After attending the candidates forum at the Point school the other night, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat frustrated by their collective unwillingness to demonstrate real leadership. When asked to respond to several tough questions about how to generate more revenue to meet our city’s increasing needs and responsibilities (particularly since over 80 percent of our citizenry surveyed want no part, understandably, of a tax increase) they often gave vague or no answers at all. At least three issues (The Malibu Bay Co., local schools and hotel/occupancy taxes) were not debated by the candidates in a way that gave me any sense of confidence. It was hard not to be disturbed by this “retro” group who were, for the most part, holding their noses at most of the changes we need for Malibu. Clearly, we’re having to drag several of our elected officials into a future they don’t want and they’re coming along “kicking and screaming.”
Not only did the candidates act “clueless” (and so did this week’s reporting in The Malibu Times) about the revenue-generating impact of an appropriately scaled-down development deal that we may now make with the Malibu Bay Co. (they pretend to only understand how to value a one-time, very generous gift of land and money for recreation facilities at Point Dume), but also they took the opportunity to lecture and insult the intelligence of some of us on the virtues of “living within our means.” They tried to extol this virtue when questioned on the matter of just how are we going to afford to help the schools, provide the necessary police protection for us and our 10 million annual visitors, maintain our expensive infra structure, etc., etc. In fact several of the candidates thought it sounded cute and appropriate to now consider transferring our priorities from “potholes to pupils” — meaning, that if we are short funds then let’s make sure that what we have goes to the children. OK, fair enough, but is this ascetic/aesthetic mindset really representative of the progressive thinking that the people of Malibu deserve and want from their elected city officials? I doubt it.
Let me put it somewhat differently — I realize the council is awaiting a report from their economic consultant on the proposed deal with Malibu Bay Company, but please don’t tell us that we negotiated this agreement without any idea of its potential value to the city (that’s patently ridiculous). It would have been proper for the candidates to talk about some of the ongoing tax benefits to Malibu at this forum. You better believe MBC understands the economics of the deal. For example, which commercial uses specifically give the city the best opportunities for taxation, and what are the exact tradeoffs (such as low-impact usage) that a majority of us who vote — want for all the people of Malibu. And there’s more, much more.
Moving ahead, our candidates thought it would be a grand idea — on the issue of shortfalls in funding for our schools — to “march” on Sacramento and see if we can’t just persuade them to subsidize and better fund our local schools. Isn’t it a little farfetched to imagine, given the ever-escalating needs of every single community in California, that we would get both a positive reception and, more important, meaningful, added dollars for Malibu (given our blessed circumstances — natural and otherwise)?
Hey, everyone knows that $5,500 per year per kid in an expensive place like California isn’t anywhere close to adequate when it comes to educating our children, and, that said, we better figure out how to face up to our responsibilities and start taking care of our own — right now. And that’s the kind of lecture and leadership I, for one, would welcome from our politicians.
When someone plaintively asked — would approving and taxing one small luxury hotel next to Pepperdine help with our mounting fiscal crisis — all the candidates save one, Jeff Jennings, turned up their noses at the projected million dollars per year in room tax revenue, and more or less said, “We don’t need that kind of money” (as if the proposal was to build a casino or brothel or both at the present site of the Chili Cook-off).
Being told to live within our means is not an answer for a young city just beginning to experience life’s realities. It’s an annoying, evasive and irresponsible recommendation. And the way things are going — we’re all going to be a lot older and so will our children, by the time many of the necessary improvements are approved and then made for Malibu. I’d suggest, before we vote in April, that we get a better handle on all this and secure certain concrete promises from the candidates. I trust most people understand the importance of this election.
Walter J. Rosenthal