Around the Town


From the Publisher / Arnold G. York

All sorts of things are happening this holiday season. Many things have been marked down and shoppers are actually beginning to come out. For the first time in quite a while we’re seeing people carrying shopping bags at local shopping centers.

The foreclosure market is also still going strong. Just check out all the legal pages in small print in The Malibu Times, which announces foreclosures in Malibu, Calabasas, Westlake Village and Thousand Oaks, and you get a sense that there remains a great deal of human tragedy in those dry legal notices.

The city council is still operating full steam ahead on a number of projects in the pipeline, including Legacy Park, the newly acquired city hall and the remodeling of the library in the Civic Center, near the courthouse.

Those big mounds of earth you see on the old Chili Cook-Off site as you drive down Pacific Coast Highway are there because they’re digging big holes for the several storage ponds that are part of the storm water runoff system, which is part of the Legacy Park Plan. The park, in addition to walking trails and plantings, has a series of small ponds that will hold the storm water runoff after it is treated, much the way Pepperdine University has similar ponds on its campus to store excess water. Much of the treated water will be used to irrigate the park or evaporate into the air but there are times of year-the rainy season-when water has to be stored or sent someplace else through an elaborate piping system.

This week, the council, in a special Tuesday morning meeting, approved in concept the biggest problem in connection with the new city hall. And that was what to do with the old Malibu Performing Arts Center, which was in the past both a recording stage and concert venue for rock concerts, and takes up about 8,900 square feet of a building that has a usable 31,000 square feet. The discussion revolved around the size of seating for the concert venue. Many in the arts community want to keep it just the way it is. The problem is, at 31,000 square feet, there isn’t enough room for everything, and the council had to choose. When they tried to shoehorn in the city staff, council chambers, senior center, a small office for the Sheriff, a multipurpose meeting room and a number of other uses, there simply wasn’t enough space to go around. They ended up cutting back somewhat on the theater from roughly 400 seats to between 230 and 320, although there appears to be some flexibility in those numbers. They expect to start construction in the spring and to move in by February 2011. However, more important, I believe, is that they don’t have any offices for the council members or their assistants, whether paid or volunteer, which I believe is a big mistake. For one thing, we elect the council and not the staff, so we have to rely on the council members to ride hard on the staff. They can only do it if they are there in the building and have contact with all the staff. I must confess that I subscribe to the theory that although there has to be a chain of command, it’s also equally important that the boss walks around and talks to everyone so they get information from all sorts of sources.

This isn’t a problem unique to our city council. With term limits, staff is running more of government. Staff has the knowledge and experience, whereas most of the elected officials tend to revolve through the system. And because they often don’t have time to acquire the knowledge and experience, they are more and more dependent on their staffs to explain it to them, which is why I believe elected officials have to be physically present and interacting with the entire staff to be effective.

The city is also in the process of renovating and enlarging, actually rebuilding, the library in the Civic Center and I think it’s going to be spectacular. They’ve brought in a top-notch library design firm to assist and construction begins this summer with a tentative completion date of July 2011. It’s going to be state-of-the-art, funded with several million dollars provided from a settlement with the county to whom we had been overpaying rent over a period of years.

Lastly, the council apparently settled the Malibu Township Council lawsuit and the council agreed that the Trancas ball field couldn’t be used for league games unless the Malibu Township Council also agreed. In effect, the council transferred part of their decision-making powers to an outside group, of uncertain makeup, answerable to no one but their own little group, which I suspect will come back to haunt future city councils. Speaking as a former litigator of more than 20 years, I believe, generally, litigation is a very poor way to make political decisions but sometimes when people sue you have to go all the way. If you don’t hang tough, and people get the perception that you’re soft, whoever doesn’t get what they want through the political process is just going to go to court for a little more leverage. I think that the council needed a little more backbone on this one.