Party politics

Something happens to people when they get involved in local government. That natural suspicion most of us have about the excesses of power in the federal government, the state government and the county government seems to vanish totally .

I know conservative Republicans who are appalled at most exercises of governmental power but who wouldn’t hesitate to tell their next-door neighbor what color to paint their house, what greenery to plant and what kind of pets are OK. I know liberal Democrats, who are deeply suspicious of governmental authority, who would have the sheriff arrest everyone in their neighborhood whose children play loud music.

If Malibu once had a “live-and-let-live” philosophy, it seems to have deserted us more and more, as some people feel the purpose of local government is to provide a mechanism for complaining about their neighbors.

Since our entire code enforcement system is based on who screams and shouts the most, what we’re beginning to see is tit-for-tat government fostered by groups like the Planning Commission that keep proposing draconian laws.

For example, the Malibu Planning Commission just came to the City Council with a proposal that would have required a Temporary Use Permit (TUP) for those planing to have a party at their home with more than 50 people. The background on this is twofold.

First, the people in Ramirez Canyon are furious at the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, and with good reason. The conservancy has taken the Barbra Streisand property that was donated to them and turned it into a commercial event venue to raise money to support the facility, which means groups of people are trucked in every weekend. The state and the conservancy have thumbed their noses at the neighbors and essentially said there isn’t a damn thing you can do to us because we’re the state and you’re not.

Additionally, there are a few owners of large homes in other Malibu locations who have turned their mansions into permanent wedding and event venues, much to the consternation of their neighbors.

The Planning Commission tried to do something about these problems, but unfortunately it didn’t do it very well. In classic bureaucratic overreaction, they unanimously, I’m chagrined to say, decided to require a TUP for those more-than-50-people parties or some variation on that theme.

Can you imagine having to go down to City Hall to get a permit to throw a party in your home?

First of all, this is Malibu. If anyone on the Planning Commission had ever thrown a party, they would know that no one in Malibu ever RSVPs. In fact, it can drive you mad. It’s only after years of party throwing that you begin to get an inkling of how many people will show up. So, now, you have to guess how many people will show, and there are always a few who bring extra friends. Therefore, you have to put someone at the door to count heads and turn away guest number 51. I absolutely guarantee you, if you don’t, there is someone down your block who was never invited to any of your parties who would like nothing better than to call the sheriff to complain. Now what happens? Does the sheriff come in and count heads? Do you hide the extra guests in the closet? Do you allow them to search the house? Do they need a search warrant? Does the Planning Commission need their heads examined? Do you need an extra-strength Excedrin?

Fortunately for us, City Manager Harry Peacock has been around the block once or twice and wrote a memo to the council suggesting just maybe this wasn’t the way to do it. He gave them an example: “If I had a party at my home for the staff and spouses, it could easily exceed 50 people. Then, whom do I not invite so that I can avoid getting a TUP, pay a $225 fee (almost $5 a head) and risk having to cancel the party at the last minute because of some neighbor who doesn’t like me and appeals my application?”

If this were just an isolated incident, I would merely shrug. But this is the same Planning Commission that wants to control our interior lighting, that was upset because large windows let too much light outside and that doesn’t like to be able to see a house on a hillside from a public road.

In all fairness, it’s not everyone on the Planning Commission, but, from time to time, there seems to be three votes for sheer wackiness.

It’s particularly appropriate that we look very carefully now because the City Council is about to decide on the hillside ordinance. That ordinance is going to impact a lot of people negatively, and it was drafted, in the main, by our far-seeing Planning Commission.

P.S. I invite someone from the Planning Commission to write next week and try and explain this foolishness.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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