Bowing to pressure

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A swarm of massive commercial and other developments in downtown Malibu has been approved or is under serious consideration by our city government. A group called “Preserve Malibu” has recently formed to monitor these developments. The group’s concern, among others, is the significantly increased traffic these developments would bring to our main street, PCH, compounding the serious traffic problems we currently experience in connection with fire danger evacuations, for example. An initiative, as currently worded, would require a vote of the citizens to approve a development if the proposed project didn’t comply with city and coastal commission codes. If the initiative is approved by the voters, it would strip city council members and their planning commission appointees of absolute authority over current and future developments like some of those discussed here. Preserve Malibu recognizes that developers have a right to develop projects, but the hotel project, and perhaps others, are so far from what the codes allow the citizens should have the right to vote on them.

As president of the Malibu Township Council at the time, I was heavily involved in the drive for cityhood, and also in defeating “Big Sewer.” Both efforts were successful. Malibu could no longer be treated by the county government as if it were under the control of an occupying power.

Walt Keller, Malibu’s first mayor, knew that I had been assistant director and charter consultant of the Michigan Municipal League, Michigan’s counterpart to the League of California Cities. Walt asked me to chair a city manager search committee because of my experience in local government. As charter consultant I had helped citizens groups in Michigan set up their own “home rule” city governments. With the city manager on board and other programs our new city government undertook, Malibu was finally in control of its own destiny, I believed.

I was wrong. Developers and other outside interests are now taking over our town or are well on their way to doing so. It would be unfair to call our city council and their appointed planning commissioners “pro-development,” but their passive position in their relations with developers has had the same effect. The EIR and mitigation game always plays out the same way when developers deal with a city council like this one and its predecessors. The developers get their half loaf, which is why they always ask for more than they hope to get.

As I watched the sorry business of development approvals unfold during these past several years, I had given thought to organizing a recall movement to unseat the group that has been in power all these years, bringing in different city council members and planning commissioners who would be proactive, taking a true leadership role in controlling our town’s destiny. But this would be too disruptive at this time. That’s why I believe Preserve Malibu’s initiative is needed.

Leon Cooper