Malibu’s planning director of the last five years, Bonnie Blue, is “trading wildfires and earthquakes for hurricanes”—she announced earlier this year she would be departing the city and moving to Florida to be closer to family. Blue’s last day was Tuesday, Oct. 20. City Manager Reva Feldman has filled her spot in the interim with assistant planning director Richard Mollica, but the search for Blue’s official replacement is still ongoing.
One word defined Blue’s time in Malibu: Woolsey. In a written statement shared with The Malibu Times, Blue said she was “really proud of what we accomplished with getting the fire rebuild amendments approved through [the California] Coastal Commission so quickly and creating a super-streamlined planning approval process for rebuilds.” According to the city’s website, the department has approved permits to rebuild 261 single family residences.
When asked what the major events of her term as planning director were, Blue pointed to several high-profile planning department actions over the past half-decade: the final approval of a long-awaited dark sky ordinance in 2018; a strengthening of rules requiring fire-resistant landscaping in 2019; final approvals for the Civic Center Wastewater Treatment Facility in 2016; and the temporary skate park and short-term rental ordinance, both in 2020.
Blue wrote that she’s had “a great experience” working in Malibu: “You never stop learning, which is one of the most satisfying things and, at the same time, the most challenging.”
She praised her staff’s hard working and collaborative spirit and described Malibuites as engaged and informed.
“Everyone in Malibu on all sides really cares and I really appreciate that,” she said.
According to the job advertisement that the City of Malibu circulated to fill Blue’s role, the role of the planning director includes working with the city manager and all other department heads to lead the city; overseeing planning department staff; coordinating the planning review process in accordance with local zoning, coastal, state and federal rules; overseeing the code enforcement; and sometimes functioning as a project manager directly. The position’s salary ranges from $139,810 to $182,419.
Malibu’s planning review process has long been reputed to be slow and arduous, drawing criticism from homeowners who have struggled for years to get small additions to their properties, such as pools or sheds, built.
Slowed by COVID-19, the city is still searching for Blue’s replacement. Assistant City Manager Lisa Soghor told The Malibu Times that she did not know when the search would be finalized, especially because “things will be taking a bit longer because of the pandemic.” Both Blue and her predecessor, Joyce Parker-Bozylinski, were hired from already within the department.
It was not officially disclosed whether Mollica had tossed his hat in the ring as a candidate to take over for Blue permanently, but some things are known about the current acting planning director.
Mollica attended Malibu High School and later obtained degrees from UCLA and UC Irvine. He has worked with Malibu’s planning department for 15 years.
“I sure hope [Mollica’s appointment] lasts longer than temporary,” Planning Commission Chair John Mazza said during the commission’s Monday, Oct. 19, meeting, describing Mollica as “a local guy who really knows the city.”
Among the candidates for the job (whose names are not made public) is Malibu architect Lester Tobias, who took the unusual step of publicly announcing his intention to vie for the position. Framing himself both as a longtime local—moving to Malibu, he said, right when it became a city—and as a nontraditional outsider, Tobias shared his application materials online.
“I just wanted the citizens of Malibu … to know that somebody with my experience had applied, just so when whomever was ultimately chosen, if it wasn’t me, I wanted people to know that I was an option for the city and they chose not to pick me,” Tobias said when asked why in a phone call with The Malibu Times.
Tobias said he believes there is “a tendency in this city to think that there are no qualified local individuals.
“Every time a resident really tries to do something here, they tend to get passed over for out-of-town organizations or firms or individuals,” according to Tobias. “We have a staff full of people who don’t live here in Malibu.”
Soghor said the search process traditionally involves city managers and assistant city managers from other cities screening applications on Malibu’s behalf on a volunteer basis. The final pick lies with Feldman and Soghor. Then, it is up to the city council to officially approve the newly hired planning director.