Casualties of war

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    In every war there are innocent casualties. They’re not the combatants. They’re the people who are just trying to stay out of the way of the combatants and simply live. Frequently they don’t make it.

    Malibu is no exception to that reality.

    There is a war going on in Malibu. It’s a bureaucratic war between those who have been charged with enforcing our zoning laws, and feel they know just how to do it, and are absolutely certain they’re right, and those who are being victimized by those same laws, and their experience is very different. The latter know only that their lives are being turned upside down in that battle, and they’re constantly being threatened with the power of the state to make their lives unbearable, to abuse them and ultimately to exile them from their homes and their communities.

    Debbie Campbell and her three children, Chelsea, 13, Brittany, 11 and Luke, 5, are causalities of that war. They rent a tiny one-bedroom house on Pt. Dume for a $1,000 per month. There aren’t many places in Malibu that will house three children, a three-year-old rottweiler named Beau and a single mom who has lived in this town for 35 years, for $1,000 per month. But they found that one place and they’ve been there two years, in that little house that was there many years before them.

    Point Dume is filled with little houses just like theirs. That’s where the singles moms, the kids, the students and lots of others who can’t afford $2,000-plus per month live.

    Unfortunately, the place they found is owned by Paul and Valerie Majors, who are not high on the popularity list in the eyes of the city’s Building Department. The Majors’ have been leaders in the fight to change our city’s code enforcement policy. Vic Peterson, our building official and Gail Sumpter, our code enforcement officer, are very unhappy with the Majors about that, and they’ve brought down the full-force of the law on their heads.

    That blow has also hit the Campbells and damn near devastated them. It seems that Sumpter sent a letter to the Majors and told them, “The rear structure, the travel-trailer, which is occupied by Mrs. Campbell and her three children, has no likelihood of being effected by any change in the zoning/building/code enforcement laws. Therefore, I have been directed by the Building Official, Vic Peterson, to advise you that the structure is to be vacated within 60 days . . . “

    The city, of course, didn’t bother to advise Mrs. Campbell or her three children, who they apparently consider to be just meaningless bit players in their drama, despite the fact they are going to be booted out of their home July 15.

    Do you know what it means when a family like the Campbell’s is booted out because the Building Department is upset with their landlord?

    It means they probably have to find new living arrangements outside of Malibu because, unless they’re really lucky, there is no way they can find a place to live in Malibu for anything near what Debbie can afford working as the office manager/bookkeeper at Malibu Glass Company.

    It means the kids who were at Webster and OLM now have to find new schools and new friends.

    It means a lifetime of friends, and a support network that every working mom needs, is gone.

    It means what little money they have will be spent on moving, a first-and-last and a month’s security deposit to a new landlord.

    It means the dog probably has to go because it’s hard enough to take a mom and three kids, but you can bet that no landlord wants a big rottweiler, even a sweet one.

    But that’s her problem and not the Building Department’s.

    So why is this happening and why now?

    I understood that unless there was a health and safety problem, they were going to wait until the Code Enforcement Task Force had a chance to do their work and make their recommendations.

    During the election all the candidates pledged to form a Code Enforcement Task Force to examine our codes and their enforcement, and try to find out why so many people are angry and protesting, and to make some changes.

    Well, I guess that was then and this is now.

    Apparently the Building Department is either so confident that the Task Force is too timid to do anything significant, or is so predictable, that they feel they have nothing to worry about. Or perhaps now that the election is over and House, Jennings and Kearsley– who, in no small part, have ridden to power on the issue– feel it can be safely ignored.

    My theory is that the city is behaving like a big bully who picks on people who can’t defend themselves. In our world that means people who can’t afford lawyers. So let’s find out how tough they really are and how legal this all really is.

    I’m calling for volunteers, lawyer volunteers, paralegals, investigators and law students who are willing to help this family. Call me at 456.5507, ext. 101, and leave a message with your name and phone number. I’ll set up a meeting.

    We need to make sure the system stays fair.