Council candidates blast sitting council’s behavior

During one election forum, candidates say the behavior of certain council members toward public speakers during meetings is inexcusable. Other issues addressed are school traffic safety and lights, as well as the proposed overnight camping plan for Malibu’s parks.

By Olivia Damavandi / Assistant Editor

The 2010 Malibu City Council election race candidates faced a firestorm of questions at two public forums in the past week.

Malibu High School students last Wednesday and the Malibu Township Council on Saturday, who grilled the council hopefuls on their knowledge and stance on key issues, including temporary lights for school sporting events and traffic safety, hosted the forums.

But candidates were given the opportunity to discuss a new topic when the Malibu Township Council asked whether they thought the sitting council has been polite and respectful when listening to public comments at city meetings.

All the candidates expressed disdain at the behavior of the current council toward public speakers.

“The behavior of the city council has been abusive to the public and each other,” candidate Harold Greene said.

Candidate Michael Sidley said one problem is that public speakers must “allow council members to ridicule them without opportunity for rebuttal.”

Candidate Lou La Monte said the lack of civil discourse is a result of “tribal thinking” that has divided residents into opposing political groups.

But current Councilmember Andy Stern said the question highlighted Malibu Township Council’s long-standing aversion for some sitting council members.

“I don’t give any credit to the MTC, considering how biased they’ve been over the years,” Stern said Tuesday in a phone interview.

Stern said he thought the sitting council is “polite and respectful. But if people challenge us and lie to us we have a right to respond.”

Mayor Sharon Barovsky agreed with Stern, and on Tuesday recalled a meeting in which candidate John Mazza, a former MTC president, compared a city council decision with Dick Cheney’s torture memos.

“I thought that was a little over the top,” Barovsky said. “I’d put that in the heading of rude. When you hear that, it’s a little hard to not want to defend yourself.”

Candidate Steve Scheinkman, who is allied with Mazza in the election race, praised the efforts of Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich and Mayor Pro Tem Jefferson Wagner, both of whom were at the MTC forum on Saturday.

Conley Ulich on Tuesday said “valid comments were made at the debate,” and that the city council “has to do a better job at welcoming people.”

School lights, parking addressed

The candidates at both forums were asked their stance on allowing temporary lighting at Malibu High School, and how many nights should the lights be utilized.

Candidate Matthew Katz received flak for opposing the lights and for verbalizing what some perceived as an insult to the high school football team.

“They’ve never been a great football team, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t exist,” Katz said. “I might suggest to you to look at recent studies that show concussions created on the football field come back to haunt you later in life.”

The Malibu Planning Commission in January voted to recommend temporary lights be used at Malibu High School’s main athletic field 16 nights per year. The recommendation will be forwarded to the city council and later to the California Coastal Commission. Both bodies must support the recommendation for it to become law.

La Monte and Greene supported a minimum of 16 nights; Rosenthal supported 16 to 26 nights; Sidley said “as many nights that were needed for school activities;” Mazza and Scheinkman supported 16 nights; and Ed Gillespie said, “I think that should be the city’s decision, not the Coastal Commission’s.”

The Malibu High School students also asked the candidates how they would improve the ongoing traffic problem at the high school and the adjacent Juan Cabrillo Elementary School, and how they would increase safety on city roads.

All the candidates said they would fight for funding from Measure BB to ensure a permanent solution to the parking shortage around the schools. The solution includes the construction of a new parking lot by the high school football field. It also includes the implement of a roundabout at the bottom of the driveway that divides the two schools.

The challenge, Rosenthal said, is getting the city and the school district to work together because the roundabout would be built on a city street.

“Another thing that should be revisited is offsite parking with shuttles,” Greene said, adding that he would work with Los Angeles County to allow offsite parking at Zuma Beach.

Katz also recommended offsite parking at Zuma Beach, and said students should carpool more often.

Candidate Kofi recommended changing the starting times of both schools to reduce traffic.

Negotiation over litigation for camping plan

After the candidates all voiced their opposition to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy’s plan to implement overnight camping sites in various Malibu canyons, the Malibu Township Council asked the candidates what actions they would take to stop the plan and to protect residents from the risk of fire.

The plan, long opposed by numerous Malibu residents who say it increases the risk of fires, will create overnight camping sites at Bluffs Park and Latigo, Ramirez, Escondido and Corral canyon parks; a total of 183 parking spaces within those five parks; and improvements to local trails to create the Coastal Slope Trail that will connect the east and west ends of Malibu. All five parks targeted for overnight camping have, in recent years, been burned or threatened by a wildfire. Though the proposed plan would prohibit campfires, residents doubt the extent to which that rule would be enforced. Several have also threatened lawsuits, and the city is also exploring its legal options.

Instead of filing a lawsuit, Rosenthal proposed asking SMMC Executive Director Joe Edmiston if the city and the conservancy could each use the money that would be spent on litigation to hire park rangers who would patrol the camping sites all day, every day.

Sidley and La Monte also advocated negotiation over litigation.

“The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy has received permission from the Coastal Commission to have camping,” Sidley said. “I can yell about it but that’s not going to change the reality. I need to provide protection for my citizens. I need to find a way for the city to ensure there’s going to be cold camping. And that’s exactly what I intend to do. I don’t intend to file lawsuits for no reason. I intend to use city resources to help ensure we can protect our residents.”

Scheinkman and Mazza, however, strongly encouraged the city to litigate the issue.

“You must not sue every agency that comes along,” Mazza said, “but when it’s about public safety and your houses are endangered, the city government must fight. They must sue.”

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