Mayor pro tem threatens to walk out of La Paz hearing

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The brewing tension between Malibu Mayor Pro Tem Andy Stern and Planning Commissioner John Mazza reached a new height at Monday’s La Paz hearing as the two had their first public confrontation since Mazza was appointed to the commission in May. The city officials have been publicly bashing each other at their separate meetings for the past several months.

Prior to the public testimony portion of the hearing, Stern said he was “befuddled” by how “the Planning Commission refused to do their job” when a majority voted not to hold a hearing on the La Paz project last month. The commission’s justification was there had already been a hearing in January and the application had not changed substantially enough to warrant another hearing prior to the City Council vote. City staff had wanted a second Planning Commission vote because a new wastewater treatment plan had been submitted since January.

During his comments about the Planning Commission, Stern only mentioned Mazza by name.

Mazza spoke during public testimony, an unusual occurrence for a planning commissioner at a City Council hearing. He defended the commission’s decision by citing a section of the city’s Local Coastal Program that he interpreted as saying modifications to a project do not need to return to the planning commission for additional review.

“If Mr. Stern had prepared himself and read the LCP, he would realize this is covered by the LCP,” Mazza said.

As Mazza walked back to his seat, an enraged Stern demanded the city attorney be allowed to respond to Mazza’s comments. Mayor Pamela Conley Ulich said it would be inappropriate until the entire public testimony portion of the hearing had finished. Stern said he couldn’t wait that long.

“Mr. Mazza is so far wrong that I would like to immediately get a response from the city attorney … It isn’t right that he makes his ridiculous comments and the city attorney doesn’t have a chance to respond,” Stern said.

Mazza tried to return to the podium to respond to Stern, but Stern yelled at him to sit down. Mazza could later be heard yelling at Stern from his seat in the audience.

City Councilmember Sharon Barovsky said she would prefer to move on, but Stern said, “I would not.”

Barovsky joked, “Should we have a break so we can all take our meds.”

This led to roaring laughter throughout the council chambers.

Stern snapped back, “I will walk out of here. I want an answer to it.”

Moans from the audience filled the room.

Conley Ulich demanded a vote be taken to decide if Hogin would be allowed to respond. The final vote was 3-2, with Conley Ulich and Jefferson Wagner voting against. Hogin said Mazza’s interpretation of the rule was not correct. She said the rule was that changes made to a project during a council meeting do not need to go back to the Planning Commission, while this project had not reached the City Council and was going back as a decision of city staff.

Later during the hearing, Stern apologized for his actions. “I should not have gotten upset before,” he said. “I was wrong.”

The mayor pro tem went on to say he was upset because he had been “troubled” by the commission not having voted last month because it prevented any changes from being made to the project. Stern said the more hearings a project has, the smaller the project becomes, and the residents “were all cheated” because a planning hearing did not take place.

Mazza and Stern became political enemies long before Wagner appointed Mazza to the Planning Commission in May. Prior to his appointment, Mazza came to council meetings frequently as a regular resident or representative of various organizations to speak in opposition to city leaders. This would often lead to verbal spats between Mazza and Stern, as well as other council members.

Stern asks if he should recuse himself

Also at Monday’s hearing, Stern asked Hogin to clarify if he could vote on the project since the Malibu Association of Realtors, of which Stern is a member, had on Friday sent out a mass e-mail to its members from La Paz consultant Don Schmitz encouraging support for the project. Association Executive Susan Manners specified at the top of the e-mail that the group took no position on the project, but the e-mail content included a plea from Schmitz for support, including an attachment with a list of talking points for supporters. Hogin said Stern did not have to recuse himself.

“You aren’t a member of the board,” Hogin said. “You weren’t a part of the decision [to send the e-mail]. You’re just a regular member and you received it [the e-mail] in your inbox the same way pretty much all the council members received it in their in box.”

Stern said he forwarded the e-mail, which he said he was “stunned” to receive, to all his council colleagues immediately after receiving it.