If you were wondering what’s happening in the battle between the California Coastal Commission and the people of Malibu over the Malibu Land Use Plan (LUP), sadly you won’t find any story on the front page of this week’s paper. It’s not that nothing is happening. It’s just that what is happening is beneath the radar.
So I’m going to give you what I know from personal knowledge, what I’ve heard rumored, what I’ve deduced from knowing the players in the battle and then just hunch my way into filling in some of the blank spots.
The truth is, political writers work pretty much as a people do when working a crossword puzzle. They start with what they know, and then try out some different combinations to fill in the empty spaces. One could ask the politicians involved, but they’ll never tell the truth. In fact, in a hot political issue, they’re probably the last ones to bother with because, on a whole, talking to them is a colossal waste of time. It’s always much better talking to the peripheral players, who usually know a lot, even if they’re not always sure what it means. And then, wherever possible, get any document you can lay your hands on, particularly documents that were written before it all hit the fan.
So what do I know for a fact?
I know that on Thursday, Feb. 21, Sara Wan, chair of the California Coastal Commission, and Ozzie Silna, activist in the Malibu Coastal Land Conservancy (MCLC) and the Daddy Warbucks of the Malibu environmental movement, are co-hosting a very exclusive and expensive fundraiser at the Wan’s Carbon Mesa home. The fundraiser is for Sen. John Burton of San Francisco, the president pro tem of the state Senate, which means he’s the leader. He also, coincidentally, happens to be one of the people who makes four appointments to the California Coastal Commission, and Wan just happens to be one of his appointments. Her appointment is up this spring, and I’m just wildly guessing she’d like to stay on the commission and also continue as its chair. For both, she’ll need the strong support of Burton, and there is no better way in politics to do this than to throw a fundraiser.
Before you go rushing off to give some money to get a shot at Burton, I should tell you that the ante is a little steep, even by Malibu standards. It’s $2,500 if you want to be a sponsor and a mere $1,000 per person if you want to attend the dinner. They’re limiting the group to 25 people, so they expect, if my arithmetic is right, to raise somewhere between $25,000 and $62,500.
Now, you should know something about giving political money. When you give $100 or $200, about all you can expect is a “Hi Arnie. Thanks for your support.” That is, if they remember your name or have a good staff person that remembers it. But when someone gives $2,500, or if it’s a couple and they buy two tickets at $5,000, then something more is expected.
What Wan wants is simple. She just wants to stay in the game. What Silna wants is somewhat more complicated. Clearly, the MCLC has decided to pursue its no-growth wetlands agenda by ignoring the City of Malibu altogether and going directly to the Coastal Commission and state politicians. In fact, the MCLC, or its sympathizers, has already filed a couple of lawsuits against the city, so far unsuccessfully, to try and block the city from participating in the LUP process.
But on the larger playing field, like the state’s, money counts more, particularly when you give dollars for an issue, because you’re not limited to $100 checks as in city elections. Also, politicians take that money and give to other politicians in their races, which is one of the ways they maintain their positions. Raising bucks is an important part of the leadership role in our political system.
On the other side of the coin, the city can’t spread money around, so, instead, Malibu is working the phones like mad. City officials are also visiting coastal commissioners and whoever else has clout, but are particularly trying to get the attention of the governor and new speaker Herb Wesson. Their hope is to convince them that, if the Coastal Commission’s LUP for Malibu passes as is, it does no one any good because it’s virtually a declaration of war and will end up in court.
Fundamentally, what most of the politicians want is a solution, not a war. And it’s only because of the voracious appetites for control at the top of the Coastal Commission that we’re in this mess. They should be able to work this out, but it’s not going to happen if the commission continues to push to turn all of Malibu into an Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area (ESHA).
A number of coastal commissioners made it abundantly clear that compromise of any sort was not on their agenda, and I suspect that, unless either Gov. Gray Davis or Wesson give their appointees some instructions to settle this reasonably, it’s not going to happen.
The sad part is it’s pure power politics, mixed in with a bit of personal rancor, and it accomplishes no one’s goals of either protecting the environment or allowing fair use of peoples’ property. I spent 20-plus years as a litigator and I can state, unequivocally, it is the dumbest, most expensive way to settle disputes. If the Coastal Commission’s plan passes as is right now, then we’re headed for the courtroom, or really a sequence of courtrooms, which, to my mind is just plain stupid.
P.S. If you’re still dying to go to the fundraiser anyway, give Sara a call at 456-6605. I’m sure they’ll accept your money graciously.