Couple claims they are part of witch hunt

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They request they be allowed to remain in their home during an appeal after court orders them to vacate.

By Jonathan Friedman/Special to the Malibu Times

Malibu resident Nidia Birenbaum yelled at the City Council Monday night that she and her family were the victim of a witch hunt as she exited the council chambers. Birenbaum and her husband, Sam Birenbaum, were told last month by a Beverly Hills judge to vacate their home after a probation violation. They had been placed on probation after pleading no contest to various code violations on their Malibu property.

Nidia Birenbaum pled no contest to charges of construction without permits, plumbing installation without permits, development without planning approval and grading without permits. Her husband pled no contest to charges of construction without permits, plumbing installation without permits and engaging in construction after issuance of a stop order.

The couple’s probation terms instructed them to come under compliance of their various violations. However, Sam Birenbaum said, in an interview Tuesday, one of the requests, a new septic tank, was unrealistic because the one they had was fine and the family could not afford a new one. Birenbaum added that they are appealing the judge’s decision because he and his wife’s plea was made while they were represented by incompetent lawyers who would not allow crucial evidence to be presented.

The couple came to Monday’s meeting to ask the City Council that it request the prosecutors in the case to allow the Birenbaums to remain in their home during the course of the appeal. A large number of people came to the meeting in support of the couple, some of them speaking on their behalf.

City Attorney Christi Hogin said, since the case is criminal and not civil, the City Council has no involvement in it. Therefore it could not demand the Birenbaums be able to return to their home even if the council wanted to do so. Councilmember Jeff Jennings said, if one thought about it, a person would realize that is the best system.

“It’s the city’s job to make general policies … laws … but it is not our job to determine the individual against whom those laws are going to be applied,” he said. “We cannot choose to say this person gets a pass because he’s a friend of mine … but this person we are going to penalize because they’re not a friend of mine.”

As the Birenbaums and their friends left the council chambers, Nidia Birenbaum shouted at the council.

“It’s part of a witch hunt!” she yelled. “It’s totally political and you know it!”

Community service director steps down from post

Also at the meeting, Point Dume Community Center Director Nidra Winger Maus announced she would be stepping down from her position, mostly because there was no longer a center to direct. The Point Dume Facilities District had previously run the center that is now home to Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School. The facilities district received revenue from the programs that took place there. But five years ago the school district re-opened the center as a school. As the school population grew, the center had less and less rooms for programs. For the past three years it has had none. Since then, the facilities district has

had to exist off reserves and fundraisers.

However, with the facilities district no longer having a staff member, the city is faced with some problems. The facilities district is in charge of three holiday programs at nearby Cameron Park and it supervises the park during weekday afternoons. The city would be taking over these duties, but it is not known yet how that will happen. City Manager Katie Lichtig said she was only made aware of the facilities district’s new situation a few week ago, so the city is still developing a plan.

The City Council did not vote on a proposed ordinance that would impose a $100 fine on people who serve as a lookout on the beach for sheriff’s deputies. According to the department, there are situations in which, when deputies are approaching, somebody will run down the beach warning people, so they get a chance to hide alcohol and drugs. However, Jennings questioned the logic of the ordinance.

“How will you know that they’re (the lookouts) giving warning of the illegal activity unless you actually catch the illegal activity, which would indicate that the law isn’t necessary in the first place,” he said.

Jennings and the other councilmembers added it brings up free speech issues as well.

The council also took the first steps in forming a blue ribbon committee to look at solving traffic safety issues with Civic Center Way and Winter Canyon Road. The decision to form the committee was made following the double cul-de-sac fiasco, cutting off through traffic on Civic Center Way. The committee will include 10 members, and it will meet with the Public Safety Commission. People have until Oct. 15 to apply to be on it.