Five Candidates Vie for Two Empty Seats in City Council Election

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As two-term city council members Laura Rosenthal and Lou La Monte prepare to step down from office, five newcomers are vying to fill the vacancies.

Friday, Aug. 10, was the deadline to submit nomination paperwork for the upcoming municipal election on Nov. 4, and all five hopefuls have qualified to appear on the ballot: Olivia Damavandi, Karen Farrer, Jim Palmer, Mikke Pierson and Lance Simmens.

On the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education side, four openings will appear on the ballot, with all incumbents hoping to retain their spots on the board. A total of five candidates submitted nomination paperwork by Friday, but not all hopeful candidates were officially qualified by the time The Malibu Times went to print Tuesday night.

Incumbents Laurie Lieberman, Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein and Craig Foster have all been qualified to appear on the November ballot, hoping to retain their seats on the board. Incumbent Oscar de la Torre and the sole newcomer, Santa Monica-based activist Ann Thanawalla, also submitted nomination paperwork by Friday’s deadline but had not yet officially qualified for the race.

All incumbents—de la Torre, Foster, Lieberman and Tahvildaran-Jesswein—have officially endorsed one another.

“We’ve made some progress for SMMUSD and a lot for Malibu,” Foster explained in an email to The Malibu Times. “I want to keep that going.”

Malibu City Council

Olivia Damavandi

Raised in central Malibu, Olivia Damavandi attended MJCS nursery school, Webster Elementary School and Malibu High School. She was a staff writer and assistant editor at The Malibu Times from 2008-10, before receiving her Master’s degree from Columbia University. She then returned to Malibu to work as the city’s media information officer.

Damavandi is now married and raising her three children in Malibu. She describes herself in her campaign website as “Malibu-centric.”

According to the site, some of her platform’s key points include “prevent[ing] the MRCA [Mountains Recreation Conservation Authority] from illegally accessing public trails and beaches through private, residential roads in neighborhoods,” “Protect[ing] Malibu residents from FEMA’s calamitous plan to destroy property values,” and “Defend[ing] against monied interests turning our residential neighborhoods into hospital zones.”

Damavandi was not able to provide a personal statement by the time The Malibu Times went to print Tuesday.

Karen Farrer

A 40-year resident of Malibu, Karen Farrer has been volunteering in the community since 1991, including serving as president of: Malibu Schools Leadership Council, AMPS (Advocates for Malibu Public Schools), Webster PTA and Malibu High PTSA. She was also a founding board member of the Shark Fund and has participated in other volunteer organizations.

“I am running because, like many people, I care deeply about the future of Malibu,” Farrer wrote in her personal statement. “We need leadership in this community that is honest and forthright, with focus on public safety, emergency preparedness, land use stewardship, preservation of natural resources and community partnerships.”

According to Farrer, local control is a key aspect of her platform, as well as Pacific Coast Highway safety, fostering community discussion for how best to use the city’s four recently acquired properties and challenging outside agencies, such as the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, FEMA and Southern California Edison.

Jim Palmer

Jim Palmer, the chair of the Malibu Public Works Commission, has lived all his life—more than 50 years—in Malibu. In addition to his community service, he is a grape grower and award-winning winemaker. 

He said because he’s becoming more active in politics, he’s decided “it’s a good opportunity to help lead Malibu to continue the quality of life we have here.  

“Malibu is so beautiful. We need to preserve and protect our community,” he continued. 

 Palmer said he’s a proponent of separating Malibu from the Santa Monica School District.  

“When Malibu has the opportunity to run its own school district, I would love to see efforts made to create amazing education here. We’re a world-class place, world-class surfing, beaches—so why shouldn’t we have world-class schools as well?” 

Palmer also says he will fight to return a skateboard park back to the city.

Mikke Pierson

Lifelong Malibu resident Mikke Pierson has served on the Malibu Planning Commission for the past six years.

“One of my life’s missions is to help people and give back,” Pierson told The Malibu Times. “I love Malibu and want to help lead it forward and make a difference in our community because I care very much.” 

Pierson said he would favor preserving Malibu Bluffs Park from further development. 

“That is a gem that hardly exists on the coast anymore,” he said. Beyond trails, picnic tables and benches, Pierson said he is not in favor of development there: “With other parcels of land, we have the opportunity to take care of [sports] fields that are missing.”  

He said he also would push for a skate park calling it a “needed amenity,” and would want to hear what “the citizens of Malibu want.” 

Lance Simmens

Lance Simmens, a newer resident of Malibu, serves both as president of the Malibu Adamson House Foundation and vice president of the Malibu Democratic Club, according to his personal website.

Simmens has a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Georgia Southern University and an MPA from Temple University and is the father of two adult sons, the site states.

“Following a 40-year career in public service, it would be a great honor to serve the citizens in Malibu,” Simmens wrote in his personal statement, provided to The Malibu Times.

“It is important that citizens have trust and confidence in the institutions and leaders that shape their community. Today, that trust is being severely tested from world capitals to city halls. We must restore civility in our dialogue, comity in our debates, and integrity in our elected officials. The public interest must always trump special interests.”