News Update: Six in the race for April council election

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Malibu CAN is interviewing candidates for possible endorsement this weekend.

By Jonathan Friedman / Staff Writer

With two additional people filing just before Wednesday’s 5 p.m. deadline, the number of City Council candidates has increased to six. Jay Liebig, who resigned from Taxpayers for Livable Communities (TLC) this week, and Bill Winokur have officially joined the race.

Winokur is on the Blue Ribbon Civic Center Way Task Force. He joined Mayor Ken Kearsley, Councilmember Jeff Jennings, political-newcomer Pamela Conley Ulich and former Mayor Walt Keller in the 2004 campaign.

Liebig said he resigned from TLC, an organization that has been involved in several lawsuits with the city, because he did not want to jeopardize the group’s legal position or his position in the council race. He said he still supports TLC’s actions, which he said challenge the errors made by the current council.

Jennings said he was surprised to hear Liebig is running because he did not know he still lived in the city. Liebig said he has been traveling back and forth between Malibu and Poughkeepsie, N.Y. during the past two years because of his job, but has maintained his California residence. Jennings further stated he felt Liebig did not appear to want the city of Malibu to exist, which he said would be inconsistent with wanting to be on its council.

“It seems to me what he [Liebig] has been trying to do is ensure that the local residents of Malibu have no control over any aspect of land-use planning by the city and that it all be done by the state,” Jennings said.

Liebig said this is not true, adding that the council has gotten into a lawsuit with the California Coastal Commission over the Local Coastal Program (LCP)—a lawsuit TLC joined in support of the Coastal Commission—because of its own poor decisions. He said the people of Malibu had created a sufficient LCP, but the council threw it away, forcing the state to come up with one for the city. That version of the facts is disputed by others.

“Mr. Jennings is going to have to stand and defend himself on his actions, and not attack my actions during this campaign,” Liebig said.

To many, TLC is a mysterious organization. Only Liebig and musician Don Henley have ever attached their names to it, although Liebig said there are other members. In a two-year period, TLC filed three lawsuits against the city, with one of them including eight separate actions. All of the suits were either dropped or defeated in court. Some of them are on appeal. The only victory TLC has had against the city is with its involvement in the LCP suit. Judge Allan J. Goodman rendered a decision that the city could not put the Coast Commission-drafted LCP before the voters of Malibu. The case is currently under appeal.

Liebig said he would like to get the support of council opposition group Malibu Community Action Network (CAN). CAN President Steve Uhring said it would interview candidates this weekend, and have a clearer idea of what it is going to do on Monday.

Keller said he would also seek CAN’s endorsement. The former mayor said he entered the race because he felt the current council is not running the city as he had envisioned Malibu would be. “I didn’t think we were going to end up with a government that was no different from the county,” Keller said. “And now that’s what we’ve got.”

Another person who has been named as a possible CAN candidate is Winokur. The semi-retired Wall Street investor said he first got involved in Malibu politics because of the Civic Center Way closure fiasco. In the fall, the road was temporarily closed as an experiment to test the possibility of a permanent closure. Vocal community outrage put the project to an end only a few weeks into it.

“I felt like it was just an idea that was very quickly imposed without true concerns for the ramifications,” Winokur said. “It made me feel there needed to be fresh blood.”

Winokur lives in Serra Retreat, the same neighborhood as CAN financial supporter Ozzie Silna. Winokur called Silna a friend and a neighbor, and said Silna had invited him to attend a future CAN meeting. Winokur said he is of an independent mind, although he would welcome CAN’s support. Winokur voted no on Measure M in November and he said he supports the city’s right to vote on its LCP. But he added that he is not familiar enough with the city’s suit with the Coastal Commission to comment on it.

Another fresh face on the political scene is Ulich. The mother of two is an entertainment lawyer who has lived in Malibu for seven years. She said she believes the city’s zoning code is convoluted and cumbersome on individual homeowners. Ulich said she is studying other cities’ codes to see how Malibu’s could be improved. She declined to comment on how she voted on Measure M, saying the measure should be put in the city’s history museum. She added she is not sure if litigation is the proper route for Malibu to get the right to draft its LCP. She said amending the Coastal Commission-drafted LCP might be a better route. That is one of the options the city is pursuing. Ulich said she would also like to see the creation of a Cultural Arts Commission.