Planning doctor takes over

The city’s new planning manager holds a doctorate in urban affairs and public policy. Stacey Rice has been on the city staff since 2002. Environmental and Community Development Director Vic Peterson says her institutional knowledge was a reason for her appointment.

By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor

Recently appointed Planning Manager Stacey Rice has two obsessions-city planning and working out. She visits the gym during her lunch breaks and often takes a run before a Planning Commission meeting. On weekends, Rice teaches a spin class at Malibu Fitness.

“I need the stress reduction,” Rice said. “It’s like brushing my teeth. I make time for it no matter what.”

And Rice will need that relief as she takes over the Planning Division of a city where major things are happening. Several large commercial projects are either ready to go before the Planning Commission and City Council or are in the pipeline. Among them are the La Paz development, the Adamson Hotel, the Trancas market redesign and a proposal for a Whole Foods store.

“Back when I started, if you exclude the Malibu Bay Company [Development Agreement], there was nothing,” Rice said. “But we have more EIRs [environmental impact reports for projects] now than we had combined since I got here.”

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Rice said she is ready for the challenge, already having a taste of heading the planning staff by serving as the acting planning manager since C.J. Amstrup stepped down in October. She is the longest-serving member of the planning staff, having joined the city nearly six years ago. Environmental and Community Development Director Vic Peterson, who appointed Rice, noted her experience when he announced her appointment at a recent Planning Commission meeting.

“This is an important time in the history of the city, and Stacey has the knowledge and the leadership ability to bring important projects forward for Planning Commission and City Council consideration without a significant learning curve,” Peterson said.

This was the second time Rice applied for the planning manager position. She also interviewed for the job in 2005 following the departure of Mike Teruya, but the city chose Amstrup instead. Rice said she was not “necessarily disappointed” about not getting the job at that time.

“It was a stressful time [for the city and herself],” she said. “This time I felt confident about doing it. The timing just seemed right this time around. I felt confident with my knowledge and the knowledge of the projects.”

Rice, who lived her first eight years on Long Island and the remainder of her childhood in Orange County, has been interested in planning and the environment since her early years. While attending UC Irvine, she studied social ecology with an intention to go to law school and becoming an environmental attorney. She quickly decided being a lawyer was not for her. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in 1991, Rice continued her education at UC Irvine, and earned a master’s degree. She then pursued a doctorate, which she received from the University of Delaware in 1999.

Rice’s dissertation was on how federal, state and local government connect when it comes to housing policy issues, with her focus on the city of Camden, N.J.

“What I found was we shouldn’t be taking away power from the local community and giving it to the state,” Rice said. “When you take the power out of the local government, there are going to be inefficiencies.”

Rice continued, “So when the state wrote a document here [the California Coastal Commission’s drafting of the city of Malibu’s Local Coastal Program], I was very interested in what would go on,” Rice said.

After receiving her doctorate in urban affairs and public policy, Rice returned to California to take a job with a private company that wrote EIRs. She then had jobs with the city of Ventura and the county of Santa Barbara before taking a position with Schmitz and Associates, a private development consultant firm headed by Don Schmitz, which does a great deal of work in Malibu. Rice was there for approximately a year.

Then in 2002, she joined the city of Malibu staff, where she said she belongs.

“It just makes more sense to be a public person with a degree in public policy,” Rice said. She added she has no plans to re-enter the private sector, something that others in the industry find curious.

“My response is always, the job’s still interesting to me,” Rice said.

Another thing that interests her is teaching, which she did part-time at Cal State Northridge from 2001 to 2005. Rice said she does not have time to teach anymore, but she hopes she can get back to it sometime on a limited basis, possibly at Pepperdine University.

The planning staff at Malibu was plagued by constant turnover for many years. But recently there has been stability. Rice credits this to more interesting commercial projects for the planners to work on.

“This area attracts some really hard-working people,” Rice said. “They work like it’s a private company. There’s nobody saying, ‘Oh, it’s five o’clock, got to go home.’ And we really work as a team, helping each other out.”

Rice, who lives in Malibu, said she plans to be here for a while. She admitted it can sometimes be difficult living in the community where she works as a high-profile city planner. “I try not to shop here,” she said while laughing.

Rice spends most of her weekends in Mar Vista, where her boyfriend lives. She said she likes the area, and its differences from Malibu. But she also is fond of the beautiful nature of this city.

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

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