traffic.

Then there was the resolution requiring the clearing of the rights of way, which would in effect widen streets and among other things encourage speeding, and also attract more cars cruising for parking. So much for calming traffic.

We ‘re talking here of all landscaping, fences, walls and mailboxes, at resident expense, and not incidentally the selective removal of no parking signs. So long rural Point Dume and property values, hello suburbia.

No street site plans were offered, no priorities and timing, no city costs, let alone the cost to property owners, and no cost benefit analysis. What a pig-in-the poke; what an annuity for city staff and contractors.

You have to ask, what were they thinking at City Hall: a peace offering to the Coastal Commission, a stick-in-the eye to Council critics, or just flaunting their powers?

I am reminded of a recent comment made by the venerable Walt Keller, Malibu’s first mayor, that some times unfortunate things happen to well meaning people once elected to office.

 

POLITICS ARE INDEED LOCAL AND LOUD IN MALIBU

For me, for now, all politics is local. My latest commentary from my roost in misanthropic Malibu:

So what really happened at City Council Monday night:

After a parade of Point Dume residents implored the City Council to rescind a poorly conceived and ill considered resolution to compel property owners remove landscape encroachments from the municipal right of way, it was councilperson Laura Rosenthal stating that it was time for the city to step back.

It had been Rosenthal as the past Mayor that originally strongly advocated and lobbied for the resolution, and had been intractable in face of mounting opposition.

Downcast and in subdued voice, she then provided the swing vote approving a motion by a stalwart Mayor pro tem Skylar Peak to rescind the council’s recommended original action to suspend the resolution, pending a questionable traffic management survey

Residents had feared the resolution was part of a city plan to use the right of ways for possible sidewalks, and do away with selective no parking signs, to please the Coastal Commission and perhaps win future concessions for questionable development.

Presumably also being deep sixed as urged by the residents was the flawed traffic management survey that many felt was rigged to support the city’s continued compromising the encroachments.
The vote to rescind was 4 to 1, with the motion being seconded by Councilman John Sibert, who indicated he never really liked the resolutions and had originally cautioned the council, even though he voted for it.

Also approving the motion was a rueful Mayor Lou La Monte, though he took exception to what he described as the persistent off putting lobbying by a loose consortium of residents opposed to the resolution.

Nevertheless, it was the campaign by the residents informally organized by an impassioned Don Richstone that apparently swayed the Council, as speaker after speaker criticized the resolution as poorly researched and arbitrarily approved.

The Council was particularly castigated for being less than transparent in its deliberations, apparently in deference to an omnipotent Coastal Commission who it feared would take strong exception to the loss of public parking on the Point.

The Council was further reminded that the resolution was in clear violation of the city’s Land Use Policy, 2.4.6. that states “the city shall avoid improvements which create a suburban atmosphere such as sidewalks and street lights.”

The lone vote against rescinding it was cast by a contrite and confused Joan House, for a wrath of contradictory reasons she attributed to select constituents whom she did not identify. She was booed for her remarks.