Planning Commission Civil War

Malibu City Hall

For the second meeting in a row, planning commissioners have obstructed hearings.

On Monday night, Commissioner David Brotman abruptly left the Planning Commission meeting before a vote that would have moved forward a city attorney-penned formula retail ordinance designed to replace Measure R. As only three commissioners were in attendance, this made the commission unable to vote and in effect ended the meeting.

Measure R was expected to be struck down in court just hours after the meeting and an appeal by interveners was expected but not guaranteed. As of the judge’s final decision calling the ordinance illegal Tuesday, Malibu City Council had 60 days to determine whether it will launch an appeal.

Though details of the events are different, Brotman’s action mirrors that of Vice Chair John Mazza at the last planning commission meeting on March 21, who also left in order to disrupt a quorum and make voting impossible.

“The rules of order are meant to be tools to assist in the conduct of the people’s business, not used as weapons,” City Attorney Christi Hogin, who attended Monday’s meeting, said in an email to The Malibu Times. 

Hogin also described the meaning of quorum.

“The purpose of a quorum is to set the minimum number of members necessary to conduct business. It is an important factor because it establishes when Malibu residents have the benefit of a properly convened Planning Commission,” Hogin wrote. “Three members constitute a quorum of the Malibu Planning Commission.”

Two weeks ago, Brotman and Chair Roohi Stack were on the dais together with Mazza. Monday night, Stack was gone and Commissioner Mikke Pierson was in attendance. 

At the beginning of the meeting, Brotman challenged Mazza to continue the formula retail hearing to a later meeting, citing Mazza’s own previous arguments as to why a hearing was not held in March.

“It was requested by many people that we have a full commision present,” Brotman said, staring at Mazza. When Mazza said he would not vote to continue the item, Brotman appeared incredulous. 

“I’m confused, John. You made a grandstand play, saying this was such an important item that it needed the full commision here,” Brotman said. “I guess it’s the full commission that you need and define, is that it?”

“As usual, I totally disagree with you, and you do not have to read into what I do or why I do it,” Mazza calmly replied. “I’m voting with Mr. Pierson’s motion [to hear the formula retail item today] because we gave it a shot to get a full planning commission meeting and we need to move on.”

Things quickly fell apart from there, with Mazza saying Brotman could “grandstand if [he] wants,” and Brotman replying that Mazza is “a piece of work.”

“I’m a piece of work,” Mazza replied.

Then Brotman made a similar request to that which Mazza made at the March 21 hearing, moving the item to the end of the agenda.

“Just so you know, I may have to leave the meeting when that comes up, because that seems to be the only way to deal with you — to give it back to you — so you may want to change the organization of the agenda or these poor people who have shown up may not be able to have their hearing,” Brotman said, though he himself refused to vote to do so.

By the end of the meeting, it appeared Brotman may have changed his mind on the matter, as the commission held a full hearing including a staff report, public comment and commission discussion, regarding the proposed formula retail ordinance. 

At least one public commenter, Lloyd Ahern, spoke to admonish Mazza during public comment on the item.

“You never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” Ahern told Mazza. “Mr. Brotman gave you a chance not to be a hypocrite and you blew it.”

“So noted,” Mazza said.

When it came time to vote on the item, Brotman began to make a statement, apparently regarding Mazza’s conduct, when he was cut off by the vice chair.

“Before the vote, I need to comment a little bit about what I’m voting on and the process and the unfortunate nature of where we are,” Brotman began. “… I believe, Mazza, you referred to a limited number of commissioners as a ‘rump commission.’ The exact quote was … ”

Mazza cut in.

“I’m going to have to shut off your talk because it has nothing to do with this hearing,” Mazza said.

At that, Brotman took off from the meeting, with Mazza calling for a vote before Brotman could get out the door of council chambers.

“I’m going to excuse myself,” Brotman said.

“Well, you can’t,” Mazza said. “May we have a vote?”

“I’m not here. I am gone,” Brotman said, gathering papers.

“I vote ‘yes,’” Mazza said.

“I vote ‘yes,’” Pierson said.

“If he’s not in the building, he abstains,” Mazza said.

“I do not abstain!” Brotman shouted back as he left the room.

“I take it we have voted,” Mazza said. 

According to Hogin, the vote was not legal and no action was taken on the item, but she was hopeful that the commission would come to a more harmonious resolution soon.

“I know this is a matter that raises a lot of passion, yet I am confident that if they keep trying, the Planning Commission will find a way to work through this important discussion,” Hogin said.

“That’s their job, after all.”