Build Malibu Better: Viewing Guide for Council and Planning Commission Meetings

Paul Grisanti

The building code will be updated on Jan. 1, 2020.  It is my fondest holiday wish that all those who lost a home in Woolsey get planning approval by Dec. 31 in order to rebuild under the current codes.

The new code changes will embrace some fire resistance improvements, as well as new energy, seismic and other calculations that will require a more expensive level of construction. I’m sure most of us would prefer the option of building to the current code and adding the enhancements on a voluntary basis.

I am grateful that fire rebuilds that don’t increase the square footage by more than 10 percent are exempt from appearing before the planning commission.

I’d like to thank everyone who has taken the time to talk to me about the way the city is run and why the city council and planning commission meetings take so long. Here’s a few thoughts that might help the process seem a bit more rational.  

The first thing you need to remember is that everyone in both bodies knows how to count to three.  

As each item comes up, there is a presentation from staff to the city council or planning commission that summarizes the materials in the agenda packets that each of the council people or commissioners received several days prior to the meeting. It is not unusual for the packets to include more than 100 pages of staff report for a single item. In addition to a description of the issue and each of the available options with supporting research, there will be letters and emails weighing in on the question at hand. It is hoped that each person on the stage has made the time to read the complete agenda packet and make notes of some possible questions prior to the meetings. Notes will be taken during the staff presentation and during the verbal presentations from members of the public. Each member of the public is usually allotted three minutes to make their points. It is possible to speak for longer if you can convince another attendee to sign a speaker slip and donate their time. Each such donation adds one minute, up to a possible total of eight minutes. Once all the public speakers have spoken, the council members or commissioners finally get to weigh in. Each of them now has their opportunity in turn to question staff and the city attorney in a way that makes it clear why they are leaning in one direction or another. It is not uncommon for them to ask staff or the attorney to elaborate on a point that will justify their vote. Occasionally, they may ask one of the members of the public to approach the podium and further explain their previous comments. 

As soon as it is apparent from the discussion that three of the five people on the dais have made up their minds, will not be dissuaded and all parties have had a chance to speak, a vote will be taken and they will move on to the next item in the agenda.

The current city council is usually very diligent about moving the agenda forward and considering all the scheduled items during the meeting.

The current planning commission is much less capable. It is rare for them to make it through a complete agenda as a few of the commissioners seem to believe they were selected for the sole purpose of publicly insulting the staff and indulging a propensity for “picking the wings off of flies” as they strive to invent new and novel interpretations of our existing codes. It is not unusual to see them suggesting drastic redesigns of the project after hours of meandering around the woods chasing any squirrel that crosses their path. Imagine that you are an applicant with one of the later positions on the agenda. You have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and a minimum of 18 months to design your home and get on the agenda. You have retained your architect and consultants to appear at the meeting in case the planning commissioners have any technical questions. During the meeting, as various squirrels are chased far afield, you begin to realize that they are not going to get to your item on the agenda. 

To your chagrin, you are informed that your item will have to be rescheduled, not to the next meeting two weeks hence, but to a date about two to four months away. 

As a city, we should demand better.