FEMA audit threatens $750,000 loss to Malibu budget

An audit by the Federal Emergency Management Agency relating to Malibu’s November 1993 fire threatens to lop off some $750,000 from the city’s budget, according to Administrative Services Director William Thomas. In a quarterly review by the Malibu City Council last Wednesday, Thomas said a key issue focuses on some $560,000 spent by the city for debris cleanup.

Some 31 homes were insured, but the status of 80 homes is not documented. Absent further documentation whether the homeowners were reimbursed through insurance, FEMA will disallow the cost. FEMA might impose a requirement that Malibu collect the money from the insurance companies. “The records just ain’t there,” said Thomas, in describing the task of locating owners, going over insurance policies and securing reimbursement.

Councilman Harry Barovsky called the possible loss of funds by the city “a disaster of disasters. … I’m very disturbed about this.” Predicting a lot of city projects will not be funded, he warned the city must pledge to be very careful about each expenditure. “This is not exactly chopped chicken liver,” he said, lamenting the prospect that the city would have to attempt to collect these sums from individual homeowners.

City Manager Harry Peacock said relief may come through Washington, D.C., and the city must coordinate with its congressman and a lobbyist. Meanwhile, he said, Malibu must make a “sincere” effort to reconstruct the records. “We just have to play this hand out.”

“We can’t place blame,” added Barovsky. “The deed is done.”

City to sue SMMC

In other action, Interim City Attorney Richard Terzian reported he will soon file suit over the use of the Streisand Center on Ramirez Canyon Road for weddings, fund-raisers and business retreats. The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy owns the 22.5 acre property donated by Barbra Streisand in 1993.

The conservancy has dropped a request to hold one 400-person event per year. But it seeks approval for six garden tours per month with up to 40 guests from April through September, up to 24 business retreats, workshops and other one-day meetings with up to 30 guests, and 30 special events such as weddings and fund-raisers with as many as 200 guests.

Terzian said he is not satisfied with the staff report presented to the California Coastal Commission, which will review the matter in January. The Nov. 4 staff report urged approval of no more than 12 total events in any single month and an annualized average of six events per month involving 40 or fewer guests.

Permanent city attorney qualifications

In questions from members of the City Council, Terzian reviewed the merits of hiring a city attorney or an attorney expert in land use issues, or both. He noted the city had received 18 responses from private attorneys who sought to work on a contract basis. He recommended a tilt in favor of expertise on land use, environmental laws and coastal legal issues. He noted the applications had been winnowed to eight or nine; three might be presented to the council for final review. The council should budget at least an hour with each applicant, he said.

Terzian suggested the cost to the city would be about the same whether it chose a contractor or a full-time city attorney. Trust and personal compatibility would be the key factors, he said, urging it would be a favorable sign if the council vote were unanimous.

In a brief review of his experience as city attorney, Terzian lamented Malibu is unique as a very litigious place where threats to sue are a commonplace.

IZO changes

Planning Director Craig Ewing described revamping the Interim Zoning Ordinance, which has been “interim” for almost 10 years, as a top Planning Commission priority. Peacock urged the council take up each chapter as it is ready, rather than wait until the Planning Commission completes the mammoth project. Otherwise the council would be awaiting a “tidal wave,” he said.

With 42 chapters, Councilman Tom Hasse said, it would be best to “bundle them.” As for the type of review the council will exercise over a planning commission decision, Hasse inquired whether the standard is de novo — meaning full review of all issues, including the ability to make its own findings of fact.

Terzian, indicating the review was de novo, suggested it would be a good option for the applicant to know if he reopens one condition imposed by the Planning Commission, all of the issues, including those decided in his favor, will be open for review on appeal.

Councilman Walt Keller expressed his concern that a portion of Pacific Coast Highway had failed to get state designation as a scenic highway. The rejection reportedly stemmed from the number of homes and overhead telephone poles. Currently, in this part of the state, only Highway 2 along the Angeles Crest and Highway 33 through the Ojai Valley have scenic highway designations.

Lt. Thom Bradstock, liaison with the Lost Hills sheriff’s office, notified the council leaves had been canceled for New Year’s eve, and there would be an increase of 30 percent in police available to handle the revelers.

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

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