2008 Year in Review

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Victims of the 2007 fires continued on the road to recovery, a new council and school board were elected, environmental lawsuits were filed against the city, paparazzi took center stage in a beach fight, and Malibu was graced with snow-all in 2008. Here’s a selection of the past year’s highlights in Malibu.

January

n The year began with Malibu trying to recover from the devastating Corral Canyon Fire. The City Council was working on a proposal to ban camping in Malibu, nevertheless, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy gave a green light to Executive Director Joe Edmiston to ask the California Coastal Commission to approve 29 overnight camping sites in Ramirez, Escondido and Corral Canyons in Malibu.

n The five suspects in the Corral Canyon Fire were out on bail after being charged with multiple felony counts of recklessly causing a fire with great bodily injury and recklessly causing a fire to an inhabited structure. The fire, which started up in the Corral Canyon area known as The Cave, burned nearly 5,000 acres of land and destroyed 86 structures, including 53 homes.

n Five candidates threw their hats into the ring for the three seats on the Malibu City Council up for grabs in the upcoming April election. The candidates include Planning Commissioner John Sibert, Malibu Township Council President Jefferson Wagner, Mayor Pro Tem Pamela Conley Ulich, Malibu Park activist Susan Tellem and Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board Member Kathy Wisnicki.

n The Malibu Times announced the Dolphin Award winners for 2007: Judi Devin; Susie Duff; Francine Greene; Matt Haines and the “Sequit Fire Brigade;” Ken Kearsley; KNX Radio News Team (1070 am); Aaron Landworth; the Optimist Club of Malibu; Raquel Ravaglioli; and the emergency First Responders, from local to state organizations.

n For the second time this month, city council candidate Jefferson Wagner received an anonymous threat letter accusing him of tax violations and threatening to send information to the IRS and to this paper if he did not drop out of the campaign. The threat failed because not only did Wagner call The Malibu Times, he later went on to win a seat on the council.

February

n The real estate market still looked good at the beginning of the year, but despite the rise of the median sales prices in the 90265 Zip code, real estate writer Rick Wallace saw storm clouds on the horizon, which turned out to be first-rate real estate meteorology.

Median Sales Prices

90265 Zip code

2004-$2.1 million

2005-$2.5 million

2006-$2.8 million

2007-$3.0 million

2008-?

n Measure R, which assessed a $346 perå year parcel tax on every property in Malibu and Santa Monica, passed with 72.5 percent of the voters in favor. However, in Malibu, which normally is supportive of school measures, there apparently was some lingering resentment that Malibu had been short-changed by the school board in the past, and the measure passed by only 55.1 percent here, which might add further fuel to those who want to break away from the SMMUSD and form a separate Malibu district.

n Shots were fired in an early Sunday morning confrontation on Point Dume that grew out of some unwanted guests arriving at a party. According to reports, three people arrived at the Point Dume home, confronted residents at the location and threatened them with a knife. Later, after Sheriff’s deputies had come and gone, they returned and allegedly were firing a pellet gun into the house, and one of the house residents fired back with a 9mm pistol.

n The Santa Monica-Malibu School District Board of Education heard Assistant Superintendent Mike Matthews give them the bad news that the district was facing a $5 million operating deficit next year and they would have to make some budget adjustments, which included an initial proposal to cut $2.5 million and involved cutting teaching staff.

“We have to cut people. That’s not a pleasant topic but it’s a budget reality.”

MIKE MATTHEWS, ASSISTANT SUPERINTENDENT

March

n The National Resources Defense Council and the Santa Monica Baykeeper filed an environmental lawsuit against the County of Los Angeles and the City of Malibu in U.S. District Court charging that they are responsible for polluting the watershed. The environmental organizations filing the lawsuit say there is still the possibility litigation could be avoided; however, in April, they served the lawsuit and the city voted to defend it.

n Malibu Little League kicks off the season with former Dodger great Steve Garvey throwing out the first pitch.

n The city of Malibu passed an ordinance to put a cap on celebrity beach parties. The ordinance limits parties of more than 100 people or those with “any commercial component” to no more than four per year. The law follows last summer’s controversy when several corporations rented beachfront homes and ran international media-hyped parties filled with celebrities to promote their clients’ products.

n Malibu High was on alert following vandalism in which graffiti scrawled on bathroom walls had racial and threatening overtones. Sheriff’s deputies investigated the incident as a possible hate crime.

n As the April City Council race got closer, tempers flared at city hall when supporters of Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner and Susan Tellem clashed with supporters of Kathy Wisnicki and John Sibert. Local activist Steve Uhring rebuked a member of the city council for remarks made at a recent council meeting, which immediately led to angry rebuttal accusing Uhring and others of being “toadies” for Ozzie Silna.

April

n Mayor Pro Tem Pamela Conley Ulich is the top vote getter and is reelected easily to the Malibu City Council. Two new council members, Jefferson Wagner and former Planning Commissioner John Sibert, join her. The precinct-by-precinct breakdown is below:

n Measure D, which decreases the city’s telephone utility tax from 5 percent to 4.5 while leaving open the possibility of increasing the number of taxable communications, received support from 63.29 percent of the voters. Measure E, which calls for the council to pursue a viewshed protection ordinance, had 60.33 percent approval.

n The city celebrates the redesigned city park located in Las Flores Canyon. Phase 1 of the park included restoration of the creek to its natural habitat, construction of a parking lot, and installation of a children’s play area, viewing benches and trails, all of which have been completed. Phase 2 will include construction of a pedestrian bridge over the creek to connect the two banks of the park and installation of a restroom and an onsite wastewater treatment facility.

n The California Department of Parks and Recreation, anticipating budget cuts, is preparing plans to put certain state parks into what is called “caretaker status,” to be reopened when the funds are found. Two local parks on the closure list include Topanga and Will Rogers. Park sources say the annual cost to run Topanga and Will Rogers is $1.4 million and only $490,000 is taken in park fees.

n Los Angles County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman runs into his own firestorm after a presentation on the Corral Fire, when he faced some angry questioning by a group of skeptical citizens from the Corral Canyon area, many of whom were burned out in the fire of November 2007. Burned out resident Bob Bailey said, “There seems to be a disconnect between your glorious presentation and our experience of how the fire was handled. How many trucks were deployed? Where were they?” Bailey’s remarks echoed the sentiments of others in the area that, while he saw many trucks parked on Pacific Coast Highway, there were few actually seen on Corral Canyon roads.

May

n This was a particularly difficult month for the Santa Monica-Malibu School District and Board of Education members found themselves under attack for several incidents.

n Deputy Superintendent Tim Walker, who handles Special Education and who drew fierce criticism from Santa Monicans and great praise from Malibu residents, resigned his post with a $193,000 settlement.

n A Lincoln Middle School teacher, teaching at the school for more than two decades, is arrested on charges of molesting five girls at the school, sending school district officials scrambling to find answers to parents’ questions regarding the arrest. The school board decided to scrap highly controversial Special Education gag orders that had required the parents of special education students to sign a confidentiality clause stating they wouldn’t talk about what aid their children were receiving before the children could receive assistance.

n The month ended with Superintendent Diane Talarico, who had been on the job less than two years, announcing she was leaving to take a top position with a Northern California school district.

n To protect animals and ocean life, the city of Malibu votes to ban the use of plastic bags from grocery stores, food vendors, restaurants, pharmacies and city facilities, all of whom have to comply within six months. After one year, all other retailers and vendors within the city will have to comply with the new ordinance.

June

n The City Council starts weighing the pros and cons of purchasing a vacant 9.8-acre piece of property alongside Pacific Coast Highway in the Point Dume area for a city hall, community center and other facilities.

n The council votes unanimously that there would be no league play at Trancas Park, a new city park in West Malibu, after months of lobbying and protests by park neighbors. The new plan calls for a children’s play area, dog parks, walking paths and practice fields, but does not allow for league sports games, which many residents are against due to noise and traffic concerns.

n Pacific Coast Highway is more dangerous than ever. According to a state Office of Traffic Safety report, Malibu ranked No. 1 in total traffic victims killed and injured in 2005. The report, the latest ranking available, lists Malibu as the worst out of 104 cities in its population category based on daily vehicle miles traveled. Malibu was also second for victims killed and injured in alcohol-involved collisions.

n A brawl that broke out over the weekend between paparazzi and some young Malibu residents became international news when videos were uploaded on the Internet and were broadcast on mainstream media. The Saturday afternoon confrontation occurred when a group of some 15 young men and women confronted paparazzi who had come to photograph actor Matthew McConaughey who surfs with the locals on Little Dume Beach. The paparazzi versus locals situation quickly escalated from shouting and taunting to threats and finally physical violence with everyone running to the Sheriff’s Station afterward to file complaints.

July

n Santa Monica College District staff is recommending that $2.5 million be given to the City of Malibu for the Legacy Park Project. The money would come from Measure S, a $135 million facilities bond measure approved by the voters in 2004, and follows the $2.5 million that already has been used to make the land purchase in 2006.

n Independence Day brought 515,000 visitors to Malibu out of the roughly 15,000,000 outside visitors that Malibu sees during the year, primarily at its beaches. According to a recent economic study done by the city, roughly two-thirds of the retail dollars spent in Malibu comes from visitors outside of the city.

n As proof of the old adage that “No good deed goes unpunished,” the City of Malibu’s plans for Legacy Park, which include a major portion to be used for cleaning up storm water runoff, was roundly attacked by various environmental groups, including Heal the Bay and Santa Monica Baykeeper, with comments in the completed Environmental Impact Report for not going far enough. They expressed concern that it only deals with storm water and not wastewater, while others went even further and bemoaned the fact that no wetlands were included in the EIR.

n The City of Malibu files a lawsuit against Executive Director Peter Douglas of the California Coastal Commission alleging he violated the law because of his support for an application for overnight camping in Malibu. Douglas says the city attorney is doing “technical hair splitting” while interpreting the law. He says there is no basis for the lawsuit.

n If Legacy Park construction begins next year as planned, it will probably mean that the Kiwanis Club Labor Day Weekend Chili Cook-Off will have to find a new home. Several clubs fear it might signal the end of a number of other service club events, which have always relied on the Chili Cook-Off site for parking for their events. “We think the longevity of civic organizations is important. The public obviously supports this. They come to our events” said Anne Payne, Malibu Optimist Club president.

August

n The Malibu City Council grapples with the paparazzi problem, with freelancers and photographers of publications from throughout the world clustering in areas where they can get shots of Malibu celebrities. Although most residents would like to see the paparazzi kicked out, or at least see some control, any proposed regulation keeps running afoul of Constitutional law, which allows photography of anyone in a public place.

n Two 16-year-old, developmentally disabled Malibu teenage twins, whose disappearance sparked a nationwide hunt, were found and returned home. The 23-year-old man they were found with, whom they have known for several months and with whom they had gone voluntarily, was arrested for felony child stealing and a number of counts relating to unlawful sexual activity with minors.

n The Malibu victims of the November 2007 fire that destroyed 53 homes are about to file suit against the State of California for nearly a half billion dollars for damages incurred in the fire. The litigants charge that the state failed to take appropriate precautions to prevent the fire, that the state knew of the illegal usage of the caves where the fire started by partiers over many years and the fire risks that it entailed and, despite numerous prior incidents and warnings from the neighbors, took no action.

September

n Malibu held its 27th annual Chili Cook-Off and Carnival sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Malibu and its turnout even exceeded the previous year, which saw 10,000 visitors. A considerable amount of the money made at the cook-off comes from the carnival rides and many are fearful that if lack of space in future years forced the cook-off to cut back on the rides, many Malibu charities that receive assistance from the festival proceeds would take a hit.

n Two local residents are charged with misdemeanor battery involving the clash between some Malibu locals and a number of paparazzi trying to get photographs of actor Matthew McConaughey surfing. Charges were filed after investigating Sheriff’s detectives watched video footage of the incident that had circulated on the Internet. The Malibu locals are claiming self-defense, and several of the paparazzi are threatening civil lawsuits.

n A little known, non-posted parking law in the City of Malibu limits parking to 72 consecutive hours on a city street, leaving a few people vulnerable, particularly when they go away on vacation and come back to find their cars have been towed. They end up not only owing tow fees but also storage charges, which together often amount to hundreds of dollars. Although the city ordinance was taken from the county’s “Abandoned Vehicle” ordinance, some people call it a racket to raise money. Malibu Towing said it’s not their fault and they only respond when the Sheriff tells them to tow, but the City of Malibu makes a tidy sum of money each year from tows and other fees. During 07/08, the city collected more than $215,000 in public parking lot fees and more than $212,000 in parking citation fees. The city also collected $25,000 as a portion of towing fees.

n A notice of foreclosure was filed against the Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Malibu land and building, which owns the Malibu Performing Arts Center where the likes of Barbra Streisand, Moby and Tom Petty have recorded or performed. Owners and operators of the facility told The Malibu Times that they have a dispute with their lender and expected to cure the problems with a refinancing that had been delayed by the November 2007 Malibu fires, which destroyed some of the grounds but not the building, which necessitated $100,000 in repairs. They later filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

October

n The relationship between the Southern California Regional Water Quality Control Board and the City of Malibu apparently spiraled downward when Malibu City Manager Jim Thorsen sent off a harshly worded letter to Tracy Egoscue, executive officer of the RWQCB, because she had previously sent the city a Notice of Intent to Terminate a Memorandum of Understanding between the city and the water board regarding issuance of septic permits. The MOU had been negotiated four years ago and had been in effect ever since. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed before the breakdown became irrevocable and the fight, which really revolved around the issuance of permits for the Lumber Yard mall project, ended when the permit was granted by RWQCB, although with the imposition of a few additional conditions.

n The presidential campaign came to Malibu in a debate at the packed 500-seat Smothers Theater when Douglas Kmiec, professor of Constitutional law at Pepperdine’s School of Law, arguing for Sen. Barack Obama, and Bob Kaufman of Pepperdine’s School of Public Policy, arguing for Sen. John McCain, clashed ideas, policy and witticisms to an appreciative audience.

n At a political forum held in Malibu, several of the SMMUSD Board of Education candidates admitted there has been a lack of communication between the board and the citizens of Malibu, a number of whom have begun to explore the possibility of Malibu forming its own school district. With Kathy Wisnicki leaving the board and no Malibu residents running for a seat, it will be the first time in 30 years that there has not been a Malibu representative on the board.

n In the annual California Newspaper Publishers Association contest for the best work in journalism in the state, The Malibu Times once again wins First Place in Local Breaking News Coverage for its coverage of the October 2007 fire. That was the good news. The bad news is we’ve won that prize once before, and in both cases it was due to a major fire in Malibu. We’d prefer to pass on this category for the next decade or so.

November

n Despite rather gloomy economic forecasts, the clear majority of Malibu voters seemed to be exhilarated by President-elect Barack Obama’s landslide victory nationwide. The vote in Malibu was equally as strong for Obama, and the voter turnout overall here was equally heavy. Even though California was never in doubt, many people we interviewed strongly expressed their desire to vote in what promised to be a historic election. In other races, Fran Pavley for State Senate and Julia Brownley for State Assembly both won their races rather easily.

n For the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, Ben Allen, Maria Leon-Vazquez and Jose Escarce all won, although newcomer Chris Bley, who finished fourth, came very close to an upset victory over incumbent board member Jose Escarce, losing 19,533 to 18,394.

n For the Santa Monica College Board of Trustees, all three incumbents, Susan Aminoff, Robert Greenstein Rader and Margaret Quiñones-Perez, were reelected. The community college bond Measure AA passed, garnering 61.45 percent of the vote (55 percent approval was needed for passage).

n The Malibu City Council finally approved two alternative versions of the La Paz mall project, one for 99,000 square feet and the other for 112,000 square feet, roughly eight years after the project was first proposed. Both plans include retail, restaurant and office buildings, although the larger project is somewhat denser and also includes a city hall. The fate of the development now goes before the California Coastal Commission and likely the state court system thereafter.

n A Planning Commission meeting about the new proposed Trancas Canyon Park quickly turned heated and contentious, and chair Jeff Jennings had to gavel down the crowd on several occasions just to keep the meeting civil.

December

n In an era of limited dollars, the battle between money spent for the environment versus dollars spent for public safety has become a hot issue. Despite a recent report finding that certain fish populations, like trout, are becoming endangered, many local citizens were outraged that the bridge across Solstice Creek cost $1.6 million, with the city chipping in $239,000. One of the purposes of the project was to facilitate access to the creek for steelhead trout, thereby replenishing the fish populations. The Rindge Dam removal project, also to help the fish, is estimated to cost between $31 million and $72 million. A local resident charged that they could come up with more than a million dollars to protect the steelhead trout but couldn’t come up with the money to patrol the area where the Corral Fire started.

n A new Malibu Fire Station will serve the northern end of Malibu and the southern end of Ventura County. The station is adjacent to Neptune’s Net Restaurant.

n In local business news, Malibu Yogurt, located in the Colony Plaza Shopping Center, changes hands. Owned by Diane Neilson for 22 years, it was sold to Don Wildman, who was one of the first customers of the store when it opened. His son, Don Wildman Jr., will operate the store, without many changes.

n Malibu Inn is up for sale and in escrow, but there may be a complication in that a notice of default has been filed and a foreclosure proceeding already begun for an outstanding mortgage in arrears on the property for more than $5,000,000.

n According to Realtor Tony Dorn, who is handling the sale of the property, the death of Malibu Inn owner Mitchell Stewart left his wife Nurit Petri “trying to pick up the pieces and move on. That’s why she listed the property for sale; otherwise she wouldn’t have sold it. She loves it.”

n The Malibu High School redesign project, funded by Measure BB money, is facing some problems, as neighbors of the school, already fed up with traffic problems in the area, protest certain aspects of the redesign, which includes more parking, new buildings and a new two-story library. The school is working with an engineering company, as well as sheriff’s deputies who patrol the area, in solving the traffic congestion.

n The Malibu Lumber Mall project receives a wastewater permit from the Regional Water Quality Control Board; stores are projected by first week of February. Meanwhile, the board will look into a septic ban citywide in the future.

n Several Malibu residents in letters to the editor express outrage over a letter written by the aunt of one of the Corral Fire suspects. The aunt pleads for understanding and mercy when considering sentencing of three of the suspects, saying they are not criminals.

n The New Year is just one week away, and Malibu is hit again with another lawsuit filed by Santa Monica Baykeeper over the La Paz project’s EIR. The environmental group says the project could adversely impact Malibu Creek, and developers should wait till a centralized wastewater system is built, before the shopping center is built. The developer says its planned wastewater treatment system is more than adequate.

n Malibu receives a drifting of snow high in its mountains one week before Christmas. Residents take photos on West Saddle Peak Road.