Council explores ways to limit staff exodus

The council also approves formation of ad-hoc committee to look into the issue of drug rehabilitation homes that some say are taking over Malibu neighborhoods.

By Jonathan Friedman/Assistant Editor

Councilmember Ken Kearsley proposed at the Oct. 27 Quarterly City Council meeting that the city should hire a human resources consultant to help determine why Malibu staff turnover rate is so high. But Mayor Pro Tem Andy Stern said he is opposed to the idea because the consultant would not be intimately familiar enough with the city to make such a determination.

Since the city’s creation in 1991, Malibu has been plagued by a high city staff turnover rate. The problem has been most visible in the Planning Division, which has been through eight managers/directors. Most of the planning staff has worked for Malibu for less than one year. Senior Planner Stacey Rice is the only person working in the division who has been onboard for more than two years.

“We can bring somebody in to do morale interviews, to identify the problems,” Kearsley said.

City Manager Katie Lichtig said she has been studying the city’s attrition rate over the past few years and believes until recently it had been improving. Lichtig added that she has spoken with employees who decide to leave the city to determine their reasons, and she said usually it is not about the money.

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“There are pressures that come from the amount of work, the type of work, the high expectations that we have of ourselves and the community has of us,” Lichtig said.

Stern said he believes the reason for the high turnover rate with planners is because of the complicated task of dealing with Malibu’s Local Coastal Program issues. He said hiring a consultant to determine what he says is already apparent would not be useful.

“It is a mind-boggling complex process what we’re going through and what … the staff is going through; trying to figure out the LCP document and the zoning ordinance, and when we’re going to start and what we’re going to do,” Stern said. “And you probably have dozens of people calling on a daily basis trying to find out when they are going to get their permit. They [Malibu planners] probably just get tired of it and move on.”

Also at the meeting, Kearsley said he would like the city to take a closer look at how much the city spends on planning services versus how much it charges for permit fees. Lichtig said the city receives about $400,000 annually on permit fees while it spends about $950,000 on the Planning Division. Kearsley said that number is “way out of balance.” He said it should be looked at to see if raising permit fees is a necessity, because those fees are supposed to compensate for the amount of money the city must spend on the planning process. Lichtig pointed out that certain tasks of the Planning Division, such as researching for and drafting ordinances, are not compensated for through permit fees.

Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich took another approach, saying she would like to look into waving fees for some people wishing to appeal project approvals, if they are unable to afford the fees. Mayor Sharon Barovsky said she would be opposed to that.

“I would not want to make a judgment on who we’re going to wave fees [for], because that is a political quagmire,” she said.

Lichtig said all these issues could be discussed by the Administration and Finance Subcommittee, which is composed of Barovsky and Stern, prior to the budget going before the council in the spring.

The council also decided at the meeting last week to allow Barovsky and Stern to form an ad-hoc committee to address the issue of drug rehabilitation homes. These homes have been popping up around Malibu for several years. As they continue to grow, many residents have begun to complain. The idea behind the programs is to integrate the homes into a neighborhood. But some say that when there are a large number of the homes, they become the neighborhood, defeating the purpose while changing the character of the area for the regular residents.

The city has had difficulty getting the state to pass any laws to limit the number of rehabilitation homes that can be built on one street. Kearsley said previous residential groups that have dealt with the issue had to end their battles because of exhaustion from not being able to accomplish anything.

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

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