Tide turns in Malibu politics


In a virtual replay of tactics used in past city elections, incumbents painted challengers as supporters of massive development who would turn Malibu into Miami Beach.

The effective strategy of 1996 and 1998 apparently backfired this time, with incumbent Joan House, Jeff Jennings and first-time candidate Ken Kearsley winning all 14 precincts by a wide margin to defeat council veterans Walt Keller and Carolyn Van Horn.

“The only thing that Keller and Van Horn had going for them is the Civic Center issue,” said former Councilman John Harlow. “They have done very little else to help homeowners. With 700 conservation and implementation measures in the General Plan, no wonder the city is in trouble.”

Sharon Barovsky urged conciliation. “If this city doesn’t come together, it is doomed. Someone has to be talking. If you shut out an opponent, he will stand on the other side of the door with a battering ram. If anyone wants to honor my husband’s memory, let’s bring this community together.”

Successful candidate Kearsley said the two most important factors in his campaign were, “the development deal and parks. Malibu mommies and daddies were a real factor in this campaign.” He urged action. “We can’t sit and wait for things to happen. We must make them happen. We have not moved from dead center in four years.”

House explained her success differently: “We worked with a broad base and set our priorities. We stayed on course. We knew negativity would be forthcoming, and that’s why we did a pre-emptive strike.”

Both Keller and Van Horn refused to make an election-night comment to The Malibu Times, although Van Horn did state: “Whatever is printed in The Malibu Times is trash. Your paper sucks.”

The rift among the three incumbents developed not long after the last election and culminated after House and Councilman Tom Hasse (formerly supported by Keller and Van Horn) brokered a deal with Civic Center land owners allowing limited development rights in return for land donated for open space and ball fields, and other amenities. Van Horn is pushing for the city to buy the Civic Center properties and convert them into wetlands.

Keller and Van Horn, whose supporters produced the video distributed last weekend, too late for the maligned candidates to respond, painted the three opponents as pawns of developers and urged voters to re-elect the “environmentally friendly” council members.

A mailer stating “The House-Hasse development deal is No Deal for Malibu” was quickly refuted in a hand-delivered “Voter Alert” written by Lloyd Ahern, citing the video as an example of the “underhanded tactics that made Malibu city government dysfunctional and a laughing stock among all other agencies in the state and county.”

The Sierra Club, listed as a supporter of Keller, Van Horn and John Wall, solicited votes by telephone Monday. One resident said she had four calls, two from Sierra Club members and two from people who said Keller and Van Horn were chosen by the group as the appropriate candidates. “I find it tough to imagine that they’ve turned on Joan House since they support Sheila Kuehl and Fran Pavely, who both support House,” she said. “I called the Sierra Club but couldn’t get any response.”

Another resident said he thought the video, narrated by Ed Harris, was well produced though factually incorrect. “If you didn’t know better, it could easily sway you.” The video shows the Chili Cook-off site full of fire engines when it was used as a staging area during the 1993 wildfire. The narrator infers that Malibu Bay Co. development in the Civic Center would eliminate its use as an emergency staging area and would increase traffic. Hasse maintains the Malibu Bay Co. plan allows the staging area to remain while the Wetlands proposal would eliminate it.

Reports of irregularities filtered in during the day with one accusation of a precinct worker viewing a marked ballot, and harassment of voters approaching the polling place at Point Dume school. Formal complaints were reportedly filed but were not confirmed by the city clerk Tuesday.

Traditionally close races, the last council election, which removed Jennings from the council and elected Hasse, was decided by only 29 votes.

As of Friday, 1,178 absentee ballots had been requested. Typically, absentee ballots are 30 percent of the total.

By 2 p.m., generally believed an indicator of half the actual voter turnout, precincts reported slightly less than the average 40 percent of registered voters.

In the final tally, about 8,600 registered voters cast 3,763 ballots.

The tally in 1998 was 5,855 votes cast on election day with about 100 provisional or late-arriving absentee ballots still uncounted. At that point Jennings and Hasse were separated by only nine votes.

This time, absentee ballots, counted first, showed more than 2-to-1 support for the moderates.

Ballot Measure A, which would limit council members to two terms, passed 2,300 to 1,278.

Measure B, which would impose a tax, for general city purposes, based on 10 percent of parking fees, passed 2,442 to 1,083.

Measure C, which indicates funding priorities from parking taxes, passed 2,863 to 578.