Tensions Rise as Council Appoints Subcommittee Members

Malibu City Council met this week for the first time since the swearing in of its newly elected members — providing an anxiously awaited window into much of how the next two years may be headed with a change of leadership at the helm of the city.

The main event of Wednesday’s meeting was the matter of council subcommittee appointments, generally a routine process.

This time around, there was some jostling for position as seats on the council’s various subcommittees — overseeing departments including administration and finance, and parks and recreation — were voted on among the members. Each subcommittee includes two council members. 

Council subcommittees offer a chance for city council members to provide guidance to various departments and meet on an as-needed basis — some more than others.

The contentious 2016 city council race, resulting in the election of Fire Captain Rick Mullen, Malibu Pier concessionaire and local business owner Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner, and the reelection of incumbent Skylar Peak was seen by many as a referendum on the former city council. The three ran on a slate with a major campaign promise of staunchly opposing development and, in the words of their campaign materials, “protecting Malibu.” They ran as a slate asking voters to elect all three to make up a council majority, and they won overwhelmingly in every precinct.

The first of seven subcommittee appointments was also the most contentious: The Administration and Finance Subcommittee.

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The discussion and voting on that item, though polite and genteel, provided evidence of the slate flexing its muscles — after all, the three can now override incumbent Council Member Laura Rosenthal and Mayor Lou La Monte.

“I am on that committee; I’ve been for a while … I would like to continue on that and I would like to get another [member],” La Monte said. 

“I’d like to make a motion that Rick Mullen and myself step up to the Administration and Finance Subcommittee,” Peak said, to a low murmur of applause from the small audience in attendance at the meeting. After a pause, Wagner seconded the motion. 

Rosenthal then presented a spirited — and tactful — defense of La Monte’s position on the committee.

“We have some kind of institutional memory, or people that have been doing it for a while,” Rosenthal began, reminding Peak about the “learning curve” he experienced joining the ZORACES [Zoning Ordinance Revisions & Code Enforcement Subcommittee]. “Maybe it is a compromise — we take the next year and keep Lou on it and then have one new member, so at least somebody that’s been doing it … as well as the fact that a lot of those meetings are called at the last minute. And so, I personally think it would be — nothing against you [Peak] — but it would be a great committee for Rick to be on to learn about this, and Lou’s such a good teacher, but that’s just my opinion.”

Wagner flipped that idea, suggesting they appoint Peak and Mullen and revisit the committee in one year’s time.

“I’m in favor of giving these guys a try, and come back in a year [if] something’s wrong and they haven’t done their job,” Wagner said. Wagner also pointed out La Monte’s responsibilities outside council, which include his recent appointment to the L.A. County Commission on Alcohol and Other Drugs and his May 2016 election as president of the California Contract Cities Association.

“I agree that you’ve taken on some significant responsibilities that are really important to the city, and I think you’re going to be traveling quite a bit,” Mullen said.

Rosenthal’s defense of La Monte evidently struck a chord with Peak, however, who backed down from his motion to place himself on the subcommittee, opting instead to give La Monte and Mullen four months before bringing that appointment back before the council.

“I guess what I would be willing to do — and I think it would be a good idea, based on what Lou and Laura said — is … I would … appoint Lou and Rick, and us to revisit this item in May of this year; four months, and we can see how it goes [from] there,” Peak said.

The motion passed unanimously.

Following the vote, decisions on other subcommittees were cordial, despite a couple of audience members jeering, appearing to desire Rosenthal and La Monte to stay off all council subcommittees.

In the end, six of the seven subcommittees retained at least one returning member; only the Public Works Subcommittee saw a full turnover, with Peak and Wagner taking the two positions.

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