Ten years of Malibu’s political history


Ten years ago, Malibu became a city when the citizens went to the polls and voted for cityhood, overwhelmingly deciding they were tired of being an unincorporated part of the county and wanting to become their own city.

The principal issue in that campaign was development and the county’s attempt to impose a large sewer on Malibu. The roughly 4,500 voters who went to the polls that year decided 84.25 percent for cityhood and 15.72 percent against cityhood.

The first council elected were those who had been active in the movement to make Malibu a city. They were, in order of finish, Walt Keller, Larry Wan, Mike Caggiano, Carolyn Van Horn and Missy Zeitsoff, who won the fifth spot by only 21 votes over retired Malibu Municipal Court Judge John Merrick. Keller was elected Malibu’s first mayor.

Almost immediately, the council split into two factions, Keller and Van Horn on one side, Wan, Caggiano and Zeitsoff on the other.


In the 1992 election, Caggiano and Zeitsoff, who only had two-year terms, were beaten, and a new slate known as the Grassroots Movement swept into office.

That new slate consisted of Van Horn, now elected to a full, four-year term, Jeff Kramer and Joan House. In those days Keller, Van Horn and House were still allied in the Grassroots Movement.

After the election, then-Mayor Wan, though still having two years to go on his term, found himself outnumbered 4-1 and resigned. The council then appointed longtime community activist John Harlow to fill out the remainder of Wan’s term. Harlow was also a close friend of Keller’s, but that relationship rapidly became strained. In choosing Harlow, the council had decided to pass over the No. 4 voter getter in the race, Jeff Jennings. The principal issue continued to be land use and development.

The unanimous, Keller-led council splintered again.


In 1994, in a reversal of the previous election, Harlow easily swept in for a full, four-year term, combining support from many of the old-timers who remembered his years as an activist and many of the more moderate, centrist, newer voters who could see Malibu already changing. By this time, Harlow and Keller had become political opponents, which might have been a factor in Keller’s defeat. Jennings edged out Keller by 51 votes. Tom Hasse finished fourth. The council then consisted of Kramer, Van Horn, House, Harlow and Jennings, represented the entire political spectrum of Malibu and was thought by some observers to be Malibu’s most productive council.


After two absences from the council, Keller made his political comeback, along with House, who was the top vote getter. The House/Keller/Van Horn slate soundly trounced a slate of Barbara Cameron and Mary Kay Kamath. Cameron was a former planning commissioner and Kamath had been a longtime member of the school board. The political campaign was hotly contested, often mean spirited and filled with all sorts of accusations of improper activities. When the dust settled, the control was still firmly in the hands of the “slow-growth” movement, which was still unified. Keller, Van Horn, House and Kramer were allied, and Hasse was still their political guru, although stress cracks were beginning to show.


This election saw a new council member, Harry Barovsky, elected easily by capturing votes from both the slow-growth group, of which he was a part, and the more moderate, centrist group. The slow-growth movement still showed its political clout when Hasse edged out former mayor Jennings by 29 votes to take the fifth council seat, but it was becoming apparent it wasn’t enough just to be anti-growth. The demographics were changing, the needs were growing and the council appeared to be constantly gridlocked. The tension of this gridlock, and the fact that Keller and Van Horn had been around for almost 10 years, caused old alliances to break up. The result was a very different council. Almost immediately, Barovsky and House split from Keller and Van Horn, often leaving Hasse as the deciding vote. As had happened before, the Keller/Van Horn axis seemed to quickly alienate its former allies. More and more frequently, Hasse began to vote with Barovsky/House, changing the balance on the council.

Malibu was also changing rapidly. New families were moving in, with children. In 1990, there had been roughly 1,000 children in the Malibu public schools. By 1998, there were more than 2,200 children in the public school system, and the number was growing. What had essentially been a one-issue town — development — had now become a multi-issue town. Also, while the population of children was growing, so was the population of seniors. Malibu began to have serious facility needs, like school seats, a teen center, a community center, a senior center and ballfields, all of which cost money and many of which require either bond issues or compromises with developers. As a result, the council launched its Ad Hoc Committee.


By Tuesday afternoon, voters were deciding whether they would back a new change and a new attitude, meaning Jennings, House and Kearsley, or whether they would stay with the old team of Keller, Van Horn and John Wall. The old, slow-growth coalition has cleaved in two. One part is the no-growth side, which is pushing the wetlands plan for the Civic Center and is championed by Van Horn, Keller and Wall. The other faction is the slow-growth side, including House, Kearsley, Hasse and Jennings, which is moving to a more balanced, moderate approach. The old coalition that has effectively ruled Malibu for the last 10 year may be waning, and new groups, like PARCS, the PTAs, the younger families, and some of the seniors may be ready to ask, really demand, their needs also be met. Depending on who gets to the polls, this election will tell us how much those changes in demographics have driven change in our politics.

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

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