Joan House: A Lifetime of Service

Joan House, a Malibu Times 2004 Dolphin Award recipient and longtime resident, is quite the celebrity in Malibu. Not only has she lived in the city since 1975, the ex-mayor played a significant role in helping to incorporate Malibu’s cityhood in the early ’90s. This March, House will again be recognized at the Dolphin ceremonies.

“We had tried for cityhood in 1976, and we lost by very little,” House said in an interview with The Malibu Times. “And then we went ahead and tried [again in 1990]. There were about 1,000 people that went down to LA County’s offices and complained about things — and we worked hard, and it was that [overdevelopment] issue that caused us to be a city. Because we couldn’t see their vision.”

House’s fight and determination to keep the city moving onward and upward is perfectly juxtaposed with her relaxed nature. And her first name ‘Joan,’ but pronounced as ‘Joanne,’ is a testament to just how easy going she truly is. 

“It’s spelled ‘Joan,’” House said. “My mother gave me the name ‘Joanne,’ but my father wrote ‘Joan’ on my birth certificate and since then I’m either ‘Joan’ or ‘Joanne.’ It’s really a non-issue for me. As long as they call me, right?”

House’s biography, which ran in The Malibu Times during her re-election bid in 2000, includes a further window into her life — she was a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi, volunteered designing a curriculum for Navajo education on reservations, and Awarded the National Defense Education Act grant to study minority education. In her personal life she is an avid skier and tennis player. She has been married to her husband Ken for more than 50 years and the couple raised two children in Malibu.

House was called to serve on the council for 16-and-a-half years, and within, serve as mayor for a record four times. In her tenure, she regards the creation of Malibu’s vision statement and zoning ordinances as one of the most important things she contributed to.


“I was mayor at the time it was passed,” House said. “And we held about 46 public meetings to make sure the community had all their say and their input.”

Ensuring the community’s many voices are heard has been placed at the forefront of House’s career. When speaking with her, every other word uttered is “we.” Her optimism is the first attribute that most notice when meeting her for the first time. And while being in such an uncanny political climate, House’s drive to keep Malibu grounded in its values is unwavering. 

“I believe our government — the oath we take — I believe this country is the best that a democratic republic can be, and works in an amazing way,” House said. “Everything isn’t done as quickly as you would like. Government moves at glacial speed. And it’s very important to keep assessing what’s going on in your community and working towards those goals.”

Protecting cultural and natural resources is just one of the city’s many goals House has worked hard to champion, not only on city council but also as a planning commissioner.

“There have been many personalities that I have served with, and in my opinion have tried really hard to do their best,” House said. “I think we see on the national level and local level, and worldwide, people are really looking at [politics] as black and white instead of the shades of gray —  in terms of how they get things done.

But because of its notoriety, its stars and its reputation, people find out that Malibu can make a statement — make a resolution, or make a determination — and it will go worldwide. And so, I think it’s incumbent on the city council too, to take everything that comes before it, and make decisions best for the city.”

In the end, for House, it has been a labor of love.

“Malibu is the most beautiful place, one of the most beautiful places in the world and everyone here, including myself — we’re very lucky.”

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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