A SUMMERTIME SUGGESTION

The weather being fickle in the benign climate of Southern California it is not always easy to tell the seasons without a calendar in hand.

Depending on how, from where, and what time of day the winds are blowing in Malibu, whether from off shore or through the mountain passes, sometimes it feels like a mild winter in the summer, or a mild summer in winter.

Then there is the arts and entertainment. It also can offer a guide to the seasons, and so I suggest in my weekly commentary on 97.5 KBU and radiomalibu.net

Certainly you know Summer is approaching when the L.A. Phil announces its seasonal program for the Hollywood Bowl and starts an aggressive advertising. It is going to have to be to overcome the pain and impatience driving to and particularly from the bowl. Indeed, exiting from the parking lot can turn the pleasant ambience of an evening of comforting music into a cacophonic nightmare.

Let me suggest a more engaging and certainly more convenient venue: an evening at the Theatricum Bontanicum in nearby Topanga Canyon. Its announcement of its summer program also has become a harbinger of the season. Going on sale this week is an ambitious schedule of five productions.

In keeping with the theatre’s commitment to current political and social issues, they include retellings of Shakespeare’s “Romero and Juliet,” set in present day divided Palestine, his “Titus and Adronicus,” as a cautionary tale of our times; Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Tom” as a contemporary character study; and Moliere’s “The Imaginary Invalid,” as a commentary on healthcare.

Like the Hollywood Bowl, the Theatricum has become a Southern California institution. Founded in 1973 by the actor activist Will Greer, theTheatricum is not only a theater, but an engaging cultural center, offering year-round classes to actors, hosting live music concerts, and welcoming student excursions from across the county.

Incidentally the name, Theatricum Botanicum is taken from the title of a classic botany textbook, literally meaning, “a garden theatre.” Inspiring Greer no doubt was the theater’s rural setting, and that he and his wife, actress Herta Ware, originally had to supplement their income raising vegetables, fruit, and herbs for sale.

The farm is gone, but the theatre continues. It makes for both a pleasant and provocative summer’s evening.

WHITHER OUR NEIGBORHOODS

Sometimes I feel my city of Malibu and neighborhood of Point Dume is becoming less a stunning singular coastal enclave , and more a non descript monopoly board; where a house is less a home and more an investment, a safe deposit box of sorts.

What is happening in Malibu and several other desirable neighborhoods in Southern California is that housing is becoming more and more difficult for most families to buy.

That is unless they have deep pocket parents, or they themselves are obscenely wealthy, thanks to our inequitable economy, as I comment on an upcoming 97.5 KBU, radiomalibu.net and select websites.

Though difficult to track more than anecdotally, an increasing number of houses on select streets are being snapped up as weekend retreats.

These buyers are known as zombie owners. If and when seen, they tend not to be friendly, and not particularly concerned with issues beyond their locked gates. So much for a sense of community

I am, of course, prejudice, having grown up in Brooklyn, in an neighborhood where you hung out on stoops, and everyone knew everyone, and their business. I later lived in a gritty East Harlem project tower, but its lobby, streets and playgrounds were friendly.

A sense of community also persisted later, when raising a family in Princeton, New Jersey and Port Washington, Long Island. Schools and local politics bonded you.

It was the same when I moved to L.A., in Santa Monica, with a few more kids in tow, before the wife found a house she loved in Malibu. That was 20 years ago.

There living across the street was an elderly couple in a house shared by their reclusive son and several dogs. We and our parade of pets became friendly, keeping an eye on each other. But they sadly passed, as did the dogs, and in time their inconsolable son. The house was put up for sale.

We looked forward with trepidation to whom would buy, and perhaps demolish it and construct a macmansion, as what was happening in our former Santa Monica neighborhood.

Ironically, I had been quite critical of this trend in my writings 25 years ago, and immodestly am credited by Wikipedia with having indirectly coined the phrase.

Of course, neighborhoods transform. My Brooklyn once populated with European Jews is now a hipster haven. Who would have guessed. If there is one constant in cities it is change.

We were relieved when a pleasant couple with two children bought it 3 years ago, and proceeded to attractively rebuild the house, and landscape it.

But now they have put up their homey house up for sale. The taxes, mortgage, college costs, a wavering economy, a rising real estate market, whatever the reason, they are moving. Call it flipping or not, they seem sad to move. We wish them luck.

So, we are again hoping someone doesn’t buy to demolish the house for a macmansion Or use it as a weekend retreat, or a party house, and on the side, rent it out as an airbnb. Worse could be a clinic. There are certainly enough of them in Malibu already.

You have to worry, given the city’s planning passivity and reluctance to get involved, and Malibu’s avaricious lawyers and realtors.

It’s Malibu Jake, where, the saying, “there goes the neighborhood,” is becoming more than a cliché.

 

AFFORDABLE HOUSING NEEDED

If there is one paramount planning issue challenging cities these days it is the shortage of affordable housing, so say the academic number crunchers and pundits who note that California population continues to increase.

But you don’t have to tell that to those who live here , and so I comment on my weekly broadcast on 97.5 KBU and on select websites . Finding an apartment to rent or a house to buy has become as frustrating as freeway traffic. And that has gone from bad to worse.

Whether the cities want to confront this issue is another matter, that is do something more than talk about it in bureaucratic backrooms, and bemoan it at idle conferences.

In L.A , there have been a series of pronouncement by Mayor Garcetti, who unfortunately seems tied up in an archaic zoning knot, and hounded by nimbys.

In New York, affordable housing was one of the post election promises of Bill De Blasio, but so far it’s been all talk. What few plans have been put forward by ever ready architects are languishing. The mayors frankly don’t put the needed money with their mouths are.

Then there are the comfortable cities, like my Malibu, with its multitude of real estate agents, and provincial politicians that don’t even talk about it, and seem to be content to let the private market driven by supply and demand reap its profits.

Real estate is the mother lode of Malibu, and those who bought early and those with the means or moneyed parents who have bought more recently. Both seem to be content with the status quo, adhering to the adage that they got theirs, and too bad for everyone else.

And that everyone else includes the local workforce: the city employees, school teachers, first responders, shop clerks, waiters and waitresses, the gardeners and handymen, all those that smile and serve. Most live beyond the 27 miles of scenic beauty that is Malibu.

That is because they simply can’t afford the city’s ever increasing real estate prices. Most have to commute long distances daily to get to work, and yes, they are among the vehicles that exacerbating traffic on the PCH.

And it’s getting worse, what little affordable housing there is, increasingly is being taken off the market for short term rentals, or sold as vacation or weekend homes to deep pocket buyers. And not just in Malibu, but in nearby communities.

To find housing, our workforce is moving further and further away, which means longer commutes. And it also discourages them to send their kids to Malibu schools. So there goes what little diversity the city has, economically, racially, and culturally, and we are poorer for it.

Yes, this is another entreaty for needed housing to be somehow appropriately designed and developed, and in Malibu located in the civic center.

Label it as you will, workforce or affordable, and add some senior and assisted housing to the mix, and it will unquestionably transform the civic center from its present sad state as a fractured commercial conceit catering to tourists, into a real, more livable and equitable coastal village.  It’s the right thing to do.

 

 

OFF BEAT L.A. OFFERINGS

You have to love L.A., not only for its benign weather, drought or not, but for its cultural diversity, and fun. When I peruse what’s happening here and there for my arts and entertainment commentary on 97.5 KBU and select local websites, I inevitably happily come across a smattering of engaging offbeat offerings.

For examples, downtown L.A. Friday night, at the recently restored but still funky, folksy Clifton’s Cafeteria ,there will an Earth Day celebration that promises to be an experience.

The dining room with its open seating is to transformed – their word, not mine—into an exotic animal sanctuary, featuring costumed performers roaming the tables as lions, leopards, deer and exotic birds. Selfies are to be encouraged, as I presume so is acting out.

There will be live music by Miranda Lee Richards and friends up from New Orleans, with a trio of chattering hip deejays. You can also get a cocktail for 35 cents, if you can convince the host or whomever, that hearing this on KBU is equivalent to reading an advertisement in the L.A. Weekly.

Harder will be finding a parking space near Clifton’s, at 648 Broadway, a L.A. landmark, you can’t miss it.

And continuing in the category of the offbeat, upcoming is yet another site specific performance of the Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre, still going strong after 30 years.

Entitled Parts & Labor, the dancers will be performing at a car wash, May 7 in two weeks, but the always rare and in demand tickets for the singular performances are on sale now. Look them up on the web, on Facebook, or calling 818 784 8669. )

The performance will be at the Santa Palm Car Wash, at 8787 Santa Monica Boulevard, in West Hollywood, at 8 P.M.

Your car will not get washed, but there will be valet parking. And as advertised, an incredible experience is promised. Just when else will we have the chance to see a dance performance at a car wash, and live musicians play a vintage automobile as percussion?

 

 

 

 

LOCAL POLITICS PERSISTS IN MISANTHROPIC MALIBU

Forget the hysterical national political campaigns for the moment. In neophyte communities, such as my misanthropic Malibu with its entitled population, local politics persist as the stuff of daily drama.

Here the center stage is the embattled Civic Center. It is a fractured mess, as I comment in my latest broadcast heard on 97.5 KBU and radiomalibu.net. and read on cityobserved.com and select websites.

It is more scattered than centered, more commercial than civic, more tourist serving than local friendly, more commonplace than colorful, and besides, driving there is a drag, the circulation sucks and the parking a pain.

Unlike other sister seacoast enclaves, such as Laguna Beach or Del Mar, Malibu’s Civic Center is neither quaint nor attractive, not for promenading, or for meeting friends. I would not call it particularly neighborly.

For that the Point Dume or Trancas shopping centers are much more disposed to be serendipitous, even stretches of our accessible beaches, thank you Coastal Commission, no thank you our key Nazis. The Zuma walk, Bluff’s Park or the indiscriminate Trancas Canyon dog park are friendlier.

So it was that after too many years in planning and politics, I welcomed a Santa Monica College satellite campus to the forlorn and much too retail ravaged misnamed civic center.

Finally, the City Council recently stumbled forward to barely approve the project by a 3 to 1 vote.

Of course, it wouldn’t have been just another city council hearing without some heartfelt objections to the project And most likely I would’ve been sympathetic if the objections were directed at yet another commercial conceit, especially pricey and tourist oriented.

But clearly the college proposal with a new sheriff’s station and communication tower attached would be a community benefit, and as much as I take exception to the council notorious tendency of granting variances, in this instance it was justified. A better, more green, and user friendly building will result .

The respected architecture firm of Quatro Design of which I am familiar deserves our thanks for persevering. Not many firms would have in the face of the maelstrom that Malibu’s politics.

\Ah, local politics, you have to love it. It is our theatre.

If anything, I hope that the campus, with its parade of students and promised community outreach to all ages and interests, will generate a sense of place for the civic center, based on public service rather than crass commercialism.

 

 

 

 

A TIP OF THE HAT TO ARCHITECT ZAHA HADID

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

SURFCITY MALIBU CELEBRATES

Surfing and Malibu is synonymous, like stickball and Brooklyn, baseball and the Bronx and soccer and Spain. only wetter and wilder, a celebration of sorts of the city’s stunning settijng .

To ask a surfer dude to define it as a recreation or a sport, a devotee would answer, it is really an art form, as I relate in my weekly arts and entertainment commentary on 97.5 KBU and radiomalinu.net.

On the worst of morning on the Point, when to bring in the paper I have to wear a slicker left over from my storm watch television standups, ,I am forever amazed to encounter a surfer dude or dandy .

Trotting barefoot down the dank street, actually smiling, wet suit half on, clutching a long board, the surfers, are like a lemmings drawn to the sea. They descend the steep steps down to the local beach to fearlessly plunge into the chilly water to catch a set. After decades here I am still impressed, meekly wave, and retreat to my coffee.

So it makes sense that the surfboard is being exalted as art in an exhibit at City Hall. Appropriately entitled The Art of the Board. it is curated by the Cultural Arts Commission celebrating the municipality of Malibu’s 25th anniversary.

Be they relatively new or chipped, battered and bruised, the decorated boards, I feel, are very much in the spirit of emulating the ancient Viking funeral rite of commemorating the dead to the sea.

Indeed, in this respect you might consider the exhibit a bit macabre, particularly how it displays the surfboards, which are hung by a secured cabling system, from the ceiling in the upstairs lobby of City Hall. Though some will think this a welcome change for the building

According to the city’s press release, among the boards selected by an unidentified committee are several commissioned for the exhibit by renowned local artists Lita Albuquerque, Chuck Arnoldi and John Van Hammersveld.

Not incidentally, Van Hamersveld is known for his famed poster he did for the film “Endless Summer,” which popularized the surfing culture nearly a half century ago. He is scheduled to be at the grand opening of the exhibit, next Monday, March 28th, at about 7 o’clock,

Included in the festivities will be a silent auction of the artistic surfboards to benefit the Malibu Arts Fund, which supports public art and the arts in education.

Cowabunga All!!

 

 

UNREPENTANT MALIBU COUNCIL PURSUES ZUMA BEACH FOLLY

The Zuma Beach land grab on behalf of a New York gallery owner just won’t go away.

An unrepentant City Council insists the proposal for a temporary museum to exhibit a pricey private photo exhibit on the beach is the greatest things for Malibu since , probably, the Whole Foods Market.

The on air and internet commentary that took the Council to task for its lack of transparency and failure to follow its own guidelines for such venture generated considerable response,, as I comment on 97.5 KBU and everywhere on radiomalibu.net

Some were in support of the project, in particular the Cultural Arts Commission, whose purview does not include land use , nor professionally vetting entrepreneurial New York gallery owners or expert oversight skills.

But most residents were opposed, pointing out the city’s abuse of its own policies regarding beach use and special interests.

This included a public plea, by Mari Stanley, at the last council meeting to rescind the request to the County to approve and aid the project, reveal the project ‘s detailed specifics, and hold open hearings..

In reply, city attorney Christi Hogin hemmed and hawed that though the council approved the concept for the museum, it was not a commitment, even though the resolution it approved contained that language.

\According to Hogin, all the Council did was ask the County to cooperate with the promoter Robert Dutesco.

And Hogin added if the county approved the concept, it would be returned to the city for proper hearings. We presume this include full details of the project’s operations, such as construction, entry fees, events, gift shop and financial data.

But hopefully the County who owns and manages Zuma will just deep six the proposal as being an illegal use of the beach. And the only possible hearings to be held will be to determine how the proposal was broached and a full disclosure of the involvement of the city’s commissioners and councilpersons.

There is concern that for the last 22 years the wild stallions of Sable Island Dutesco has photographed have figuratively become dray horses, tied to a cash cow. I trust the City is not being hustled.

 

 

 

 

MALIBU COUNCIL COMPROMISES ZUMA BEACH

Put this commentary under a new category: what were they thinking

I am referring in my cityobserved.com heard on KBU and everywhere to the recent mindless action by the City Council endorsing a private photographic exhibition on Zuma Beach.

If it clears several legal hurdles –which I hope it doesn’t –it would run for three months, in a sprawling temporary structure in the parking lot, charge an entrance fee, host v.i.p. events, show films, and no doubt gild Malibu’s reputation as an elitist enclave.

Featured would be a solo exhibit of photos taken by an artist promoter of the wild horses of Sable Island off of Canada’s Nova Scotia Island, previously displayed and pedaled in his private gallery in New York, as well as other select locations.

The photos by Robert Dutesco also can be seen in a book, priced at $150.00 and most likely will be available with other items in the ubiquitous museum shop also proposed for Zuma.

You have to wonder what the residents in the area might say, that is if they had been asked. They weren’t, and neither was the Planning Commission. So much for the city’s transparency.

To be sure, the support by the Council was limited for the moment to blessing the concept, which nonetheless is a statutory act, and requesting the cooperation of the County, which owns and operates Zuma Beach.

It should be noted there are limits for which the Beach can be used, consistent with state’s Coastal Act the city’s own Municipal Code, and a raft of exacting environmental reviews, though this has not stopped their abuse.

To some Zuma already has been compromised too often by filming and special events, so much so that it has been suggested renaming the beach the Zuma Industrial Park.

It will be interesting to see how county supervisor, Sheila Kuehl, reacts to the proposal. At stake here is her reputation as an avowed coastal advocate. Also at stake is no less than Malibu’s heritage.

If Malibu as a singular community is distinguished by one physical feature, it is its beaches.

Among its many personal pleasures is simply being able to view them, the endless ocean vistas, spectacular sunsets, and the seasonal parade of spouting whales.

Then there is the delightful diversion of walking along its shores, smelling the fresh ocean, tasting a taint of salt, hearing the waves break, the bark of sea lions, and if barefoot, feeling the wet and warm sand. It can be magical.

In a more philistine mode, it is this coastal setting, edged by confining mountains, near an engaging Los Angeles, but yet comfortably removed, that undeniably makes Malibu so desirable, and not coincidentally pads its real estate prices.

For these and more ethereal reasons, being fortunate enough to live in Malibu prompts, or should prompt, a special affinity for the environment and a communal concern for the beaches.

Zuma is special, not just on beach days when it hosts hundred of thousand, but year round, even in winter, when every morning people can be seen walking their dogs or braving the surf, creating a special egalitarian community of acquaintances. You have to love Malibu

And therefore if for some reason or other the County does not deep six the presumptuous proposal, and it returns to the City Council, let the clarion call be sounded, and the resident heard.

It is one thing to compromise the civic center, as the Council has shamefully done. It is another more sadly egregious act to shamefully compromise the beloved beaches of Malibu.

 

 

LAUTNER HOUSE ACQUIRED BY MUSEUM

 

Good news for architecture buffs and Southern California’s rich tradition of singular residential designs.

In a first for the LA County Museum of Art, it announced the acquisition of the iconic Sheats-Goldstein House designed by John Lautner, a very much original and, I think, an under-appreciated architect.

The striking house high in the hills of the isolated Beverly Crest community is distinguished by a triangular concrete exterior that appear to be pried apart by walls of glass, approached by a stone walkway past a pool.

The spectacular setting of the house with sweeping views of Los Angeles is further distinguished by lush landscaping that contain a prominent structure crafted by the sculptor James Turrell. It also is being donated by the current owner, James Goldstein, along with several singular art works.

The house is probably best known as the setting for various movies, including the Coen brother’s classic The Big Lebowski. It was built in 1963 for UCLA professor Paul and artist Helen Sheats, and sold to the eccentric Goldstein in 1972, which in the succeeding years retained Lautner to update it, until 1994 when the architect died.

A student of Frank Lloyd Wright, Launder’s loved to talk about his buildings, each a unique marriage between architecture and engineering. And I loved to listen as the architecture critic of the LA Times 30 years ago as he held court dressed always in a fashionable white suit in his studio atop the Roosevelt Hotel.

He had time, for his practice sadly was limited, which he explained to me,“ I’m afraid I am just not into the superficial facades with all its phony rationales that seem to preoccupy architecture these days. ”

And then I recall quite vividly he turned to me as a critic to snap, ’You people have let them get away with it; you and those sheep-like clients who want to be trendy, even if it doesn’t wear well or work.”

You had to love the guy, and I proudly wrote in support of his nomination for the coveted AIA’s Gold Medal 30 years. He didn’t get it. He was just not popular then.

But now one of his iconic designs will be a museum piece, which actually I believe is much more impressive than a title being tacked onto his name.

This report was aired on my arts and entertainment commentary on 97.5 KBU and radiomalibu, net everywhere.