Election Season Ramping Up in Malibu

Malibu voters take to the polls at the Point Dume Club House in 2018. 

The Malibu Times last week hosted a free seminar via Zoom for the eight candidates running for three seats on Malibu City Council. This is the largest number of council candidates the city has seen since the 2010 election, when 10 candidates threw their hats in the ring. 

In the last few election cycles, TMT publishers Arnold and Karen York have routinely provided free seminars to groups of council candidates as a public service, knowing most have little to no experience running a political campaign.

Rick Mullen is the only sitting council member running for a second term. Most of the other seven candidates are all new to the game of running for elected office, although three have run for local office in the past: Lance Simmens failed in his 2018 bid; Andy Lyon ran and lost twice, in 2012 and again in 2014; and Paul Grisanti’s name appears on the first two Malibu City Council ballots, the 1990 race and the 1992 campaign, both attempts he also lost.

Well-known California political consultant Larry Levine spent nearly an hour giving the candidates advice and information about running for office.

“My job is to give you the tools and the contacts so you know the most efficient way to reach the voting households,” Levine told the candidates.

Acknowledging that campaigning will be different in the age of COVID-19, he advised against knocking on doors, standing outside grocery stores and attending in-person debates. Instead, he recommended focusing on mail and telephone campaigns and newspaper advertising. Levine explained how to obtain useful mailing lists, what to say on phone calls, how to effectively use volunteers and supporters, and different types of mail-outs.

He offered current statistics about active Malibu voters: there are 3,300 active Independent and Democratic voters plus 1,250 active Republican voters, for a total of 4,550. Of these, there are 1,800 permanent vote by mail voters and 2,500 senior citizen households.

Levine also pointed out that in California, less than one percent of absentee votes are cast in the first week after receiving the ballots in the mail, and two percent the second week. The vast majority of absentee ballots, 84 percent, are cast in the last 12 days of the election.

Levine personally advised the council candidates against running as a slate or a team (even though in Malibu it’s worked well for some candidates in the recent past, notably Mullen himself).  Levine said it was more effective to get individuals or organizations to endorse more than one candidate.

He did not recommend putting ads on social media, responding to critical letters to the editor or getting involved in extremely controversial issues, but was in favor of looking into online town hall meetings.

Former Malibu mayor and council member Laura Rosenthal explained the realities of being on city council to the candidates.

“You think you can do a lot more than you actually can,” she started off. “It’s important to pick your battles, because you’re not going to win everything … You can’t force other people to listen, to be interested in something, or to learn.” She emphasized how many agencies have a hand in Malibu.

“You can’t make outside agencies like Caltrans, Sheila Kuehl’s office, Joe Edmiston or SoCal Edison do what you want,” Rosenthal added. “But you can come up with a strategy, meet with others and be willing to be open and compromise.”

Rosenthal said that being a good listener helps, and that includes listening to experts, residents and city staff. Because of California’s open meetings law, known as the Brown Act, it’s not legal to talk to more than one other city council member about an item on the agenda, but it is possible to get city staff together in one room to discuss a resident’s problem.

She recommended putting items on the council’s agenda in order to introduce new ideas and ask for feedback from city staff, but cautioned that council members can’t tell city staff what to do without speaking to department heads first.

In addition, Rosenthal expressed some frustration that while many residents feel passionately about certain issues, they don’t bother to look at the city website, read the paper or otherwise find out when items are on the agenda—then accuse council members of trying to sneak something past them.

She gave practical advice about reading and responding to emails, phone calls and social media, reading the agenda in detail before each city council meeting, being visible around the city and taking the opportunity to join local multi-city organizations.

Arnold York announced TMT would make endorsements earlier than usual this year, because mail-in ballots are coming out Oct. 5. Managing Editor Emily Sawicki told the candidates the paper would be featuring them in several ways in the coming weeks—each was invited to write his own guest editorial to expand on his views and all were asked to send in self-written bios, which are available in this week’s paper on page A6.

The paper will also conduct a comprehensive Q&A with each candidate, and publish two interviews per week for four weeks, with the order determined by a random drawing. Week 1, Sept. 10, will be Paul Grisanti and Doug Stewart. Week 2, Sept. 17, will be Steve Uhring and Andy Lyon. Week 3, Sept. 24, will be Lance Simmens and Bruce Silverstein. Week 4, Oct. 1, will be Rick Mullen and Mark Wetton.