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"We’ll leave a light on for you"

It’s not easy to be politically correct, but I do keep trying.

A few years ago when the City Council members in their infinite wisdom decided they didn’t want to have any tall trees on the hillsides — blocking anyone’s viewshed they called it — they decreed 6-foot trees, and we all took a deep breath and tried to comply. In La Costa, which was a 50-year-old neighborhood, that wasn’t easy, so we finally had to burn down the whole neighborhood. Everybody got their viewshed, but it didn’t turn out the way they wanted it to. In fact, without tall trees, it looks a little bit like a graveyard with great big tombstones, but we know in time the vegetation will grow back and the viewshed from PCH will soften and turn green and the council will be happy, and we want the council to be happy.

Recently, the council decided it was once again time to clean up the hillside esthetics of Malibu. It turned to that crack team of esthetes on the Planning Commission, commissioners Jo Ruggles and Charleen Kabrin, with instructions to restore Malibu to its lost beauty. The task was daunting, but they were never ones to shirk any opportunity to improve and regulate our lives no matter how short-sighted we might be in not seeing the wisdom of their proposals.

They began, it would appear, by driving down Pacific Coast Highway. While averting their gaze from the tiers of large, two-story homes, cheek by jowl along the beach, and the overhead phone and utility lines, and the ugly 1950s architecture, and the endless variety of tasteless signs, they looked up at the truly offensive part of our environment, our hillsides and gasped — My God! There are actually homes up there.

That was the beginning of the great crusade.

It started with the red-roof syndrome. You remember that one. That’s when Jo Ruggles decided she didn’t like white houses with red roofs and woe to anyone who came to the Planning Commission with that color scheme. Fuchsia and pink, OK. Purple and vermilion, no problem. Red and white, watch out.

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Next came the invisible houses, that is, houses that couldn’t be seen. If you want their approval, you better plan on burying them, or disguising them or painting them earth tones, whatever that may mean, provided you can’t see them. Apparently, camouflage is also acceptable.

Next the crusade moved on to architectural statements. As they looked around, they began to discover that architects were actually designing new homes that didn’t look exactly like everyone else’s old homes, or, to use their term of art, these architects were intending to change the character of the neighborhoods. Planning Director Craig Ewing’s recent comment sums up their attitude: “Don’t plan on building a look-at-me house, because that’s not what’s going to get approved.” I assume from this that what he’s really saying is, if you expect to get through the Planning Commission, you better plan on a don’t-notice-me-house.

But I must tell you it hasn’t always been easy for our two caped crusaders. They have also taken their knocks as of late. Their perfectly reasonable proposal to control lighting coming from houses was turned down by their less-cutting-edge colleagues. It started with outside lights like garden lights, and garage lights and security lights. But then they overstepped, they wanted to control the lights coming from inside our houses. Even Mr. Ewing balked at the Planning Department examining the lighting inside each house to decide if it would interfere with their neighbor’s view of the night sky.

Ruggles and Kabrin explained they’ve been getting complaints about the interior lighting of hillside homes, particularly the more contemporary homes that feature floor-to-ceiling windows and track lighting that create a visual blight. Their colleagues wouldn’t have it.

They ran into another rejection when they tried to bring every home with a 10 percent to 15 percent slope under their ordinance. Just about any neighborhood, even flat areas like Point Dume, would have come under their control. Their colleagues once again balked. But of one thing you can be sure, “They’ll be back.”

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

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