Year in Review 2007

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Al Ehringer and Christina Carmel's chocolate Labrador, which was doused with water by firefighters, escaped the Jane. 8 fire that destroyed their home. Photo by Paul Clark and Dustin Long

The year in Malibu began with fire and ended with fire, with many controversies, accomplishments by the city and its citizens, and changes taking place in between. Following is The Malibu Times year in review, highlighting many of this year’s important episodes.

January

Jan. 8-Five homes are destroyed and six others are damaged on Malibu Road in a fire that begins near the Michael Landon Center on Bluffs Park at approximately 5 p.m. The blaze destroys 20 acres, but a quick response of more than 300 firefighters and helicopters keeps the damage to a minimum.

“The first responders did a tremendous job limiting the damage to what they did with an aggressive response,” says Battalion Chief Terry DeJournett of Los Angeles County Fire Department Station No. 70. “There were fires on both sides of the street, and they drove right through the flames to contain the fire line on the western edge.”

An investigation begins on the cause of the fire, but by the end of the year it is remains unsolved.

Jan. 12-The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy board votes 4-1 during a closed-session meeting to rescind the parks enhancement plan it approved just two months earlier. Five days later, the City Council approves a memorandum of understanding by a 4-1 vote with the Conservancy that supports in spirit a plan with modifications. Overnight camping at Escondido Canyon is eliminated in exchange for camping at the city-owned Charmlee Wilderness Park. Camping at Corral and Ramirez canyons are still in the cards. The change brings relief to Escondido Canyon residents, but new anger from those living near Charmlee Park, who say there is a fire danger and the park is deed-restricted to prohibit camping.

Jan. 17-Malibu gets a cold treat, with snow blanketing Kanan Dume Road and the surrounding mountainsides. Excited residents congregate in the area, and even build a few small snowmen while having snowball fights. This is Malibu’s first reported snowfall in more than a decade.

Jan. 24 -City Councilmember Sharon Barovsky criticizes the response time to the Malibu Road fire. The fire began shortly after 5 p.m., and she says there were no trucks on the road as late as 5:20 p.m.

“I truly believe we wouldn’t have lost a house that day had there been fire trucks there [earlier],” Barovsky said.

Assistant Fire Chief Reggie Lee says in an interview that Barovsky’s watch must have had a different time on it, and that trucks arrived by 5:09 p.m.

“We were there within seven to 10 minutes,” Lee says. “I understand that seems like a long time when you are where the fire is.”

February

Feb. 2-State, county and city officials and environmental activists gather at the northwest corner of Civic Center Way and Cross Creek Road to celebrate the opening of a storm water treatment facility. The 10-foot-high, 560-square-foot building is expected to treat storm water and dry weather flows from existing local storm drains. The completion of the facility is the city’s first step toward the creation of a storm water/ wastewater treatment program that will include further storm water treatment at Legacy Park.

Feb. 3-Actor Patrick “Ryan” O’Neal is taken into custody during the early morning hours following an altercation with his son, Griffin. The elder O’Neal is arrested for assault with a deadly weapon and negligent discharge of a firearm. Just like the Mel Gibson drunk driving incident six months earlier, this celebrity arrest puts Malibu in the mainstream and tabloid media spotlight, with trucks lining up just outside of O’Neal’s La Costa Beach home. But the story vanishes from the news five days later with the death of Anna Nicole Smith taking over. Four months later, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announces it has no plans to file charges against O’Neal.

Feb. 8-The Malibu Times announces its 2006 Dolphin Award winners:

Candace Bowen

Keely Shaye Brosnan

Chi Kim

Bob Klein

Cindy Linke

Marnie Duke Mitzi and Carol Kmiec

Bonnie Reiss

Pete and Elizabeth Anthony and Debra LaGorce Kramer

Tarek Shraibati

Feb. 8-A consultant’s report says the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District can afford the 5 percent raise for teachers included in their new contract. District Chief Financial Officer Winston Braham steps down after he refused to endorse it.

Financial Oversight Committee Chair Paul Silvern says at the Feb. 15 board meeting, “I hope you hear tonight how close to the edge the district will be in a couple of years out.”

Feb. 8-School board member Emily Bloomfield announces she will step down from the board before the summer because her husband has gotten a job in Washington, DC

Feb. 13-Jan Swift, who briefly ran for City Council in 2006, is arrested after a low-speed car chase from Pacific Coast Highway onto Las Flores Canyon Road. The next day Swift pleads no contest in a Van Nuys courtroom to misdemeanor charge of evading an officer. He receives 30 days in jail and a two year probation sentence. A background check by The Malibu Times reveals Swift has an extensive history of run-ins with law involving drug and other offenses. However, Swift tells one local reporter he still has plans to run for a council seat in 2008.

Feb. 15-It is revealed that software tycoon Larry Ellison recently purchased Casa Malibu Inn. Management says they expect no immediate changes. Five days later, Ellison receives City Council approval by a 3-2 vote to build two new eateries in place of the existing Windsail and PierView properties, with one being a Japanese restaurant.

Feb. 25-Local filmmaker Ari Sandel’s “West Bank Story” wins the Academy Award in the “Live Action Short Film” category. The movie is a musical comedy about an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian fast food cashier who fall in love despite their families’ animosity over their dueling falafel stands.

Feb. 28-State Sen. Sheila Kuehl names Pacific Coast Highway safety activist Carol Randall Woman of the Year.

March

March 10-Malibu celebrities, including Pierce and Keely Shaye Brosnan and Martin Sheen, lead a protest at the Malibu Pier against BHP Billiton’s proposed liquefied natural gas terminal, Cabrillo Port. Joined by politicians and environmental activists, the celebrities say the project presents an environmental threat.

March 10-The school district makes a presentation on a 20-year, $1 billion-plus facilities upgrade plan. Money generated from $268 million Measure BB bond approved by voters will be used for the first phase of the project. The plan includes many “big picture ideas” for Malibu schools.

March 15-With little fanfare compared to the controversy that surrounded the buildup to it, the Board of Education approves the three-year teachers’ contract that includes a 5 percent raise.

April

April 5-Developer Richard Weintraub announces his future restaurant and retail center on the Malibu Lumber property will include Bernie Safire Hairstyle and Tops Gallery Malibu among others. The local businesses say they need to move because their current landlord at the nearby Malibu Country Mart, Michael Koss, has raised the rent to an unreasonable level.

April 9-To the delight and applause of more than 500 people in attendance, the State Lands Commission votes 2-1 to reject BHP Billiton’s Cabrillo Port proposal during a hearing in Oxnard. Lt. Gov. John Garamendi and State Controller John Chiang vote against the project with the lone nod in favor coming from Anne Sheehan, representing state Finance Director Michael Gest, a member of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cabinet.

“I’m concerned that the people who live here will bear the brunt of the impacts and the [poor] air quality,” Chiang says.

The hearing is a wild, all-day event with attendance swelling to as much as 1,000 people at one point.

Two days later, the California Coastal Commission adds another nail in the coffin for the project when it unanimously rejects the proposal during a meeting in Santa Barbara.

April 12-Corral Canyon resident Scott Palamar tells The Malibu Times about the problem of late-night partying at the top of Corral Canyon Road on State Parks land. Graffiti and litter plague a spot known as The Cave,, and there is evidence of old fire pits. Palamar says he is concerned about the fire risk.

Lindsey Templeton, the supervising ranger for Malibu Creek State Park says, “We’ve increased patrols at night there and we’re discussing putting in a gate and more signage. But, ultimately, education is our first course before enforcement.”

April 19-During a joint session of the Planning Commission and City Council, a consultant says the city might need to buy more land to disperse wastewater as part of its $40 million wastewater/storm water treatment program. The consultant says Legacy Park, which the city purchased for $25 million in 2006 mostly through financing, will mostly be used for the storm water element of the project.

April 23-The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy submits its revised application for its parks enhancement plan to the city. The plan calls for 29 overnight camping sites at Ramirez and Corral canyons and Charmlee Wilderness Park. Other features include a parking lot at the top of Winding Way, the linking of various trails throughout the city to create a continuous path and 16 major events at the Conservancy’s Ramirez Canyon property per year.

April 23-Ken Kearsley steps down as mayor and Jeff Jennings takes his place as the ceremonial head of the City Council to begin what will be their last year on the government body. Pamela Conley Ulich is named mayor pro tem.

May

May 10-The city and representatives of Crummer Property owner Richard Ackerman announce preliminary negotiations are underway on a possible development agreement that would allow Ackerman to build five luxury homes on the 24-acre parcel next to Bluffs Park, while he would build a ball field and create two open space areas.

May 14-The City Council approves a two-year, $144,000 contract renewal for Susan Shaw, the city’s capital campaign coordinator, but not without a battle. Council opponents cry foul because the language of the request for proposals issued for the job is so specific that only Shaw applied, with Ryan Embree calling it “bogus.” They also note her alleged close ties with Councilmember Sharon Barovsky.

“To pick somebody who is local and a homeboy is just not the right way to go,” Jay Liebig says.

Councilmember Ken Kearsley calls the opposition’s comments mean-spirited. “And I haven’t seen any of these people say anything positive about the city for a long time,” he adds.

May 18-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announces his rejection of BHP Billiton’s Cabrillo Port proposal. Since the project had already been voted down by two state boards, the governor’s action is mostly a formality.

June

June 9-A pilot flying a 1937 Fleet biplane makes an emergency landing on the Chili Cook-Off site at approximately 6:30 p.m. The plane lands a little more than 100 feet from Malibu Animal Hospital. Nobody is hurt.

June 11-The Resources Defense Council and the Santa Monica Baykeeper threaten a federal lawsuit against the county and city over water pollution. City Council members say politics, rather than concern over the environment, are at issue. Officials from the organizations deny the accusations during interviews with The Malibu Times the next day.

“The lawsuit I’m involved in has nothing to do with Malibu politics,” Baykeeper board member Ozzie Silna says. “You think the NRDC is doing this for political purposes? Why would they care about Malibu politics?”

June 12-The Santa Monica City Council votes 4-2 at its meeting that if the school district wants to receive an increase in its annual donation from the city, it must place a 10-month moratorium on the practice of making confidentiality agreements with parents of special education students and have an independent review done on its special education program. Also, the district must cease the practice of signing confidentially clauses in resignation agreements with employees as it did with Chief Financial Officer Winston Braham, which barred him from speaking to a third party about the district’s finances.

June 14-Cross Creek Plaza majority owner Steve Soboroff confirms the property is in escrow, but declines to name the group of investors buying the site. Soboroff has owned the plaza since 1988, when he purchased it from actors Harrison Ford and Tom Selleck. He says he will miss it.

“You’re not supposed to get emotionally attached to real estate,” Soboroff says. “But I did.”

June 15-Six electronic signs displaying the speeds of cars are installed at different points on Pacific Coast Highway. Paid for mostly through a federal grant, the signs are supposed to encourage people to slow down on the often dangerous highway.

June 21-The Class of 2007 graduates from Malibu High School with 172 young men and women closing one chapter of their lives and preparing for a new one.

July

July 5-Malibu Racquet Club owner Jerry Seymour confirms to The Malibu Times he has sold the facility to an unnamed buyer. Sources confirm the next month that the buyer is Larry Ellison. It is disclosed that Ellison has plans to turn the facility into a top-level youth tennis school with assistance from a legend of the sport, John McEnroe.

July 5-Malibu resident Richard Weintraub says he will soon submit to the city his application for a 106-room, 6,000-square-foot Adamson Hotel on a lot near Pepperdine University. The project received municipal approval in 1998, but never received a coastal development permit.

July 12-The Board of Education votes to accept the Santa Monica City Council’s demands regarding special education confidentiality clauses in exchange for an increase in the city’s annual donation.

July 21-Nana Meriwether is crowned Miss Malibu and Greer Grammer is named Miss Teen Malibu during a pageant at Pepperdine University’s Smothers Theatre.

July 31-A mountain lion is struck by a vehicle and killed while trying to cross Malibu Canyon Road at approximately 7 a.m. His death means there are only two mountain lions remaining in the area being tracked by the National Park Service, although it is believed there could be as many as 10 living in the area.

August

Aug. 4-A park ranger shoots and kills a 28-year-old man recently released from state prison who allegedly drives his car toward the law enforcement official at Tapia Park. The family members of the man killed, Onesimo Arturo Guzman, say they plan to hire an attorney to investigate the matter. The ranger is placed on paid administrative leave while separate investigations are conducted by State Parks and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Aug. 8-The state Regional Water Quality Control Board issues a notice to the Kissel Company for failing to meet wastewater discharge requirements, and threatens the company with millions of dollars in sanctions. The company allegedly missed several deadlines to meet various requirements. Company President Steven Dahlberg tells The Malibu Times the company “disputes the notion that any fines are appropriate.”

Aug. 9-The Board of Education unanimously votes to appoint longtime education activist Ralph Mechur as Emily Bloomfield’s replacement on the board.

Aug. 16-City officials tell The Malibu Times they are contemplating the creation of stronger laws to put an end to the practice of corporate-sponsored celebrity parties at local residences. Councilmember Andy Stern calls the parties “a pain in the butt.”

Aug. 16-Developer Dan Bercu reveals his plan for the Malibu Country Market property, which he and investors purchased in 2006. The proposal is to keep HOWS Market where it is, while attaching retail and restaurant spaces to the east and west of the market building, as well as other features. If all goes smoothly, the redesigned plaza could open in 2010.

Aug. 27-The City Council approves a 39-year lease with Richard Weintraub on the Malibu Lumber property. The lease is for $925,000 per year, with a 5 percent increase every five years, and in year 16 the rent boost will equal the increase in the consumer price index during the prior five-year period. Also, Weintraub agrees to pay the city an amount equal to 30 percent of the income he receives from sublets over a certain threshold, which is initially set at $2.2 million. There is an opportunity to extend the lease to 54 years. At least 3,000 square feet of the facility must be sublet to local businesses at a reduced rate.

Weintraub designed the three-building complex with fellow Malibu resident Richard Sperber, who heads the landscaping business, ValleyCrest Companies.

Aug. 30-Changing his tune from the previous workshop, the city’s consultant tells a joint session of the City Council and the Planning Commission that the city will not need to purchase more land for the wastewater/storm water treatment program.

Aug. 30-Sept. 3-With the 26th annual Malibu Chili Cook-Off not being affiliated with the International Chili Society, only six competitors enter the contest. By Saturday afternoon, there is no chili left. But the event still attracts thousands, who come enjoy other foods and the entertainment.

September

Sept. 4-The Planning Commission approves a coastal development permit to build a Circle K on Pacific Coast Highway just south of Rambla Pacifico, but denies the applicant a license to sell alcohol. The commission decision comes after a massive grass roots campaign by local residents. “It is the kind of place where you do not want people buying a six-pack of beer and chugging it down while they drive away,” Commission Vice Chair John Sibert says.

Sept. 8-Malibu residents and tourists are livid when an eastbound lane on Pacific Coast Highway near Zumirez Drive is closed for eight hours to accommodate a local wedding. Although, Caltrans issued a permit for the closure and Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s deputies were privately hired to oversee it, nobody informed the city or the local media about the plan.

Sept. 21-Judge Lawrence Mira sets a Nov. 5 court hearing regarding the septic system situation with the Kissel Company and its Paradise Cove Mobile Home Park property. This decision follows a Sept. 5 issuance by the Regional Water Quality Control Board of a Cleanup and Abatement Order regarding alleged sewage overflows in August.

Sept. 26-Mayor Pro Tem Pamela Conley Ulich and City Councilmember Andy Stern blast a city of Los Angeles official at a hearing at the LAX Marriot on the proposed OceanWay liquefied natural gas facility because Malibu officials and local residents never received notice about the hearing despite Point Dume being the closest mainland point to the proposed facility.

Sept. 29-Malibu High School alumnus Sgt. Robert T. Ayres III is killed in Baghdad during an attack on his unit. His mother, Michelle Ayres, remembers her son as “a really brave young man” and “a sweet boy who was really good to his mom.”

October

Oct. 2-Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Executive Director Joe Edmiston calls foul upon learning that Shane Parker of the city’s Environmental Review Board was hired in August as a consultant by the attorney of the Ramirez Canyon property owners to review the Conservancy’s parks enhancement proposal shortly after making comments on the document for the city.

“If this was a state issue, the attorney general would be all over this guy’s ass,” Edmiston says.

Oct. 3-A second hearing on a proposed liquefied natural gas facility takes place on the proposal to transform an abandoned oil platform about 35 miles from Malibu into an LNG port.

The hearing attracts many of the same people who opposed BHP Billiton’s project, including Malibu city officials. Some people at the meeting say the project will bring much-needed jobs to the Oxnard area.

Oct. 8-After a little more than two years on the job, Planning Manager C.J. Amstrup announces he will be stepping down at the end of the week to take a job with the city of Anaheim. Longtime Senior Planner Stacey Rice is named interim planning manager.

Oct. 8 -Mayor Jeff Jennings accuses three of his colleagues of not being forthcoming on why they are opposed to a proposal that has been endorsed by the planning staff for a 9,000-square-foot home presented to them by Norm Haynie. Jennings compares the situation to a time during the city’s infancy when, he says, projects were approved and disapproved based on friendships. The comment enrages Councilmember Ken Kearsley. “To imply that we are doing this as a favor to friends is beneath contempt… That is absolutely not the truth,” Kearsley says.

Oct. 9-After hearing from nearly 70 speakers in opposition to the project, the Planning Commission votes unanimously to endorse the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy’s parks enhancement plan. The proposal has been modified with overnight camping reduced to 26 sites, including just two at Ramirez Canyon for disabled visitors.

Oct. 15-The newly formed Coalition for an Excellent Samohi Campus lobbies the Measure BB Advisory Committee to increase the amount of money given to Santa Monica High, and to decrease Malibu High School’s amount from $27.5 million to $13.5 million, and that $38 million should be left undesignated until further review can be done. The BB Committee accepts this recommendation, and forwards it to the Board of Education, which approves the recommendation three days later.

Many Malibu High parents are outraged by what they consider “an 11th hour recommendation.”

Oct. 21-23-Santa Ana winds traveling up to 80 mph, temperatures in excess of 90 degrees and single digit humidity levels combine to create Malibu’s worst fire since 1993 after a power line goes down on Malibu Canyon Road shortly after 5 a.m. (It is still unknown if the downed line was the cause of the fire.)

The Malibu Presbyterian Church and the Castle Kashan are among the eight structures destroyed in the blaze that scorches more than 4,500 acres. Malibu Glass and Mirror is destroyed, as well as five other homes. Fifteen homes and seven businesses in Malibu Colony Plaza are damaged, as well as portions of Our Lady of Malibu and Webster Elementary School, in addition to other random structures and items.

Called the Canyon fire, it is just one of several across Southern California during this period.

Local Kirby Kotler is called a hero after he directs a caravan of evacuees out of harms way and urges a family and their dog to vacate a car stuck on a Pacific Coast Highway median just before it bursts into flames. He assists other as well, all the while risking his own life with the smoke and fire.

“I believe that Kirby’s disregard for his own personal safety saved the lives of more than one person that day,” local Michael Higgins writes in an e-mail to The Malibu Times.

Charter Communications’ cable service was out during the fire, leaving many without TV, Internet and phone service.

Oct. 24-Malibu attorney William H. Weissberg is killed at intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Kanan Dume Road when an out-of-control 16-wheeler slams into his car. A utility vehicle driven by Los Angeles County Fire Department engineer Dave Wise is also hit, and the three vehicles fly into an embankment. The driver of the truck, Hovik Oganes Papikyan, is also killed. Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Deputies Chris Chavez and Ed Harrold rescued wise just before the crashed vehicles burst into flames. They are assisted by a worker from Waste Management Inc. who uses a fire extinguisher he has in the truck.

The truck Papikyan was driving exceeded posted size limits. A safety runaway median full of gravel that would have sunk the truck and prevented it from moving forward, was not used.

“You can’t keep people from killing themselves if they ignore the rules of the road,” says Sgt. Phil Brooks, who is in charge of traffic.

Oct. 25-Parents bash board members at a school board meeting for slashing Malibu High’s funding. They talk of Malibu forming its own school district. And City Councilmember Andy Stern, who has a son at Malibu High, says he will not support the parcel tax measure going on the ballot in February, which would generate more than $10 million per year for the district.

November

Nov. 5-Pouya Abdi, a principal of Retail Holdings Group, announces that his company has purchased Cross Creek Plaza, which has been in escrow since June. The Los Angeles resident says he does not own any other properties in Malibu, and refuses to discuss any properties that he might own elsewhere. He says there are no plans to make any major changes at the mall.

Nov. 6-Two of five structures under construction on a Malibu Road property are destroyed in a fire investigators say was caused by arson. A notebook is found on the property filled with “ramblings,” leading investigators to believe a transient started the fire.

Nov. 13-A Tuesday night council meeting creeps into the early hours of Wednesday morning, with the council never taking a vote on the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy’s parks enhancement plan as television, radio and newspaper media from throughout Southern California look on. However, the council appears to be in full support of overnight camping, voting 4-1 in favor of that element in a straw vote. The council unanimously opposes allowing increased activity at the Conservancy’s Ramirez Canyon property unless the state agency builds an access way from Kanan Dume Road, which creates vocal anger from Conservancy Executive Director Joe Edmiston., who says the council is holding the Conservancy’s “feet to the fire.” A meeting is scheduled for Dec. 5 to finish the hearing.

Nov. 15-School board President Kathy Wisnicki supports an investigation, at the request of Malibu parents, into why the board decided to reduce Malibu High’s Measure BB funding allocation. Parents note one co-chair of the Coalition for an Excellent Samohi Campus is a member of the BB Advisory Committee and the other is the wife of another member of the committee.

The other board members defend their decision, and Wisnicki says for the first time she feels like “lone Malibu board member” and that the board “lacks credibility.”

Nov. 24-26-A little more than a month after the Canyon Fire, Malibu goes up in flames. Eighty-six structures are destroyed, including 53 homes in the blaze that scorches more than 4,900 acres of land in Corral Canyon and surrounding areas. Thirty-seven vehicles and a mobile home are also destroyed. Another 45 structures are damaged, including 33 homes. Six firefighters are injured, including one who receives second-degree burns to the face.

“Human activity” is named as the cause of the fire.

Mayor Jeff Jennings calls the event “a major event in our civic life.”

“The city has its work cut out for it in assisting those who want to rebuild and those who want to get their lives back together as rapidly as possible,” Jennings says.

Corral Canyon residents say a project to accommodate steelhead trout restoration that reduced Corral Canyon Road to one lane, impeded the ability for fire trucks to get to their homes. Also, State Parks criticized for not doing anything about the partying at an area known as The Cave, where the fire is believed to have originated. Scott Palamar, who had been complaining about the situation for many months, lost his home in the fire. There is talk of possible litigation by many. Also, Charter Communications customers once again lose their service during much of the disaster.

Nov. 29-Malibu High is listed No. 98 in a list of the top 100 schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

December

Dec. 2-The community reconnects during an event at Bluffs Park attended by fire victims and their supporters. Several speakers give advice on how people should proceed with the rebuilding the effort.

“The operative word is to organize,” says the Times co-publisher Karen York, who lost her home in the 1993 fire.

Dec. 5-In a sharp reversal of its straw vote just a few weeks earlier, the City Council unanimously opposes the overnight camping element of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy’s parks enhancement plan, and decides to seek an amendment to the city’s Local Coastal Program that would ban overnight camping in the city altogether.

The California Coastal Commission votes on all LCP amendments, and Executive Director Peter Douglas, who makes the recommendations to the commission, says in an interview following the council vote, “I would suggest they could save everyone’s time, energy and money by dropping that idea,” calling an overnight camping ban “blatantly inconsistent with the law” that supports public access and visitor-serving amenities.

Meanwhile Conservancy Executive Director Joe Edmiston says he plans to return to his original plan from 2006 and says he regrets ever trying to deal with the city. “We compromised with the city in good faith expecting the same from them,” Edmiston says. “I was talking on a weekly basis with city staff, obviously to no avail.”

Dec. 10-The city’s Legacy Park Project receives a huge boost when the Annenberg Foundation announces at a City Council meeting it is donating $2 million in matching funds toward the $12.5 million the city needs just for the storm water portion of the project.

Dec. 13-After connecting food wrappers and uncut logs found at the source of the Corral Fire through store receipts and video camera surveillance at Ralphs to witnesses, arson investigators arrest five suspects in the Corral Fire. The men are charged with recklessly causing a fire with great bodily injury and recklessly causing a fire to an inhabited structure. The fire was started “during and within an area of a state of emergency,” which could be a factor in sentencing if the suspects are convicted. Investigators say the fire began when a campfire got out of control. Los Angeles residents Brian Alan Anderson, 22, William Thomas Coppock, 23, and Brian David Franks, 27, plead not guilty at an arraignment on Dec. 21. Culver City residents Eric Matthew Ullman, 18, and Dean Allen Lavorante, 19, who are accused of actually building the campfire, are scheduled to be arraigned on Feb. 14.

Attorneys for Anderson, Coppock and Franks admit their clients were at the campfire, but say they left the area believing the flames had been put out. Coppock’s lawyer, Andrew Flier, says the case is only being pursued because of “political pressure” and a desire for somebody to be punished because so many homes in Malibu burned down.

“I don’t think anybody deliberately tried to burn down Malibu,” Flier says in an interview with The Malibu Times. “They went to a party to have a good night, and after the fact, something got totally ugly and out of control.”

Dec. 17-By week’s end, seven people will have pulled papers for the 2008 City Council election, with all but one guaranteeing a council run. They are John Sibert, Ed Gillespie, Wade Major (the only one not guaranteeing a run), Kathy Wisnicki, Ryan Embree, Jefferson Wagner and Susan Tellem. The only council member up for reelection, Pamela Conley Ulich, has not indicated whether she will run.

Dec. 17-Santa Monica Mountains Executive Director Joe Edmiston sends a letter to the City Council asking it to rescind its decision from Dec. 5 on the overnight camping issue. He gives the council 30 days to respond, or he will “act accordingly.” Mayor Jeff Jennings says he does not take the letter seriously, and calls its language “right out of Joe’s class warfare handbook.” The Conservancy schedules a meeting for its board on Dec. 28 to discuss how it will proceed, with the board decision going forward if the council does not rescind its vote within the 30-day timeframe. Edmiston says he does not expect the council to obey the request of the letter.

“I think the council has made it pretty clear what course it is taking,” Edmiston says.