Keller wants back in

Walt Keller

Malibu’s first mayor says current council is too developer friendly.

By Jonathan Friedman/Staff Writer

After a four-year hiatus, Walt Keller is looking to return to the City Council. Malibu’s first mayor said he is running reluctantly, having hoped the three people who left the Planning Commission in December through dismissal and resignation would run. When that didn’t happen, Keller said he had no choice but to throw his hat in the ring. He said something needed to be done about a council that acts like the county government he led the effort to oust during the Malibu cityhood campaign.

Keller said the council is friendlier to developers than it needs to be. He cites as an example, Measure M, the Malibu Bay Co. Development Agreement, which the council approved, but the voters rejected in November. Keller said the terms of the deal gave too much to Malibu Bay, while the city received little in return.

“I don’t think they [the councilmembers] were reflecting the community viewpoint with Measure M,” Keller said.

Keller said the council’s unanimous approval of the agreement proved there needs to be a dissenting voice on the council. He said even if he were the only non-incumbent to win in April, likely putting him at the latter end of many 4-1 votes, he would be able to make a difference.

“You need a voice out there to make people think a little bit,” Keller said. “On the council, you get a chance to speak uninterrupted. I can explain things to the residents and the media.”

If Malibu Community Action Network has its way, Keller would be taking his seat on the council with former Taxpayers for Livable Communities President Jay Liebig and political newcomer Bill Winokur. The anti-council activist group endorsed the three candidates last month. Keller said even if Malibu CAN’s desire comes to be, it does not mean he would be voting on every issue in a block with Liebig and Winokur.

“It doesn’t always work that way,” Keller said. “You can’t be guaranteed how somebody is going to vote. When I was on the council with Carolyn Van Horn, we were the most environmentally conscience on the council, and even we didn’t always vote the same way.”

Keller dismissed suggestions that he would be Silna’s pawn if he were on the council. He said Silna’s only influence on how he would vote is if he made persuasive statements during public comment or through letters that everybody else could read.

Keller has been his own man since becoming a political activist almost immediately after he moved to Malibu 43 years ago. He led efforts against the county when it tried to install sewers, and he helped in campaigns to gain cityhood for Malibu. Keller dedicated his life to the cityhood effort after his retirement as an aerospace engineer at Northrop in 1988 until Malibu officially became a city in 1991.

Keller became Malibu’s first mayor. He lost a re-election bid in 1994, but voters brought him back to the council in 1996. Then in 2000, he lost in a landslide that sent Jeff Jennings and Ken Kearsley onto the council. Keller said dirty campaigning led to his defeat.

“It was very unfair,” he said. “People weren’t listening to me. They were listening to these whisper campaigns against me.”

One of the highlights during Keller’s tenure on the council was in 1999 when City Attorney Christi Hogin resigned. Many consider Keller to have been the leader in pushing Hogin out of office. Since he left the council, she has returned. Keller said if he were elected, he would call for the city’s contract with Hogin’s law firm, Jenkins and Hogin, to go out for bids, although he said he would not immediately fire her. He added that he would want to review the contracts of all city staff members, which he said is good municipal policy. Keller said Hogin has given the city some bad advice.

“She has settled when she didn’t need to and kept up the lawsuits that were unnecessary,” Keller said.

Keller said the city’s battles with Taxpayers for Livable Communities is an example of lawsuits that should not have occurred. TLC has sued the city three times, and lost each one. Keller disputes the city’s claim to those all being victories. TLC has also intervened with the city’s case against the California Coastal Commission over Malibu’s Local Coastal Program. Keller said if he were on council, he would get the city out of litigation and into negotiation. He said the two parties could come up with a compromised solution through a committee process. He added that his opponents have misrepresented his position on the LCP.

“I wouldn’t support the Coastal Commission doing work for us, because that isn’t home rule,” he said. “And I support home rule. Unfortunately, the current home rule is something I don’t trust.”

Keller, 73, was born in New Jersey. He earned a bachelor’s degree at Yale in mechanical engineering. He then went to UCLA to get his master’s degree. After a short stint in the military in Ohio, where he met his wife of 48 years, Lucile, Keller returned to the Los Angeles area. Keller later received a doctorate from UCLA in engineering systems. An avid runner and hiker, Keller said making a great trail system in Malibu is important to him. Keller and his wife raised two children in Malibu.