Very much on display at the recent City Council meeting was what I would describe as the two cities of Malibu, one angrily testifying with justification what they witnessed in the wildfire of last month, the other vainly absolving itself.
As I comment on radio 99.1 KBUU and select websites, my two city theory is at the core of the mismanaged fire, and more generally at the disappointment and discontent with the city administration and the strident calls for the dismal of the city manager, Reva Feldman, and her top staff.
It is the city manager that in effect acts as a de facto mayor, at the helm of a bureaucratic construct that is the dominant city, its rank and file experiencing their domain in the glare of computer screens, their responsibilities spelt out in bureaucratic babble.
As for our hapless mayor, Rick Mullen, you had to rail at him at the meeting looking bored while oozing insincerity. Whatever he said had to be taken with a heavy dose of skepticism, in light of the LA Times story revealing that he had padded his overtime snoozing away at the fire station to the tune of a quarter of a million dollars last year. He leaves as mayor this Monday, not soon enough. What an embarrassment.
The other city I would describe as a resident conceit, be they a homeowner or renter, for the most part pleased to be living in arguably one of the world’s most agreeable climates, 21 miles of scenic beauty, not withstanding escalated real estate prices, the bane of the PCH, and frustration with local government.
For most of the last quarter of the century since Malibu was incorporated, the conflict between the two cities has been considered minimal; with residents periodically protesting development with limited success. And if even aware of alleged problems of cronyism and mismanagement, most residents deferred to the city manager form of government.
As exposed in the fire, there are real problems in the limits of local government, as there are problems in governments everywhere at every level, as skeptics note in defense of their disinterest in any political accountability.
So much for the concept of home rule and Jeffersonian Democracy. There is a lot of talk in Malibu these days for reforms, but few people appear ready to spend the time necessary to make government work.
However, this might have changed. Listening to residents in the wake of the fires, I believe, the inherent conflict of the two cities has been brought to the front burner, and to a boil, that fateful Friday of November 9th .
It is then when the unchecked fire roared into Malibu, destroying in its capricious path hundreds of homes thought in the past to be safe.
So, while saddened residents are sifting through the ashes of their homes, I contend it’s time for the incoming council to sift through the city’s service contracts with administrators and consultants, as part of a needed review of the debacle.
And hopefully it will do so with the aid of a little Hoover Commission and independent interest groups, such as the L.A. Emergency Preparedness Foundation. Let’s really find out who was responsible, and who was irresponsible, who pretended to serve our city but in harsh reality just served themselves, before we lynch anyone. I hate lynch mobs.