LOCAL GOVERNMENT: DOES ANYONE LISTEN?

“Council, Planning Commission Wonder: Is anybody listening,” was the front page headline in the Malibu Times, topping a story in which city leaders bemoaned that few residents attended what they thought was a critical hearing on the fate of the civic center.

Whatever, their concerns are grist for my latest city observed commentary, heard on KBU and everywhere on radiomalibu.net.

“We need to figure out a way to get a lot more people involved,” stated Mayor Rosenthal, in particular the noted design professionals she knew lived in Malibu,

The front page headline of the Malibu Surfside News simply stated in bold face, “Help Wanted,”

This prompted me to talk with several talented architects I know whether they were interested in volunteering. Trading candor for anonymity, all replied that though concerned with the drift of planning in the “bu they loved, they hesitate to become involved

“It is not that we are not listening. It is that the city doesn’t listen, or frankly doesn’t understand the issues, ” declared an internationally respected “placemaker“ whom I have had the pleasure to work with on some imaginative projects,

Over lunch, as is his style, he casually rattled off several ideas for a more livable Malibu that no doubt would cost the city big bucks in consultant fees and staff time if proffered privately.

When I asked him, as I did others, why he didn’t donate his time, he reminded me of my experiences, in particular, as a volunteer advocate of view protection. He suggested I recall what happened: that it might serve as a cautionary tale. I agreed.

It should be noted that if the city staff at the direction of past partisan councils would have enforced existing codes, a view restoration and preservation ordinance would not have been needed, just civic resolve.

But they hadn’t, and eight years ago Malibu overwhelmingly approved a referendum calling on the city “ to adopt an ordinance that would require the removal or trimming of landscaping in order to restore and maintain primary views from private homes.”

A city appointed task force of which I was chair and included several experienced attorneys. We reviewed ordinances of similarly challenged cities while weighing comments of local stakeholders with varying prejudices and perspectives.

It was a time consuming effort by volunteer residents, and for naught. The committee’s recommendation in the form of a professionally crafted ordinance was deep sixed; the council wasn’t listening, at least not to the committee it had selected, but rather to special interests, as is its practice.

Nor was the present Council listening when told by planning savvy residents that vertical landscaping should not count as open space and dated traffic studies were flawed.

And recently it didn’t even bother asking more knowledgeable residents if a structure can or should be erected on the county’s Zuma Beach for several months to house a pricy private photo exhibit. Of course, they would have told the council it legally can’t and shouldn’t.

Indeed, these failures raise the issue of civic responsibility and municipal oversight, prompting the questions “what for, and for whom, local government” and whether Malibu as a municipal conceit no longer is a viable democratic construct?

But is anyone listening?

 

CALMING MALIBU TRAFFIC: YEA AND NAY

By the end of the meeting this to discuss a traffic management plan for Pt. Dume, it was a shout out , yea or nay, to a list of proposed mitigations.

So much for vetting a majority of affected residents on targeted projects, as the city is prone to do even on safety measures when there is a hint of controversy. Like most governmental structures, the usual mantra is when in doubt, don’t.

But Malibu’s skittish City Council and servile staff was very on stage recently, in walking distance to my home, and therefore convenient grist once again for my weekly City Observed commentary, heard on 97.5 KBU and everywhere on radiomalibu.net. and select websites.

For the record, speed humps received a slightly louder yea than nay, despite a battalion chief saying the Fire Department was opposed to them; they slow response time.

Also receiving yeas were radar speed signs where speeding seems to occur, particularly on Dune Drive, and measures to make Heathercliff safer for pedestrian darting back and forth between the shopping center and the post office.

Not asked by city manager Jim Thorsen for any indication, yea or nay, was the recommendation shown on a plan for encroachments on all street on the Point to accommodate pedestrians and parking. Talk about municipal minefields

This would have opened the way to the city requesting and possibly ordering property owners to remove landscaping, trees, fences and mailbox now in the city’s legal right-of–way, edging streets. Though the devil is in the details, the issue involving who pays for it and maintains it, was avoided by an adroit Thorsen.

Receiving the loudest approval was Thorsen stating that the parking problem on Grasswood would be addressed by simply striping the roadway edges. This would allow the ticketing of cars encroaching into the street path that had made traffic all but impassable, especially for emergency vehicles.

Grasswood residents have been particularly adamant since this concern was raised more than a year ago and at subsequent meetings of the city’s public safety commission. This eventually prompted the Council to hold a hearing on the Point last Fall, addressing not only the situation on Grasswood but all community traffic issues, speeding as well as parking.

That meeting in turn spurred the city to take yet another look at a traffic management plan for the Point. More work for consultants and staff, and more time before anything just might be done to open Grasswood for emergency vehicles, especially on beach days.

So it was not surprising that at the meeting this week sprinkled in the audience of about 50 were many persevering Grasswood residents, confirming the truism that if a councilperson does not live on your street, the squeaky wheel will get the oil.

The squeak got louder as Thorsen fielded questions, which had followed a review by a Kimley Horn consultant of the city’s latest iteration of a traffic study the firm did for the Point 14 years ago. From the cheap seats in the back could be heard the Nike refrain, “just do it.”

As for next steps, Thorsen said the recommendations needed to go back to the City Council, and that if approved expeditiously, the mitigations hopefully could be implement before the Summer, and before he left office at the end of May.

The countdown has begun.

 

TRYING TO CATCH THE TRAIN , FROM MALIBU!

 

We love living in Malibu, but as most residents hate commuting, especially on the accident prone Pacific Coast Highway. It is the bane of the city, as I declare in my latest commentary, on 97.5 KBU FM, radiomalibu.net, and cityobserved.com.

And whatever constraints we might impose on questionable commercial development to discourage traffic on the PCH, it can be expected to get worse.

On a more personal note, the isolation is particularly vexing considering the frustration driving just to spend some time in a burgeoning Santa Monica, or in an increasingly engaging downtown L.A. And add to that the headache of parking.

With the crazed traffic situation almost everywhere in mind, it is interesting to note that as a service to its residents West Hollywood is launching a free, peak-hour bus shuttle linking select stops in its city to the expanding Metro rail service.

Meanwhile, also soon to be launched this Spring is Phase 2 of the Expo Line extending light rail service from the current terminus in Culver City to Santa Monica, with 7 new stations serving the Westside. The result will be to put downtown Los Angeles 46 minute away from downtown Santa Monica.

Nice, if you happen to live in easy walking distance to a station. Not nice if you happen to live miles away, like in Malibu.

Residents there wanting to take the train will still have to drive to Santa Monica on the dreaded PCH, and then search for a parking space near the Expo station.

But no new parking is planned at the Expo terminus at 4th and Colorado, and only a ridiculous few 70 spaces available at the 17th Street station.

Yes, there is the lumbering 534 bus, though it is notoriously slow and makes many stops.

Perhaps if the service could be better organized –lets call it the 534X- to offer express buses at convenient times to and from the Expo terminus to select stops in the Bu, say Trancas, the Point, and the Civic Center, where commuter parking could be provided.

Certainly this it would be an incentive not to drive the PCH, especially for venues downtown.

A variation to get into Santa Monica with a minimum of driving and the headache of parking would be to offer commuter parking weekdays at, say, Will Rogers Beach, and provide a shuttle to the rail terminus.

As an added incentive. the service could be free, as in West Hollywood, or charge a nominal amount, say $1, with extended hours to serve the returning late night crowds.

A shuttle service featuring something akin to a jitney buses could be particularly attractive, and could be decorated to be very Malibu.

Such a service if managed with common sense and civility , I feel, has the potential of reducing traffic on the PCH and also giving more easy access to downtown.

As for cost, I’m confident that there are funds available for a pilot program from government sources, such as the MTA, and for private ticket tie-ins.

It’s certainly worth considering.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Lament for the Bank of Books, and Books

Sad news for Malibu and in particular my neighborhood of Point Dume: our only bookstore, the Bank of Books, is closing its doors this spring, as I lament in my latest commentary on 97.5 KBU and radiomalibu.net., and in print here.

Despite a host of well-attended and publicized readings, congenial signings and outdoor seating in an amiable setting, its sales apparently have stagnated in the four years it had persevered in the cozy Point Dume Plaza. I for one will miss it.

No doubt E books, Amazon and discount stores have taken their toll.   To be sure, E books are attractive; they certainly don’t take up much room, and audio books I feel can ease the pain of long commutes we in Malibu must endure..

But I frankly love books, the printed kind, on sheets of paper, in type face of varied styles, bound together within covers, of evocative designs hinting at the works of fiction or non fiction within, and the worlds of ideas, emotion and histoy

Books for me have been a constant companion, comfort and challenge; from the day I got a library card in a burgeoning Brooklyn of the past. There libraries were something akin to an ecumenical house of worship, a hushed community center, and for a large family living in cramped apartments, our living room.

As a student, a reader and especially as a critic, I have been over the years accumulating thousands of books, literally a ton of them, conscientiously trucking them with me as I moved from place to place, city to city. I might leave a piece of furniture behind, but never a box of books.

Occasionally prodded by largess or lack of space, I have parted with a few from time to time, donating them to schools and libraries, and giving them to those I know would appreciate them. Books for me have always been the gift of choice.

Still books are everywhere in my house: in almost every room, walls of packed shelves from floor to ceiling, piled on tables and stacked in corners, roughly sorted by authors and subjects. And then there is the singular shelves with books I have written, all four of them, and those of my friends and family.

Most prominent these day is a thin, searing book of poetry entitled Poem Without Suffering (Wonder Books), written by my middle son, Josef Hall Kaplan. I immodestly note with pride that it has risen to Eighth nationally on the poetry best seller list of small publishers, and number One in our home.

 

 

 

Malibu Ponders Civic Center Mess

Is there any hope for Malibu’s Civic Center

Of course, to call a scattered city hall and library, a user-unfriendly earthen roof of a water treatment plant. labeled a park, and four disconnected suburban shopping malls, soon to be six, a civic center is a misnomer. It is frankly a mess.

And what it says about the city’s planning efforts and political acumen to date is less flattering.

It is indeed an embarrassing screw up, big time in a little city flaunting its singular natural beauty, and so I declare in my latest commentary for KBU, radiomalibu.net and select websites.

Let’s just label it municipal mismanagement, and not the most meritorious item on the resumes of departing city manager Jim Thorsen and soon to be termed out council members.

This is not to say they haven’t learned from their mistakes, and from the message sent to them by 60 per cent of the citizenry in the recent city referendums, whatever the legal fate of Measure R that wrenched from them the power to approve or disapprove select commercial developments.

To add a positive note, there is very much an opportunity for the city to correct some of these mistakes, and plan an appealing civic center that meets the true needs of Malibu and not the conceits of commercial interests.

That opportunity is in a fresh approach to what is known in government as a Specific Plan, and was the conclusion of a recent joint meeting of the City Council and Planning Commission and their entourages..

They had met ostensibly to review the status of the Civic Center Design Standards study, which a gaggle of select residents led by a conscientious consultant team have been pursuing for the last two years while the battle over Measures R and W raged.

However, in its quest for a quote “walk able coastal village with rural characteristics “unquote, the study exceeded the usual scope of design standards by including the need for a traffic and pedestrian circulation plan, mixed uses, and senior and local work force housing.

These are elements generally addressed in a Specific Plan, and call for land use changes that involve zoning amendments, consistent with the city’s general and coastal plans.

That in turn would most likely need voter approval, and in essence would lend residents actually broader and more positive powers than what they had sought in Measure R. That would be ironic.

It also would be a triumph of hope over experience, the city having failed in several past attempts at crafting specific plans.

Nevertheless, the Council and Commission were enthusiastic that the city moves toward drafting the plan, but were not sure how to do it.

Noted was the problem how the general public can be more involved, and in turn become the needed advocates for a new plan, especially in light of its distrust of the city stemming from the battles to date over the civic center.

The poor turnout for the joint meeting was not encouraging. The city’s lack of transparency and outreach has not helped.

No motion was considered, as the staff was directed to somehow facilitate the study needed for a specific plan, preferably with resident participation.

The well compensated consultant team seemed enthused. It remains to be seen if residents will be.

 

 

 

 

If Words Were Water; Pronouncements Viable Projects…

If words were water the Los Angeles River would be overflowing its banks; if pronouncements were viable projects, a very green sustainable Southern California is in the offing.
 
There certainly were a lot of words and pronouncements at the recent industry heralded “FutureBuild” convocation in Los Angeles, staged by the venerable VerdeXchange with the Urban Land Institute.
 
Attending were an estimated 700 persons so-called marketmakers, including a large design and development crowd. This prompted me to put on my commentator’s hat to do blogs for the cityobserved.com, and the Architect’s Newspaper, http://blog.archpaper.com/2016/01/going-green-ulis-verdexchange, and broadcasts for KBU. FM and radiomalibu.net.
 
Of major interest was a keynote session entitled “A River Runs Through It: Reimagining L.A.’s Water Way,” with opening remarks by the city’s personable Mayor Eric Garcetti, to be followed by a widely promoted panel prominently featuring celebrity architect Frank Gehry.
 
Garcetti was his smooth self, reviewing the rise and fall of the river’s prominence through the city’s history, touting its present planned revitalization by a concerted community effort, and its critical importance to the future of the city. It was a variation on a speech the mayor has been delivering for several years,
 
However, it did not assuage the announcement that Gehry had bowed out at the last moment. His appearance had been anticipated as an opportunity for him to reply to the skepticism surrounding his appointment by the mayor’s L.A. River Revitalization Corp. to master plan the 51 mile waterway.
 
Instead of being viewed as a second coming, the selection roiled river advocates who had been involved in various long term and long suffering efforts, marked by team planning and transparency. They charged that Gehry with little landscape experience has come late to the party, attracted by the publicity it is generating and a $1.4 billion price tag.
 
Gehry has been sharply dismissive of any criticism, while his fans including the mayor and his minions have been hinting at the architect generating concepts that will catapult the city to prominence and also enhance its bid for the 2024 Olympics.
 
They will have to wait a little longer, according to Tensho Takemori, Gehry’s surrogate, who said the office was still gathering information while working on a 3 D model of the river. “We are not holding our breaths,” commented architect Gerhard Mayer.
 
Indeed, in addition to the one on the L.A. River, the sessions covering every shade of the rising “green” consciousness, from energy to infrastructure, were mostly standing room only. Said an architect trading candor for anonymity, “we’re here not for Frank, nor really for the presentations, but for the networking.”
 
Green is hot. That’s good.
 
 

New York Born and Ill bred: You gotta problem with this?

My latest commentary on “New York values” actually could have been a subject for my City Observed broadcasts, except that the issue was raised in the sadly comical Republican Presidential debates.

That puts in the classification of Entertainment, hence for me, an A&E Observed broadcast segment.

Of course, in disparaging New York, candidate Senator Ted Cruz could have slammed the city’s recent rash of high rise luxury residences scarring the skyline, the pressing need for affordable housing and the nagging homeless problem: Items in my critical realm.

But the Canadian-born, Texas transplant tea bag chose to criticize his equally repellent rival Donald Trump, for embodying “New York values.” Cruz further define these values as “socially liberal and pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage, “with a ”focus on money and the media.”

These traits broadly labeled “too New York” are usually a veiled aphorism for saying “too Jewish.”  And you don’t’ have to love Rye bread, be Jewish or a New Yorker, to consider the remark an anti Semitic slur. Whether Cruz meant it or not, it needs to be put down.

Yeah, I’m from New York.

It was where I was born and some people would say ill bred, and despite living in California for nearly 40 years, 20 in mythic Malibu, I still refer to New York as my hometown.

When asked why, I could reply as a tanned Californian by politely smiling, or as a New Yorker, with a snap back question. “you gotta problem with that?” Depends on my mood. and we are a moody breed on both coasts.

I guess the popular proverb applies here, that you can take the boy out of New York, but you can’t take New York out of the boy, especially if he was born in a once mocked , outcast Brooklyn. Yeah, “Brruklin,” that now hipster heaven where craft beer has replaced egg creams.

Despite years on radio and television, a thousand voice overs, and countless corrections by friends, I like to think my diction has improved.

But apparently not my attitude, as I immodestly believe my years of being critic and these commentaries bear out.

I’m a New Yorker, opinionated, contentious, and quick on the offensive, and on the defensive.

And I love New York, its energy, drive, diversity, tolerance and, yes, toughness.

These are traits I frankly I feel Los Angeles, and every community, could use more of, including my liberal, libertarian, misanthropic Malibu.

“Gotta a problem with that?”

Hooray: Pritzker Prize to Chilean Architect for Social Housing

Today, on 97.5 KBU FM, and everywhere on radiomalibu.net and select websites, a departure from the usual touting of cultural attractions in and around Los Angeles, to comment on the recent awarding of the 2016 Pritzker Prize, the highest honor in architecture, to Alejandro Aravena.

Not only is the award noteworthy this year for tapping a relatively unknown designer in Chile, –most previous honorees have been from mainstream United States and western Europe – but for its focus on social housing.

This really sets Aravena apart, declared the Pritzker jury. which this year included the British Richard Rogers and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Beyer. The prize comes with a $100,000 award but perhaps more importantly is usually followed with a swarm of international commissions.

If so, it will hopefully lend additional attention to the groundswell here and broad for affordable, well designed, user-friendly housing, that also serves and involves the communities where located.

The 48 year old Aravena – that is relatively young for an accomplished architect,– is best know for his modestly inexpensive residential projects, and his commitment to create sustainable, affordable and resilent cities.

In the past, with a few exceptions, the focus of the designs of the architects honored have been on flashy forms and iconic buidings, stand out projects that generated media attention for its sponsors and celebrity status for its architects.

This increasingly high end bent in the profession was duly noted by this year’s intrepid Pritzker jury, which in a statement prefacing the award declared –quote:

The role of the architect is now being challenged to serve greater social and humanitarian needs, and Alejandro Aravena has clearly, generously and fully responded to this challenge. Unquote.

The statement and award frankly warms my heart, for in the years past as an urban affairs reporter for the New York Times ,and later as the architecture and urban design critic for the L.A. Times, I immodestly spotlighted social housing .

The definition I cited in my writings and teaching over the years was that first and foremost, architecture is a social art, used to create spaces and places for human endeavor.

I still believe that.  Thank you, Pritzker jury , for remind me of that

I’m Sam Hall Kaplan, and is the arts and entertainment observed, heard locally on 97.5 KBU, everywhere on radiomalibu.net, and read on cityobserved.com and discerning websites.

 

Misanthropic Malibu Ponders Legal Appeals

 

It’s a new year, but paramount before Malibu’s City Council is an issue that won’t go away: the fate of Measure R and with it the debate over the future of the Civic Center.

This is grist for my latest City Observed, penned on the Point, heard locally on 97.5 KBU Saturdays, everywhere on radiomalibu.net. and read on Nextdoor and select websites.

To bring readers up to speed, Measure R limiting citywide development and requiring voters approve of select new commercial projects has been ruled illegal.

Not incidentally this was predicted by several involved residents also concerned with the rapacious development of the civic center, myself included. Let me add, there is no comfort in hindsight.

The Measure R ruling also negates the subsequent rejection of Measure W, blocking the Whole Foods development. It is expected to now move ahead.

Meanwhile. the city has to decide whether to appeal the Superior Court ruling, at an estimated cost of $100,00 plus

Then there is the question whether the proponents of the original measure, principally Michele and Rob Reiner, want to join in the effort, and chip in some more big bucks.

And what could be expected from this effort, I ask, besides a windfall for lawyers and possibly another questionable measure going before a weary electorate, or simpler, a less controversial recasting of stringent land use regulations.

But actually Malibu has such regulations, guided by a preamble that clearly states an abiding commitment to a livable, sustainable, environment-friendly city.

It just needs to be energetically enforced, and that means no commercial variances or conditional uses, period. It is those loopholes developers and their crafty lawyers have been abusing, while taking advantage of a municipal government that is just too consumer friendly.

It is not that the city councils we have elected are criminally culpable, they have been just too affable.

They like being nice and liked; that is why they sought office, and why we have elected them. It is just unfortunate they have fallen pry to what I call a cult of amiability, and have become too friendly with special interests.

This unfortunately I feel has set a tone for city staff, which also has become too consumer friendly; more projects, more budget bucks. Of course, this makes it easier for the staff who lean a bit too heavily on others to do their work.

This has allowed the reps for the deep pocket applicants, be they lobbyists or lawyers, to script the requested decisions in the obscure legal language government wraps itself in, and the hell with the public.

So I immodestly suggest the council NOT bother appealing the Measure R ruling. It will be too costly, time consuming, and probably fail.

Instead, it should recognize the popular mandate Malibu residents have expressed in recent referendums, be more transparent and less defensive, and begin to act accordingly.

To that end, I of course have several suggestions, concerning the civic center and beyond in the new year. So stay tuned to KBU and Nextdoor,

 

 

New Year’s Day Musings from Malibu

My New Year’s commentary  aired on 97.5 KBU, radiomalibu.net, and elsewhere on the web, and posted here:

A hearty Happy New Year, with a fervent peace and good will to all, though I frankly offer this with faint hope, for it seems to me that despite wishes to the contrary, peace and good will, everywhere, continues on the wane.

Still, there is a modicum of hope, which I’m pleased to express based here on KBU, as I have from myriad media outlets where I have toiled over the last half century plus.

Whatever, then and now, the ringing in of the New Year is a time I feel for looking back as well as looking forward.

Indeed. I recall quite vividly the new year 56 years ago when I was a fledgling journalist for WQXR, then the radio station of the august New York Times, working odd hours and on holidays.

Back then in addition to scripting a 5 minute broadcast every hour, on the hour, I also wrote the news crawl for the famed Times Square ticker tape.

This entailed walking from my desk in the news room on West 43rd street a half block to the triangular Times building in Times Square, up three flights, to hand deliver my script to the typist banging out the blaring headlines.

New Years was the toughest day of the year, for to turn my copy in I had to elbow my way through the pushing and shoving crowds to get to the landmark tower.

More challenging was timing the salutation I had scripted,  HAPPY NEW YEAR, to flash on to the ticker tape at the exact moment the ball on the flagpole touched down in view of the celebrating multitude.

There were no super computers back then programming the display to the millisecond. It was done with dumb luck.

I still get shivers as I watch on television the ball descend in Times Square, albeit at midnight New York time, 9 P.M on the coast. By midnight in Malibu I’m asleep

So much for looking back. As for looking forward to 2016, hope still persists on the world stage, for which I leave others to comment on, though of course I have opinions.

As the tag of this radio spot states, my purview is the city observed, how spaces and places are shaped or misshaped to serve or hinder human endeavors, in particular in Los Angeles and my Malibu.

So for 2016 that means on the Southern California scene, among other things, following the fate of the revitalization of the L.A. River; whether architecture and planning can craft a livable, sustainable city; and how best to protect our threatened environments.

Also, and most critical, I intend to monitor whether our current political constructs- the city councils, the commissions and bureaucracies –are up to the challenge,  whether they can act in the pubic interest and not their own. And of course I will be casting a wary eye on the avaricious private sector.

We are talking here of respecting the culture, context and climate of communities. More specifically, locally, whether measure R should be pursued or is there a better way; does Legacy Park have a future; what now for the Civic Center?  Is there any hope for affordable housing, the homeless, and an independent Malibu school district?

For the answers, tune in  …