The Gospel according to Saint Jo

I did something this week I very seldom do.

I attended a City Council meeting. Actually, this was more than an ordinary City Council meeting. This was a combined meeting of the Malibu City Council and the Malibu Planning Commission. The council’s purpose was to consider the new hillside ordinance, and I guess the Planning Commission was there, since they developed the ordinance, so the council could hear it directly from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

Generally, I just watch these things on cable, so at least when things bog down, I can change channels and watch a beer commercial for a while to hear some stimulating dialogue. But I decided this time that watching it on TV was the chicken way out and that I owed you, my readers, the story straight and unvarnished, direct from the combat zone, warts and all.

So I dutifully reported to the auditorium at Hughes Research Laboratory at 6:30 sharp Monday night. Although my intentions were proper, the human body can stand only so much. By 7:30, my stomach was sour, and I began to think a civilized council would at least sell beer at the meetings like they do at the ballpark. By 8:30 the bile was in my throat, and I began to wonder whether I really cared about you all that much. By 9 p.m., I decided the hell with you all, I’m going home. If you want to know what went on, go see for yourself, if you have the stomach for it.

So based upon my 2-1/2 painfully long hours at the scene, I’m passing on to you my impressions of the meeting.

For one thing, several council members asked questions of the Planning Commission, and, much to my surprise, considering they created the ordinance, they seemed very reluctant to talk about it, with one notable exception — Chair Jo Ruggles. She wanted to talk, she was willing to talk and in fact they could hardly shut her up long enough to get a reluctant opinion out of anyone else.


So here it is: the planning gospel according to the Planning Commission as enunciated by its interlocutor, Jo Ruggles, I assume with the assent of all, although we probably will never know whether it’s reluctant or enthusiastic since they won’t tell us.

As an aside, I must admit Ruggles did impress me. I can honestly say that in my many decades on this Earth, I have never seen another human being who was so absolutely certain about just about everything, a person for whom at no moment in time did there appear even the slightest doubt about what the proper course is to follow.

The plan for building or changes or renovations as enunciated would appear to be:

If your home is more than 18 feet high, thou shalt go before the Planning Commission.

If your home is on a slope of more than 33.33 percent, thou shalt go before the Planning Commission.

If your house is neither of those but the planning director decides he’d rather pass the buck, thou shalt go before the Planning Commission.

Thy house must look like thy neighbor’s because we have neighborhood standards.

Thou can choose any color thou wishest provided it’s not white, has no red roof, blends into the background and can’t be seen.

Thou shalt protect public views, which means anyone who lives in the Valley and drives down PCH has a priority over you who may have spent a million plus for the privilege of living in Malibu.

Thou shalt not have large windows where light can creep out and offend neighbors or passersby.

Thy skylights must be flat and invisible.

Thy colors must be earth tones, but no one seems clear about what’s an earth tone. No matter — the Planning Commission seems to be saying they’ll know it when they see it.

Thou shalt have no bright colors on thy homes, and the decoration shall be flat black or natural colors.

Thy lights shall be directed downward.

And much, much, much more.

Now, I must confess even some on the council seem to balk at the direction the Planning Commission had taken, but Ruggles was clear and totally unapologectic. The Planning Commission wants a discretionary review and a design review. That means they intend to control everything.

So I ask you —

Did you vote for cityhood because you needed help deciding what color your house should be?

Did you vote for cityhood so the Planning Commission could protect you from your neighbors?

Did you vote for cityhood because you wanted to look, sound and be just like your neighbors?

Did you vote for cityhood because you wanted to be sure everyone who drove through Malibu (and that’s what public view means) had as much say as you do as to the shape of your city?

That seems to be what the Planning Commission believes and wants to enact.

In all fairness, even some on the council, with the possible exception of Carolyn Van Horn, who never saw a regulation she didn’t love, seemed to have some of the same difficulty with this that I had.

It remains to be seen whether their skepticism will thwart this silly overreaching by the Planning Commission or whether they ultimately will buckle under.

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

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