Letter: Planning Reform Needed

I appreciate the opportunity to have served the community on the planning commission, and believe I’ve made a positive contribution throughout this post-Woolsey era. My dismissal remains puzzling. But Mikke and I both care deeply about Malibu and will find a way to move forward.

In representing the public interest, commissioners are required to be critical, to read the planning codes closely and faithfully, and to accommodate stakeholders’ interests only within those constraints. 

Sometimes the codes require interpretation. Sometimes, a staff interpretation won’t comport with the written code. Recently, the commission heard an application for which the “two-thirds rule”—designed to ensure that houses are less bulky on the second story—was being interpreted in a way that stood the written code on its head, allowing a house bigger on top than on the bottom. We voted it down.

Some misinterpretations appear to form a systemic pattern, often tending toward permissiveness, favoring development or running contrary to the requirements of “rural character.” This happens with primary ridgelines, lot line adjustments, ESHA buffers, beach house stringlines, neighborhood character, sea rise allowance, setbacks and others. One consequence of chronic permissiveness is evermore traffic on PCH.

The council should order an independent study that answers questions like: What are the internal “codes” used by planning? Which ones haven’t been approved by the council? Have they been applied fairly to applicants and neighbors? The commission shouldn’t have to make critical decisions based on fuzzy, mutable rules. It’s not fair to developers, either. The study would increase transparency and improve institutional memory.

It’s all the more important that we tighten the ship as we face a wave of new state housing laws, threatening the “triplexification” of Malibu. This could mean twice as much traffic. We simply must be more judicious about what gets built.


If you’re rebuilding a burned house, your planning experience should be simple and quick. Conversely, if you’re metastasizing one more giant spec house into a rustic neighborhood, you shouldn’t be allowed to cut corners. Let’s make sure that “city planning” is more than just a euphemism for “development approval.” 

Kraig Hill

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

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