Last week, it seemed like a large chunk of Malibu jammed itself into that little room at Bluffs Park, called the Michael Landon Center, to get in its two cents about future of Parks and Recreation in the city of Malibu, at a meeting called by the city and its park planning consultants. The council was there, the planning commission was there, representatives from the state were there and Sen. Tom Hayden, who generally couldn’t care less about Malibu, sent staff. Just about every sport and recreation activity, including AYSO and Little League, showed up to make sure they were in the loop. Normally, planning meetings like this draw a handful of people and profound disinterest, so what gives, I wondered. Why all this activity and intense political interest?
I had been hearing rumbles for a week or two about the meeting and about some very unhappy people who felt calling a meeting in early August, when many people are away on vacation, was an invitation for a bunch of no shows. They needn’t have worried, because it immediately was apparent that if they held this meeting at the top of Himalayas, they still would have filled the room.
The buzz had gotten so intense, I figured maybe it was worth a look. So I went down to sort of sniff the room and see how things were going to play out.
To put this into context, up to now, in the main, the majority of Malibu, or a least the voting majority, which is abut 40 percent of the roughly 9,000 registered voters, generally favored a policy that swung between permitting very little to permitting absolutely nothing. The policy usually worked because most people didn’t need anything from the city. All they wanted was to make sure nothing changed, at least very much.
Then, about eight or nine years ago, something began to happen and has continued to happen to today. What happened was that some of the old timers moved out, and they sold their homes to younger families, families that had young children, and, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, they are in the process of making even more babies. There were roughly 1,000 kids in Malibu in 1990, and now there are about 2,000 kids. These families need things like services, good schools, ballfields, teen centers and other recreation facilities. At the same time, all these additional kids have squeezed the seniors out of places like the community center, and now they also need a facility. Some of those seniors would also like to have the choice to go into some residential facility here in Malibu, so that growing older doesn’t have to mean leaving your community of many years, and now we see pressure to build something.
These demographic shifts, plus the fact that the new people are spending $1,000,000-plus for their homes, are what’s driving the changes in our communities. You see it in the people who are participating in the PTSAs. This is not your grandmother’s PTA. The president is likely to have an Ivy League law degree or an MBA, and these are people who are young, energetic and bright, and not likely to respond to the old adage, “Well, that’s not the way we do it in Malibu.” They know what they need from their city and what they don’t want. A parent related a story to me about how hard it is to get baseball field space for teams to practice. Somehow two teams were booked onto the same practice field at the same time. Nothing else was available and two coaches were arguing about which team got to use the field next. It got so heated with neither backing down that someone finally had to call the sheriff to come arbitrate the dispute while the two teams of kids stood by waiting to see who would win.
When that kind of need and confrontation occurs, you can be sure the local politicians are not far behind, which is why they were all at the meeting. They know this bruising battle is going to play out at the polls next year.
The two sides are already lining up. The Malibu Coastal Land Conservancy is on one side. This side is the traditional Malibu, “Nothing, no way, never” side that intends to make its stand in the Civic Center. This side wants a wetland, which equals no ballfields, and, perhaps, as the FEMA representative seemed to say, they even want to tear out of some of the already existing buildings around the area of the swings and beyond because some of that, they claim, is in a flood zone. Its champions are Carolyn Van Horn and Walt Keller, and some others of the Slow Growth Coalition.
Its members also all showed up at the planning meeting, along with some of their outside Ballona Wetlands allies to push the dialogue in the wetlands direction. But this time there were lots of parents pushing back, and it’s clear the battle lines have shifted. It’s no longer a two-sided battle.
The old political question, which they successfully used for the last few elections was, are you an environmentalist or a developer?
The new political question may be, are you for or against the kids?