In the upcoming Nov. 3 election, Malibu has a total of eight candidates running for three spots on city council. With a lack of in-person campaigning, the Malibu Democratic Club held a free, nonpartisan forum via Zoom webinar last Sunday, Sept. 13, to help introduce candidates to local voters. Jane Albrecht, president of the club, was moderator and interviewer alongside former Malibu Mayor Lou La Monte.
The forum was well attended—“109 attended, and all but a very few stayed on until the very end, which went a half-hour over time,” Albrecht emailed. “There was definitely high interest and a need for it. And a need for more! A lot of candidates and issues!”
Seven of the eight candidates participated. Rick Mullen, the only incumbent running for re-election, was not able to attend at the last minute. Those present were Andy Lyon, Bruce Lee Silverstein, Lance Simmens, Doug Stewart, Steve Uhring, Mark Wetton and Paul Grisanti.
With eight candidates and 13 topics, there was no traditional freestyle Q&A. The club had a list of questions based on input from the community and each candidate had one minute to respond.
Below is a selection of some topics addressed at the forum.
Woolsey Fire and future wildfire preparedness
Lyon—“We still don’t have generators—it’s ridiculous. Every area [of Malibu] should have them, and [we need] water pods for helicopters to dip into like Topanga has, that were privately funded.”
Silverstein—“The fact that the question is even being asked highlights the deficiency of the fire department. We should all have a printed instruction manual in Malibu. We need power and water during a fire and a fire department that will do its job during the fire and not treat residents who stay like criminals.”
Simmens—“[We learned that] if you want to protect your home, you have to stay and do it yourself. It’s a terrible lesson to learn. I want to see a California Fire Reserve Corps because we don’t have the resources here, and work closely with the state. We also need better disaster communications with the residents.”
Stewart—“Three studies have been done on the Woolsey Fire, and we have better evacuation plans and the city has a book. We need a good alert system. But the real missing feature is using KBUU, which needs support, and the city-owned AM radio.”
Uhring—“We could be doing more to promote the free house fire assessments [that are done by the City of Malibu]; and [do more to regulate] the materials being used to rebuild homes.”
Wetton—“The Malibu West Volunteer Fire Brigade has 25 people and we’ve done a good job of preparing and training. I think that’s the answer—to have every neighborhood prepare on its own.”
Grisanti—“This question has activated my life for the last 10 years. I served on the task force for District 29 Water and saved a house from burning with a 150-foot hose.”
Climate emergency issues
Stewart, Uhring, Lyon and Silverstein all mentioned the trash problem on beaches and roads. In addition:
Simmens—“We can’t afford to have climate deniers on the city council.”
Stewart—“We can try to control recycling and encourage green energy (solar and wind). These should be fast-tracked.”
Uhring—“Make solar panels more affordable for everyone in Malibu.”
Wetton—“FEMA is redrawing flood maps along the coast, which will lead to problems getting insurance on beachfront properties; in addition to problems getting fire insurance…The city is going with all electric vehicles.”
Grisanti—“The city makes it possible for everyone to sign up for the clean power option, and I think everyone should.”
Lyon—“I don’t want to see the coastal commission come in and limit what [beachfront] property owners can do.”
Silverstein—“Malibu lacks the resources to act on a worldwide problem, [but maybe there are things we can do locally] about traffic, RVs, etc.”
How to manage Malibu’s looming financial crisis next year
Stewart, Uhring and Wetton all talked about the basics of being creative to increase revenues and cut expenses. In addition:
Stewart—“We can’t change fixed expenses. We’re going to have to make heavy cuts, defer some projects and do zero-based-budgeting on the staff. We also need to think about what we could do to raise revenues, like increase the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT).”
Uhring—“City Hall staff needs better technology [to work more efficiently]. “
Wetton—“I think we can be creative by going to outside sources like foundations and grants for some projects, like the skate park.”
Grisanti—“Half our budget comes from grants and bonds, and that will be OK, but the other half is taking a hit. At least Legacy Park is nearly paid for.”
Lyon—“Home sales are already higher than last year, and we can look for donors for the skate park, etc.”
Silverstein—“See the Fiscal Responsibility section on my website. We can sell naming rights on facilities, institute a parking tax, reduce staff, cut costs and cut back on public works projects.”
Simmens—“We need to join with other communities and petition the federal government for help to get through these tough times.”
Short-term rental (STR) ordinance
All seven candidates are in favor of the proposed short-term rental ordinance, with several saying it’s long overdue.
New commercial development
All of the candidates seemed to agree that further commercial development in Malibu would not be an issue for some time because there are so many empty storefronts and so much overcapacity as it is.
Whether the city should put parking lots on vacant land at Heathercliff and Civic Center Way
Simmens, Uhring, Stewart and Grisanti all said there was a need for additional parking. Lyon said he didn’t really understand the city’s desire for more parking lots. Silverstein was adamantly opposed to parking lots. Wetton explained the city is stuck building a park ‘n ride, because “that’s the deal the city made,” only he preferred not putting one directly on PCH. In addition:
Wetton—“I prefer not doing asphalt.”
Grisanti—“I’m in favor of using the triangle lot for park ‘n ride and encouraging businesses whose employees use it to pay for it.”
Stewart—“This is to accommodate our residents who can’t park in front of their house. But if we had parking lots, they need to be invisible.”
Uhring—“Nobu and Malibu Farm employees have been taking up parking that should go to residents for years. We need some kind of shuttle.”
Governance—whether Malibu should have a “strong mayor” and/or more control over city staff
Only Simmens said he was in favor of the “strong mayor” form of government. Wetton pointed out most cities with a strong mayor government have a population of 500,000 or more. In addition:
Stewart—“What we have now works exactly like a corporate board and I think the city is functioning well.”
Uhring—“I think the city manager is now managing the city council, but it’s the people we have.”
Lyon—“You see the city council lean forward and look over to [City Attorney] Christi [Hogin] and then over to [City Manager] Reva [Feldman] to seek approval.”
Wetton—“I disagree with the premise that staff is telling city council what to do.”
Relationship with Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC) and Joe Edmiston’s actions in neighborhoods like Sycamore Park
Most candidates agreed that Edmiston is working against the interests of Malibu, and that the city needs to do more to help neighborhoods fight his takeovers. Silverstein called him an “enemy” while Grisanti said the city must do more to “fight” him.
Public safety, policing and PCH
Wetton, Grisanti, Lyon, Silverstein, Simmens and Uhring all indicated that more police presence in Malibu would be desirable, but most expressed doubt as to whether it would be affordable. Stewart believes there is probably enough police presence when volunteers and others are counted.
More candidate forums are scheduled before the election: Oct. 3, Conversation with the Candidates on Disaster Preparedness and Public Safety, sponsored by the Neighborhood Watch of Point Dume and the Malibu Democratic Club; Oct. 8, sponsored by the Malibu Association of Realtors; and Oct. 17, an event involving City Council Member Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner and others.
The video of the forum can now be viewed on the Malibu Democratic Club website at MalibuDemocraticClub.org/Forum.