The Voice That Soothed Malibu

Susan Nissman

The City of Malibu was born out of a reaction from the citizens of Malibu to the County of Los Angeles plan to install a major sewer in Malibu. Many in Malibu in the late ’80s and early ’90s were afraid that the change would lead to total development of Malibu.

After an election that established Malibu’s cityhood, Zev Yaroslavsky, the County Supervisor for the district, appointed Susan Nissman as his Deputy to interface with the very skeptical citizens of Malibu. She came and stayed, and this week, after more than 20 years of service to the people of Malibu and the entire Third District of L.A. County, Nissman retires.

Nissman, who has been hard at work for the past five months training her replacement, Timothy Lippman, sat down to talk with The Malibu Times on Monday before receiving official recognition from the Malibu City Council for her years of hard work within Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains area.

A local connection, said Nissman, is what helped to heal the relationship between Malibu and L.A. County that had soured while Malibu worked to become its own city. “When Zev (Yaroslavsky) was first elected, the City was still very young, and had not a great taste in its mouth about county, because they had become a city to get away from the county,” Nissman recalled. “It was a challenge in terms of breaking down those barriers, but as things evolved and we worked with so many great council members over the years, and the staff … the City has really evolved [to be] very well-functioning, [with] very dedicated people.”

The relationship between Malibu and L.A. County, which was built upon the foundation of mutual care and stewardship for the mountains, beaches and natural areas of Malibu, according to Nissman, remains strong though Yaroslavsky is no longer in office.

City Manager Jim Thorsen, who’s worked with Nissman for many years, praised her at the meeting, saying she went above and beyond the call of duty to be available when she was needed.

“No matter where I was or what city I was working for, she was always there, willing to talk and resolve problems,” Thorsen said.

“Susan Nissman is one of the best friends Malibu has ever had,” said Councilmember Lou La Monte. “What I value is the friendship that I have with her personally, and I wish her all the best that is possible to be had.”

According to Nissman, who was selected by Yaroslavsky to join his team back in 1994, it is personal relationships she’s created with city and county workers, emergency responders, elected officials and constituents across the Third District that she’ll miss most in retirement.

“What I’m going to miss the most are the people I’ve met,” Nissman said. 

“There’s nothing like being in local government, where you’re really accountable to people … you’re right there,” she continued, saying local government has the advantage of being accessible to people in a way that State and Federal government is not.

“Supervisor Kuehl is very dedicated to it, too, and she gets to come in on a good note in terms of that relationship; it’s very strong,” Nissman said. “I think all of us in the Third District are happy with the election of her — she’s well known out here for having represented this community in the state legislature. She established the PCH Taskforce.”

Nissman said that though she’s thrilled with the success of MS4 Permits, the regulation of municipal storm water management that’s protecting the ocean from unclean runoff and its water issues will likely be the next challenge for Lippman and specifically finding funding for worthy programs.

“We need to all figure out how we can get enough resources together to succeed in programs,” Nissman said. “It’s not coming up with ideas, it’s really going to be the funding and timing of everything.”

Lippman, added Nissman, comes to the position with 12 years of local experience, including working under Fran Pavley.

“I can’t tell you what a relief it is that I can leave and know that everyone is going to be taken care of,” Nissman said.

When Nissman leaves the Supervisor’s office for the last time on Thursday, she’ll take with her some favorite memories, including her years attending the Malibu Veterans Day Ceremony and Dolphin Awards, as well as memories of crises like the many wildfires that have taken place in the Santa Monica Mountains in the last 20 years.

Overall, though, she said she’s excited for what’s to come in retirement, including travel with her husband and possibly taking classes to hone her skills in ceramics, not to mention having a little time to herself.

“I’m looking forward to having my iPhone and myself in two separate rooms,” Nissman said.