Meet Malibu Mayor John Sibert

Malibu Mayor John Sibert has just begun his second term in the office of what he calls the “referee of the City Council,” bringing his knowledge and experience with Malibu to the hot seat in a year where he says the conflict between pro-development and anti-development stakeholders could come to a head. 

Sibert knows a lot about Malibu, having bought his Point Dume house in 1985 before the City was incorporated, and sitting on the Malibu Township Council in the 1980s. 

He has also spent over six years on council, including being mayor for most of 2011, and another five as a planning commissioner, but this isn’t the only experience he brings to the council. 

Sibert was born in St. Louis, MO, but according to him he didn’t grow up there, but instead lived in Illinois, Missouri, Panama, Seattle, North Dakota and South Dakota, all before graduating from high school. He then went on to live in the Dakotas again, as well as California, Wisconsin, Michigan, Connecticut, Texas and Alaska. As the son of a father in the Army Corps of Engineers, Sibert never really settled down before he moved to Malibu in 1985, and even then, in 1989 he left for five years to start a science foundation in Alaska, before coming back in 1995.

“I don’t know how I somehow get talked into doing stuff,” a self-effacing Sibert told The Malibu Times in an interview this week.

Sibert’s career seems to include a lot of ‘being talked into doing stuff,’ evidenced by a long resume including teaching chemistry at Yale University, sitting as the vice president of the Cal State University System, starting a multimillion dollar science foundation in Alaska, running a venture capital fund and consulting with NASA for missile defense technology. He’s also consulted for six states on growing small businesses.

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“It all kind of comes together,” Sibert said of his experiences. 

“Though I’m in the one city in the country that doesn’t want economic development,” he joked.

On a more serious note, Sibert acknowledged that conflicts between those pushing for development and those holding ranks against it have become more heated in recent years.

“I think the anti-development versus pro-development battle is … louder, and more visible,” Sibert said, in comparison to 2011.

“It could go all the way from Measure R being upheld, to the court saying, ‘no, it needs to be overturned,’” Sibert said. “It could go to that extreme, or it could be found against the city and we would be at risk for the loss of income to anyone who owned that property. That could be a lot of money.”

Sibert did say that his knowledge of chemistry and physics has given him a scientific mindset when it comes to politics. He used the controversy over vaccines as an example of an issue where better understanding of science could improve lives.

“I think it’s important to bring that kind of approach, and those kinds of questions, to the process of governing,” Sibert said.

When he looks to 2015, Sibert said he hopes lawsuits, such as the suit over Measure R, can be settled, and council and stakeholders can come to a respectful resolution on issues. “I’m looking forward to hopefully settling some of these lawsuits and getting some of the level of angry rhetoric to diminish,” Sibert said.

He said angry, personal comments at meetings can come from both sides, and it’s important for council to remain respectful.

“When you have the bully pulpit on the podium, you shouldn’t attack people, that’s just wrong. So I try not to attack people, I try not to make pejorative comments,” Sibert said. 

He’s also definitely not in the job for the money.

For Sibert, the $500-a-month gig is a labor of love for a city as unique as Malibu. 

“We’ve got 20-some miles of Pacific coast beach, that’s more than nearly anyone else. We’ve got beautiful mountains behind us, we’ve got hiking trails, we’ve got just a great city,” Sibert said. 

Sibert’s term as mayor will go until September of this year. 

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