Through the Eyes of the Current Mayor

Malibu Mayor Laura Rosenthal has lived in Malibu for 27 years. Around 20 years ago, she got involved with city issues, and she does not have plans to stop. The Malibu Times talked with Rosenthal about what she has accomplished, and what she hopes to do in the future.

Describe your history in the City of Malibu.

I’ve lived here for 27 years. I brought my kids up here. I started getting involved around 20 years ago — a little more, actually. I think the first thing I did was, there was a group of us led by my friend Laureen, and we put together a little tape of young kids singing Beach Boys songs, and then we sold the tape to raise money to put in kids play equipment for Bluffs Park. We didn’t really own Bluffs Park at that point, the baseball fields were there but it was the state’s. We put the money in escrow for many, many years and the money was used 10 years later, or more, by the city. 

I got involved in our schools and then was a Parks and Rec commissioner in the early 2000s, and then worked on different people’s city council elections and became a public works commissioner and then ran for city council.

What was Malibu like when you moved here, and how has it changed?

It was, in one way, the same as it is now — it was a small town. It didn’t feel as crowded, there wasn’t as bad traffic on PCH. 

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In the last 27 years, it feels like it’s gotten a lot hotter. We never had to worry about air conditioning or anything like that, whereas in the last couple of years, it felt like we needed air conditioning.

I know that beach visitors have increased over the years. The traffic would be terrible in the summer on PCH, but the rest of the year would be fine. Now it feels like the traffic is bad all year round, because we have so many more nice warm weekends all year round.

There was a better mix of people. I think the property values have gone up so much, especially in the last 15 or 20 years. I remember when we first moved here, there were a lot more teachers and a lot of people were contractors. So there were, at least in my neighborhood, very few part-timers and a lot of young kids. A lot of us were moving in and then having kids. I know now our numbers of kids have gone down, but there are peaks and valleys and that’s very natural.

I think now there’s more part-timers moving into Malibu neighborhoods, and not just the beach

One of the ways, as I said before, that it’s stayed the same is just the small town feel, the way the people take care of each other, the way the people look out for each other, the social aspect of it. You go to the movies and you know half the people in the theater, you run into your neighbor at the grocery store, you know everybody at the gym because we have small gyms here.

And people volunteer. They volunteer at schools and nonprofits, they give their time to city things. Donating your time, your energy and your money is really strong still.

Describe some major social/political issues in Malibu during your terms.

I think one of the big ones has been AMPS [Advocates for Malibu Public Schools] and our real concerted effort to be our own school district. That is one of the things that has definitely drawn the community together, inspired us all and given us a common cause — one of the few things, that I’ve really seen. 

One of the other political issues has been the increase in visitors and traffic on PCH. I’m not going to say “the increase in accidents,” because that hasn’t been true, according to the sheriffs. But certainly, with the rise of social media, it feels like there’s more accidents, it feels like the traffic is worse because we now know about it. So I think that’s certainly been an issue.

Development has always been an issue. I’m always reminded of how it was a big issue in every political campaign in Malibu. And I think one of the things that has united people has been our desire to not be developed like other beach communities.

I’m glad it continues to be an issue, because it’s something we all agreed on, how we want to keep our city more rural, less built-up, more natural. I think we all love that we have wildlife here, and I think a lot of the reduction in wildlife has to do with the drought more than anything else.

Describe your most significant accomplishments during your terms.

I think that we have continued to keep the city strong fiscally, and I think that’s very important in Malibu, given our history of fires and floods.

I think also we’ve been able to expand amenities to our residents. We’ve added a number of middle school recreation programs, like volleyball and lacrosse. We’ve expanded our senior center classes and services. 

We’ve added sheriff’s deputies.

We’ve been able to bring a new civility back to the city council, between both city council members and also between the audience and city council members, that was somewhat lacking years ago.

We’ve brought stability back to our staff. 

We’ve done a good job cleaning up our water and being able to move forward with the Civic Center wastewater treatment. 

We’ve added parks, which has been really a step forward, we actually now own land and right before I got elected, they bought City Hall and we were able to have our own city hall, which is great.

We’ve been able to expand our library and offer really innovative programs at our library, much more so than when my kids were young. 

Are there goals that you are still hoping to accomplish as mayor/on city council?

I’m always looking for ways to make PCH safer and to run more efficiently, so looking for more money, what programs are going to help that. 

I want the city to do a better job — and not just the city, but its residents — with water conservation and water reuse. I think that’s one of our big challenges and will continue to be.

One of my other goals is to expand our arts program and to really be known as an innovative and rich arts community — and I don’t mean rich in money. 

I want to expand our environmental program. I want to do more solar, I want to do more things with water and greywater. I want to see where we can really be innovative in that. I want to be known as an innovative city when it comes to the environment, really one of the greenest cities around.

How do you plan to stay involved in Malibu after you are termed out?

I definitely want to stay involved, and I don’t know yet. I have areas that I’m really interested [in]. Whether it’s in water conservation, whether it’s in helping our school district move forward … I would love to see our own school district by the time I’m termed out. I think that’s very important; it’s very important to our Malibu identity for the local control we’ve fought for. 

Where do you see Malibu going in the next 25 years? What will be the next big challenge for the city?

I think one of the big challenges for the city is certainly the effects of climate change on our city and how it affects sea level rise, how it affects the drought. 

As Los Angeles gets warmer and warmer, one of the impacts of that is more and more visitors to the beach — people coming down here to get away from the heat — and the challenge of how Malibu’s going to deal with that. With circulation, with traffic, with being able to accommodate these visitors and welcome them.

Maybe not in the next 25 years, but in the next 50 or 75 years, sea level rise for the homes and businesses along the ocean, but also how it impacts PCH.

I think one of the challenges over the next 25 years is keeping Malibu a vibrant community in a small way, making sure that we stay small. I know we will, in the sense that there’s just not that many more lots available to build homes. [We need to] make sure we have a community of full time residents as much as possible, and that we welcome young families, because that’s the future of any town. They’re the ones that get involved, they’re the ones that keep our schools strong. I think that’s important as we look forward in the next 25 years.

As people have fewer kids, I think it’s important for any small community, including Malibu, to stay competitive in welcoming those small families and encouraging them to move to Malibu, but making sure we take care of our environment — that we don’t build, that we take care of our water, that we take care of our land and we keep as much open space as we possibly can.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

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