Council race nears the finish line

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Candidate says political integrity in Malibu has reached a ‘new low.’ Biggest issue in campaign is Malibu’s litigation with the Coastal Commission over the LCP.

By Jonathan Friedman/Staff Writer

On Tuesday, Malibu voters will be asked to vote for three City Council candidates out of six who are running. The campaign has been a battle between the two incumbents, Mayor Ken Kearsley and Councilmember Jeff Jennings, and the three candidates endorsed by Malibu Community Action Network, former Mayor Walt Keller, John Mazza and Jay Liebig. The remaining candidate, Pamela Conley Ulich, has said she is independent, although some say she has allied herself with the incumbents.

The most significant issue of the campaign has been Malibu’s litigation with the California Coastal Commission, and the moratorium it has created on the issuance of coastal development permits within the city. After the Coastal Commission approved a Local Coastal Program for Malibu in September 2002, Malibu residents gathered enough signatures to put the LCP, which they said was unacceptable, up for a vote of the people. The state challenged the referendum, and a Los Angeles Superior Court judge agreed. The case will be going before the Court of Appeals. In the meantime, a standoff exists between the city and the Coastal Commission on which entity is responsible for issuing the coastal development permits.

Joining the Coastal Commission’s side in the litigation with the city has been an organization called Taxpayers for Livable Communities, which was headed by Liebig until he resigned just before he announced his council candidacy. Kearsley and Jennings said Liebig’s association with the organization proves he is against local control. Liebig said that is not true, and that the current council had a locally drafted LCP document that was written by a citizen’s committee in 2000. He, Keller and Mazza said they liked that document, and said the council withdrew it before the Coastal Commission could review it. Kearsley and Jennings said that never occurred.

Liebig, Mazza and Keller said the litigation should be dropped and the city should approach the Coastal Commission about amending the LCP it drafted. Kearsley, Jennings and Conley Ulich said they support the amendment approach, bud do not favor dropping the suits. Kearsley and Jennings have also accused their opponents of changing their mind on the LCP. They said the trio originally supported the Coastal Commission-drafted LCP, and changed their minds to appeal to voters.

Measure M, the Malibu Bay Co. Development Agreement that was rejected by voters in November after being approved by the City Council, has also been a major campaign issue. Liebig, Mazza and Keller, who were all opposed to the measure (although county records state Liebig did not vote in the election-he said he did), said the council’s unanimous support of it was a sign of its pro-development stance. Jennings said the measure was an attempt to deal with development issues in the city.

“Mazza characterizes his side as planned growth, but none of them has ever put forth any plan for dealing with Malibu’s problems,” Jennings said last month. “The only participation any of them have had has been to oppose any proposed solution.”

All three of the candidates opposing the council said the next few years are crucial, since so many projects are scheduled to go before the council. And they say they do not trust the current council to do what it is best for Malibu.

“I didn’t think we were going to end up with a government that was no different from the county, and now that’s what we’ve got,” Keller said in January.

Like all other elections in Malibu’s history, this one has been filled with controversy. The city’s hiring of a campaign ethics consultant, Xandra Kayden, did nothing to prevent unethical campaigning, but rather gave an opportunity for more accusations and name-calling.

Kayden formed a Campaign Watch Commission that was charged with reviewing complaints made by candidates on advertisements and flyers. The commission had no authority, but it issued opinions on the complaints.

Kearsley said the Commission made people think about the truth before creating an advertisement. “It helped with all the rhetoric,” Kearsley said. “It did not stop it, but it helped. Imagine what we would have had, had there been no commission.”

Others did not share Kearsley’s sentiment, saying that the commission’s decisions favored the incumbents. Malibu CAN activist Ozzie Silna and his attorneys were at odds with the Campaign Watch Commission and Kayden, sending out several memos that accused Kayden of wrongfully attacking Silna’s character.

Silna had several conflicts throughout the campaign, including an unsuccessful attempt by property rights activist Wade Major to get a Los Angeles Superior Court judge to place a temporary restraining order on Silna from making independent expenditures. Major alleged Silna was connected to Liebig and former candidate Bill Winokur’s campaign because he picked up papers for the two candidates, and therefore was violating campaign expenditure laws. Also, he said Silna represented Winokur at a candidate’s informational session, which Silna said he did not do.

Another item that aroused community outcry was a Silna-funded poll that he said was designed to get him information on how he should conduct a campaign. But others said through the questions, the poll was designed to encourage people to vote against the incumbents. “The amount of negativism and distortion was appalling,” wrote Kearsley campaigner Mona Loo in a letter to The Malibu Times about the poll.

Silna said the idea that the poll was designed to persuade voters was ridiculous since only a few hundred people were called. He said if that had been his intention, he would have had everybody in Malibu called.

Several Malibu residents also complained that they were called by somebody claiming to represent the Malibu City Council, who told them to vote for Liebig, Mazza and Keller in the 2004 City Council election. By law, the City Council as an entity cannot support candidates in an election. Jennings said the council never authorized the phone calls, and suggested one of the groups in opposition to his campaign paid for them. He added that the level of political integrity in Malibu had reached a new low with the phone calls. Uhring said neither Malibu CAN nor Silna paid for the calls. Silna was out of state and could not be reached for comment.