Voters will choose fifth councilmember in November

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More than 50 people crammed into the small conference room at City Hall Saturday to watch the old council decide how to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Harry Barovsky.

Some just came to watch, but many came to push for a candidate. Two names were put forward during the public comment period: Sharon Barovsky, Harry Barovsky’s widow, a former member of the General Plan Task Force and Civic Center Specific Plan Advisory Committee; and Ted Vaill, a Santa Monica attorney appointed by Walt Keller to the Parks and Recreation Commission and by Tom Hasse to the committee that selected the current City Attorney, Steven Amerikaner.

Hasse said longtime community activist Frank Basso, co-president of the Malibu Township Council, was also interested.

Rather than appoint someone, though they had been inclined to do so the night before the election, the council voted 3-1, Councilwoman Joan House dissenting, to let voters choose the fifth councilmember in a special election in November.

“My thinking on the vacancy has evolved,” said Hasse, referring to the perceived backpedaling on the council’s night-before-the-election decision.

“The five council seats belong to the public,” said Hasse, noting that voters often oust an appointment at a general election, as was the case with U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who defeated then Gov. Pete Wilson’s appointee in 1992.

Hasse said although he was initially concerned about deadlocked 2-2 votes until November, he could not decide on the pros and cons of Barovsky, Vaill and Basso.

“This is a no-win situation because of a decision by a lame-duck city council,” said Hasse, noting that an appointment by the old or new council could be challenged in court. “We don’t want to go down that road,” he said. “An election throws legitimacy on the people that govern.”

Walt Keller and Carolyn Van Horn, who finished fourth and sixth in the six-candidate race, appeared to be relieved not to have to do battle in November.

Keller said, “It will be fun to watch,” and Van Horn remarked, “The community can handle it.”

Joan House, whose motion to appoint Barovsky did not receive a second, wanted a full council because it faces a “huge plate of activities” and she wanted it to focus on priorities.

Van Horn noted that her decision against appointing Barovsky was no reflection on Barovsky.

Water, wetlands

In its final action, the old council voted 4-0 to oppose state Assembly bills dealing with water quality (AB 2492) and coastal development of wetlands (AB 2310).

Surprisingly, the city is opposing a bill authored by Democrat Sheila Kuehl, who has represented Malibu in the state Assembly since 1994 and was just elected to the state Senate.

City Manager Harry Peacock, noting the California Storm Water Quality Task Force and the League of California Cities oppose the bill, said AB 2492 on numeric effluent limits is “another effort to increase standards to a level beyond the requirements of federal law at an extreme cost to state and local government without commensurate environmental benefit or offsetting revenue.”

AB 2310, authored by Denise Ducheny (D-San Diego County), should be opposed “in the strongest possible language,” said Peacock and Van Horn, quoting an e-mail from City Biologist Marti Witter.

The bill, sponsored by the Building Industry Association to respond to prohibitions in Bolsa Chica Land Trust v. Superior Court, is an effort to circumvent the California Coastal Act’s wetland protections upheld in the Bolsa Chica case, Peacock and Witter said.