Conley Ulich, Wagner elected to Malibu council

Jefferson "Zuma Jay" Wagner goes over elections results with Marissa Coughlin at City Hall in 2008

It is still a close call between Sibert and Wisnicki. Tellem is last on the election totem pole.

By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor

Mayor Pro Tem Pamela Conley Ulich received the most votes and was easily re-elected to a second term on the City Council, and Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner placed second in Tuesday’s election. However, the race for the third seat, which ended up between Planning Commissioner John Sibert and Board of Education member Kathy Wisnicki, who were aligned during the election, was too close to call as The Malibu Times went to print late Tuesday night. Susan Tellem was out of the competition in a distant fifth place.

Remaining absentee and provisional ballots were scheduled to be counted at City Hall this week on Wednesday.

As of Tuesday night, Conley Ulich received 1,989 votes, Wagner, 1,573, and Sibert held a slight lead over Wisnicki with 1,348 votes to her 1,316 votes. Tellem received 1,088 votes.

The two ballot measures easily won on Tuesday. Measure D, which decreased the city’s telephone utility tax from 5 percent to 4.5 percent while leaving open the possibility of increasing the number of taxable communications, received 63.62 percent of the votes. Measure E, which calls for the City Council to pursue a viewshed protection ordinance, was supported by 60.29 percent of the votes.

A newcomer to the political scene when she ran for her first term in 2004 on the coattails of Jeff Jennings and Ken Kearsley, Conley Ulich was the veteran in this year’s competition. The lone incumbent in the election, she made an effort to remain an independent throughout the campaign. Conley Ulich did not accept or give out any endorsements.

A victory by Wagner puts the high-profile surf shop owner into his first city position. Although he has never held a city government position, Wagner has had years of activism, mostly on environmental and development issues.

If Sibert keeps his lead after the final ballots are counted on Wednesday, he will join a long list of Malibu politicians who have used the Planning Commission as a springboard for a seat on the council. Sibert has been on the commission since 2002, first as an appointee of Joan House, and since 2004 at the pleasure of Sharon Barovksy. He has been involved in local politics since the 1980s, before Malibu became a city.

If Wisnicki wins, she will have to cut short her four-year term on the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board. Her term expires in November, so the board most likely will select a replacement although there is an option for a special election. Wisnicki is the only Malibu resident on the board, and there is no requirement that her colleagues select a person from Malibu to replace her.

Most candidates on same page

Unlike in past years, there were no drastic differences that could be observed among the candidates during forums and in advertisements. They agreed on most issues in concept, including limiting commercial development, saving local businesses and a desire to clean the watershed. But there was a clear division in terms of relationships, which became more noticeable as the campaign continued. Wagner and Tellem teamed up against Sibert and Wisnicki, the two candidates they considered to be an extension of what they called the current pro-development City Council. But Sibert and Wisnicki, who were both endorsed by all the council members, except for Conley Ulich, denied they were pawns. Sibert and Wisnicki, for the most part, did not campaign together, although they did have a joint-ad in The Malibu Times’ final issue before Election Day and a mailer sent out during this past weekend.

In the wake of the three major fires last year, fire prevention and the city’s proposal to ban overnight camping were major topics. All five candidates said they supported the city’s proposed amendment to Malibu’s Local Coastal Program that would prohibit overnight camping in the city.

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy’s parks enhancement plan, which included overnight camping, went before the Planning Commission last fall. And the commission’s unanimous “yes” vote became a heated issue during this campaign because of differences of opinion on what that vote meant. Tellem, who led a majority of the residents’ effort against the conservancy’s plan, accused the commission, including Sibert, of voting to support the plan. Sibert said this was not true.

The commission actually voted to recommend the City Council approve the plan, but with a long list of conditions. One of those conditions was that a study should be done to determine if there is a need for more overnight camping sites in the area. But the commission never suggested overnight camping should be banned, as the council later did.

Tellem, who made the overnight camping issue the centerpiece of her campaign, had to go on the defensive because her critics pointed to her vocal support earlier this decade of the Coastal Commission-created LCP, which legalized overnight camping in Malibu. Tellem responded to the critics that although she supported the document, she did not like every element of it.

Last minute controversies arise

The campaign season this year had controversies that had nothing to do with any actual political issues. In the Malibu tradition, some of the stormier moments came during the weekend before Election Day, after the newspaper had gone to print.

The ad appearing in last week’s paper for Sibert and Wisnicki contained quotes in favor of Wisnicki attributed to Malibu Foundation for Youth and Families founder Laure Stern and Kelly Meyer, one of Conley Ulich’s campaign managers. Stern said her comment was supposed to be from her as an individual, but she was listed as the president of the Malibu Foundation (she is not the president, her husband, Daniel Stern, is) and Conley Ulich said the quote from her campaign manager was “neither issued nor authorized.”

On Sunday, Wisnicki blamed the situation on her campaign consultant, who had placed the quotes in the ad without running them by her. She said she had fired the consultant. Wisnicki also issued an apology, which was accepted by Meyer and Stern.

Also late last week, several mailers were sent out from a mysterious group called “Bu-ites for Wisnicki,” which stated, among other things, that Wisnicki was endorsed by Conley Ulich. Conley Ulich issued a statement on Friday that she had not endorsed Wisnicki. Wisnicki denied any connection to the Bu-ites. The group did not register with the city as an independent expenditure committee, which is required by law. Also, it did not provide information on who paid for the mailers, another requirement.

The address of Malibu Realtor Scott Cameron’s Calabasas home appears on the mailers. He denied having sent them out when asked by The Times. Cameron’s father, Malibu activist and Realtor Paul Grisanti, told this newspaper that although he supported Wisnicki, he did not send out the mailers. Grisanti had been living in the home from late November until the end of March. The home is currently being rented by Pax Prentiss, the co-founder of the addiction rehabilitation center, Promises Malibu. He also said he had nothing to do with the mailers, and said he was only vaguely familiar with the candidates in the election.

Wagner also had some issues during the campaign. His main residence is outside the city limits in Latigo Canyon and he initially submitted his surf shop to the city as his address, but after admitting another person already was renting the living quarters above the store, he was told by the city clerk he could not claim it as his residence. Wagner then rented a one-bedroom apartment on Pacific Coast Highway. He registered to vote from that residence and restarted the nomination paper process.

In December, Wagner received an anonymous letter saying he must not return to his Latigo home or else the district attorney would prosecute. The letter, and a second one sent a month later, made additional allegations. And in March, the word “dope” was spray painted several times on the surf shop. All three incidents are under investigation by the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station.

Kimberly Kilgore contributed to this story.

2008 City Council election results

The following are semi-official results from the Malibu city clerk’s office. There are a remaining 121 absentee and 76 provisional ballots that are being counted Wednesday this week. Official results will be posted online later this week at

Pamela Conley Ulich

Total 1,989

Percentage 27.19

Precint votes

(#2, #4) 287

(#14, #208) 167

(#51, #56) 296

(#57) 201

(#59, #63) 369

(#60, #62) 448

(#64, #65)221

John Sibert

Total 1,348

Percentage 18.43

Precint votes

(#2, #4) 235

(#14, #208)115

(#51, #56) 204

(#57) 134

(#59, #63) 230

(#60, #62) 261

(#64, #65)169

Susan M. Tellem

Total 1,088

Percentage 14.88

Precint votes

(#2, #4) 141

(#14, #208)103

(#51, #56) 183

(#57) 148

(#59, #63) 180

(#60, #62) 231

(#64, #65)102

Kathy Wisnicki

Total 1,316

Percentage 17.99

Precint votes

(#2, #4) 206

(#14, #208)104

(#51, #56) 210

(#57) 124

(#59, #63) 235

(#60, #62) 273

(#64, #65)164

Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner

Total 1,573

Percentage 21.51

Precint votes

(#2, #4) 214

(#14, #208)151

(#51, #56) 249

(#57) 195

(#59, #63) 271

(#60, #62) 326

(#64, #65)167

Total registered voters: 8,280 Measure D: 1,565 (63.62%) Measure E: 1,532 (60.29%)

Total ballots cast: 2,409 Percent: 29.09