Kearsley says current council turned city ‘ship’ around

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Ken Kearsley

Council candidate Ken Kearsley says he will work toward getting a park in the Civic Center area.

By Jonathan Friedman/Staff writer

When Mayor Ken Kearsley was asked why he was running for re-election, he told a story about a 90-year-old man planting trees for which he would never get the benefit of their shade, but his grandchildren would. Kearsley said he approaches Malibu politics with the same attitude.

The mayor listed his top priorities as settling the Local Coastal Program dispute with the California Coastal Commission, helping the school district through continued financial support, gaining ball fields for the city and obtaining the Chili Cook-Off site, the treasured Civic Center area property along Pacific Coast Highway.

“I hope we can get the finances to buy it and turn it into a park,” Kearsley said. “That property cries out for a central park.”

Malibu would have had the opportunity to buy the Chili Cook-Off site had voters approved Measure M, the Malibu Bay Co. Development Agreement. As part of the deal, Malibu Bay would have sold the property to the city for $25 million. But in November, voters rejected the agreement, which was supported by Kearsley.

“The electorate felt it was too complicated, too difficult,” he said. “I respect their decision.”

Despite Malibu Bay President Jerry Perenchio’s rejection of any further talks, Kearsley said he still believes it is possible to work something out so that the city could obtain the Chili Cook-Off site. But the city’s need for parks is not limited to that property. Kearsley said Malibu needs places for ball fields.

A committee was recently formed that will include representatives from Malibu, State Parks and the National Park Service to hammer out a deal to solve the city’s dispute with the state over its use of the Bluffs Park for ball fields. The most likely scenario would be the city obtaining the nearby Crummer property, and placing the fields there. In 2000, Malibu was told to move its ball fields off the Bluffs immediately, but since then, the state has said it could remain there until it finds a new home for them. Kearsley said the council got the state to change its mind, although the state disptutes that assertion. Kearsley said the current council has many other accomplishments, including the establishment of a new City Hall and the senior center, the creation of two new parks and the streamlining of the city’s permitting process.

“The lone accomplishment of city government the previous eight years was getting cement benches for the buses,” Kearsley said. “This council has gotten the ship of the city turned around and in motion.”

Kearsley said the problem with previous councils is that there was too much bickering and people taking political disagreements too personally. He said former mayor Walt Keller, who is running for another term after a four-year hiatus, was one of the main culprits.

“The problem with Walt is he throws gasoline,” Kearsley said. “Do you want to go back to four years ago when an issue would come up like Bluffs Park and they’d throw a gallon of gasoline on it?”

Kearsley said he is hopeful about the LCP situation. At its April 12 meeting, the council is expected to approve the LCP document it has been working on for the past year and a half. Kearsley said the next step would be to convince Coastal Commission staff to accept that LCP as amendments to the one the commission drafted for the city. If they refuse, the city will await the court decision on whether the people of Malibu can vote on the LCP. Kearsley said he has no plans to drop the suit, which was triggered by more than 2,500 people signing a petition for the LCP to go up for a vote, and the state refusing to allow that to happen.

“A third of the people signed a petition. We must, as an elected body, honor the desire and will of a third of the electorate,” Kearsley said.

Kearsley said he is looking forward to a changing face of the Coastal Commission, as four new members will soon be appointed. He said he expects those appointees to have a friendlier attitude toward Malibu.

Kearsley, 68, was born in Chicago, and moved to Santa Monica when he was two. “I made great choices at two,” he joked. He attended Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District schools through high school, and then went to CSU Northridge, where he obtained a degree in history. After college, Kearsley returned to Chicago to pursue a master’s degree and doctorate in geography and urban planning. He got the master’s degree, but decided against pursuing the doctorate because he wanted to return to the beach.

Kearsley moved back to Southern California in 1961, this time to Malibu. That year, he married Barbara, his girlfriend since age 16, and began work as a teacher at Santa Monica High School. He remained there for 30 years, teaching geography, history and anthropology. After he retired from teaching, Kearsley began working with his brother, Brice, for a family aerospace business, which he continues to do today.

Kearsley’s city involvement began in 1963 when he helped form Malibu Citizens for Good Community Planning to fight the first county sewer bond issue. He also fought the second sewer proposal later that decade, and worked to defeat the proposed Corral Canyon nuclear plant. In addition, Kearsley was involved in cityhood efforts. In 1998, Harry Barovsky appointed Kearsley to the Planning Commission. He was elected to council in 2000.

An avid reader of nonfiction history books, Kearsley also enjoys surfing, bodysurfing, hiking and working on his 1990 Acura.