What’s white and red all over?

I was breezing through the Los Angeles Times Westside Weekly last week, doing what we in the newspaper business call research, when I suddenly realized to my chagrin they had scooped us.

There, in simple, typically ponderous L.A. Times prose, was the announcement of the new city of Malibu design standards as promulgated by our commissioner of aesthetics, Jo Ruggles, and somehow we had missed it. Commissioner Jo, as I sure many of you know, is a member of the Malibu Planning Commission and a longtime denizen of the Paradise Cove Mobile Home Park. She is also a leading proponent of a higher standard of aesthetics in Malibu architecture.

Now, I must confess, lest I be accused of failing to disclose my bias, that I do have some difficulty in taking aesthetic advice from someone who lives or used to live in a converted Campbell soup can in the lower portion of Paradise Cove. Nevertheless, sometimes good ideas come from the most unusual sources. So, to be fair, it’s to her ideas that we have to look and not her lifestyle.

The cornerstone of her aesthetic policy, on which she’s been quoted often (and not in this newspaper, so there should be no doubts about the quote), seems to be that we shouldn’t have any white houses with red roofs. In architecture school this is often referred to as the “white house/red roof syndrome” and it’s well documented. Sufferers from this syndrome are known to talk, some say screech, endlessly until their medication is adjusted or the houses are repainted, whichever comes sooner. Anyone appearing before the Planning Commission now knows it doesn’t matter if the proposed house is puce and pink, or avocado and royal blue or even if it has an 11-foot gargoyle sitting on the roof, provided it doesn’t violate the first rule of architectural aesthetics — the house can’t be white and the roof can’t be red.

Apparently, the Planning Commission may not be of one mind on the “white house/red roof syndrome” issue, because another commissioner, Ken Kearsely, was also quoted in the same article as saying he worries about abandoning the area’s kaleidoscope charm and (and I quote), “I’m afraid it will become a Stepford Village.” Good for Ken.

The second leg of her two-legged aesthetic stool is even simpler. She apparently feels that any hillside house that’s visible from anywhere, particularly anywhere she’s standing, is an abomination and must be prevented. She is apparently a devotee of what in architectural circles are referred to as the “invisible house crowd.” It’s a tenet of their philosophy that everyone is free to build any hillside house they want provided no one else can see them because the people on the ocean or on their way to be beach like to be able to look up to the hills and see nothing but greenery and not what she refers to as “somebody’s architectural statement.” Of course, the corollary of that position is that we hill people, among whom I number myself, shouldn’t have to look down onto the ocean and be forced to see all these overly large beach houses, all cheek by jowl, because in all fairness it’s no more aesthetically pleasing for us to look at them than it is for them to look at us.

I pondered this impasse, and I’ve come up with a solution that I would like our Planning Commission to consider. After all, this is Hollywood. All we’re really talking about is a backdrop. It doesn’t have to be real, it just has to look real. So I propose that we line PCH with a large, painted backdrop. The hill people can look at their side of the backdrop, which will have an ocean uncluttered by beachfront homes, and the beach people can look to the hills, and on their side of the backdrop they’ll see nothing but verdant green. Behind the facade we can all do whatever we want. Think it over. It could work.

I want to give a fond farewell to John Clement, our director of Public Works, who is leaving us to go to the city of Santa Cruz. I’ve seen John in action, and he’s hardworking, smart, competent, honest and outspoken. In most communities, those qualities would be considered an asset, but not here. There are several on the council, who will remain nameless other then to say it isn’t House or Barovsky, who want the staff to be as invisible as Jo Ruggles’ hillside houses, and invisible was never, thankfully, a word you’d ever attach to John Clement.

Good luck,0 John. We are definitely going to miss you.

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

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