Mayor delivers State of the City address

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky speaking in 2012 at the Malibu State of the City Address. Yaroslavsky and the county Board of Supervisors in 2011 ordered the county Public Works Department to prepare a long-range development plan to overhaul Waterworks District 29, which brings water to Topanga and most of Malibu. 

Mayor Laura Rosenthal maintains city’s finances in order and says an “aggressive public [street] paving” project is on the horizon. Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky calls Coastal Commission’s ESHA designations “intellectually dishonest.”

By Knowles Adkisson / Associate Editor

Mayor Laura Rosenthal said the City of Malibu is on the right track at last Friday’s State of the City breakfast, which also featured a long speech from County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky in which he addressed several issues pertaining to Malibu.

Rosenthal maintained the city was on strong fiscal footing, saying that its operating budget was funded from annual incoming revenue and noting the city had maintained an AA+ bond rating for another year. Rosenthal also said the city enjoyed a balanced budget, but acknowledged moments later that the council had had to spend $680,000 in unbudgeted appropriations after approving the last year’s budget. Most of those funds went toward legal fees related to a recently settled lawsuit with environmental groups Santa Monica Baykeeper and the National Resources Defense Council. But Rosenthal said that it appears sales tax revenue this year is about $100,000 ahead of projections.

In the coming year, Rosenthal said that the Public Works Commission was formulating an ambitious program to re-pave city streets. The city’s spending in recent years on streets has been criticized by several as inadequate, including Public Works commissioner Steve Karsh. After spending at least $280,000 on street overlay the two years prior, the city spent only $10,000 on street overlay in Fiscal Year 2010-11 before allocating $300,000 for 2011-12.

“We’re doing an aggressive public paving project in which we spend twice as much money every year,” Rosenthal said. “I don’t think we’re going to get where the county is [re-paving] every two years, I don’t think we’re going to be able to pave the roads that much, but we’ll see what we can do.”

Rosenthal noted that in the past year, the city completed a number of projects such as its Regional Housing Needs Assessment for low-income housing; a trails map; a cultural arts report which will create a cultural arts commission; and a view preservation ordinance. In September, the City Council will consider whether to add view restoration to the view ordinance it passed earlier this year.

“What I would like to see is a view restoration ordinance voted in,” Rosenthal said.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, whose district on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors includes Malibu, preceded Rosenthal with a lengthy speech in which he touched on a range of topics which appeared carefully tailored to his Malibu audience. The annual State of the City breakfast is hosted by the Malibu Chamber of Commerce and was moderated this year by Chamber President Don Schmitz.

Yaroslavsky spoke mainly of environmental and conservation issues, and said the Board of Supervisors was in discussions about producing a mail ballot measure in 2013 to fund major improvements to storm drain systems in the county to prevent pollution in the Santa Monica Bay. Yaroslavsky said Malibu, particularly southern Malibu, was one of several coastal cities which suffered because of pollution from inland areas that made its way downstream and into the ocean. In doing so Yaroslavsky echoed several Malibu city officials, most notably the recently re-elected John Sibert, who have made the same argument for years.

“[Malibu, Santa Monica, Venice and the South Bay] are all areas that are receptacles for pollution that is generated upstream from Pasadena, El Monte, Covina and gets into our storm drain system and is deposited in Santa Monica Bay,” Yaroslavsky said. “The county wants to do something about it in a big way, not just in an incremental way.”

Yaroslavsky also said that the Board of Supervisors is currently working with the California Coastal Commission on a local coastal program (LCP) for almost all of the unincorporated area of the Santa Monica Mountains directly east of the City of Malibu. The LCP would govern future development in those areas. He said the county’s previous attempt to get an LCP failed when the Coastal Commission staff under late executive director Peter Douglas recommended against approving the LCP “because we didn’t declare every shrub of chaparral as ESHA [Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area], which to me is a joke.”

The supervisor then lobbed a tasty hunk of red meat to the room of about 100 people, which was filled with Malibu city officials and members of the business community, many of whom have sparred with the CCC in the past over development issues.

“Every square inch of chaparral is ESHA, but if somebody has a piece of property they want to develop, you go into what I call the Coastal Commission bazaar and barter with them over how much you can get exempted from the ESHA requirement,” Yaroslavsky said. “Our plan prefers to designate ESHA as real ESHA, and have no exemptions from the ESHA requirement. You don’t want to have the county building inspector or the Coastal Commission staff be negotiating with somebody with real ESHA.”

Yaroslavsky implied that the Coastal Commission’s stringent ESHA designations were a way for the commission to win concessions from applicants, a common criticism under the reign of Douglas, who died in April.

“You just can’t declare the whole Santa Monica Mountains ESHA unless you’re prepared to buy it,” he said. “Of course, the Coastal Commission can’t afford to buy anybody’s property, let alone the whole mountain. And as a result, they’ve set up a system which is really kind of intellectually dishonest.”

Yaroslavsky also hinted his belief that that system could be changing.

“I think there’s a recognition on the part of some now that there needs to be a modus vivendi [a Latin term meaning compromise] on that issue,” he said.