Council candidates debate the issues at Point Dume forum


Wednesday evening’s City Council candidates forum hosted by the Point Dume Community Association at the local elementary school did not have the major fireworks of forums in past years, but it was more heated than the friendly debate earlier this month at Paradise Cove.

Jefferson Wagner provided a big moment at the event attended by approximately 50 people when he said “you’re going to be back into the good old boys” if “the appointees of this City Council” are elected.

“That is a tough statement for me to say,” Wagner said. “I’m looking at qualified people at the table here with me. But I don’t care. I’m a little tired of it all. If you people want change, you need to put me in office.”

Wagner did not specify by name which of his four opponents he was referencing, but most of the current City Council members are supporting Mayor Pro Tem Pamela Conley Ulich, Board of Education member Kathy Wisnicki and Planning Commissioner John Sibert.

Following Wagner’s comments, Conley Ulich said, “With all due respect to Jay, last time I checked, I’m not a good old boy … I’m a bad young girl.”

Wisnicki said, “I hope I have convinced you tonight that I am not only not a good old boy, but I was the lone Malibu representative on the school board and had to take some very difficult issues and had been very successful in bringing my colleagues around to supporting Malibu issues.”

Wagner and Susan Tellem, both major critics of the current council, have been running a joint campaign. Mailers have been sent to residents advocating the two candidates and an advertisement appeared in this week’s newspaper claiming they would be good council members while Sibert and Wisnicki would not be. Although they are supported by many of the same people, Sibert and Wisnicki have not made any formal alliance.

Conley Ulich has received money from council members and their supporters as well as council opponents, and is seen by many as an independent.

The candidates were asked about their thoughts on the current council, and how they would rate its performance of the past four years. Conley Ulich said she gives it a “B+.” She said she was disappointed her proposed ordinance to limit retail stores has not been approved. She applauded the council for the purchase of Legacy Park and the portion of Bluffs Park containing the ball fields and the Michael Landon Center, the recent approval of an ordinance requiring septic system inspections and the creation of a reverse 911 emergency alert system.

Wagner and Tellem did not have such high praise for the council, although both candidates excluded Conley Ulich from their criticisms.

“I think the City Council has approved way too many projects,” Tellem said. She added, “I think the City Council has not listened to the residents of Malibu. That was true with the overnight camping [the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy’s proposal to add overnight camping sites, perceived by many to be a fire risk] when we had to emphatically beg the council and fill the room to get them to vote the way we wanted them to [vote]. I don’t think they’re listening to you. I will.”

Wagner said, “This City Council has performed as well as our water quality.”

Sibert, Councilmember Sharon Barovsky’s appointee on the Planning Commission, might have surprised several people with his less than flattering comments about the council.

“They have tended to function to a large extent to push particular agendas that I don’t necessarily agree with,” Sibert said. “This council has done some good things, but we have to move forward and do things differently than we have in the past … I would act differently and more independently.”

Wisnicki said she was reluctant to criticize the council because as an elected official she knows “what a difficult job it is.”

The candidates were asked about the recent lawsuit filed by the Santa Monica Baykeeper and the Natural Resources Defense Council against the city and county for the pollution of the Malibu watershed. Conley Ulich said the city has been supporting clean water initiatives.

“Our taxpayer money has been doing a lot to clean up the bay,” Conley Ulich said. She said examples of this include the building of the storm water treatment plant in the Civic Center area, the proposed Legacy Park project and the creation of permeable sidewalks on Cross Creek Road.

Wisnicki said, “The city has made great strides, but now it’s time for us all to figure out a way to work among all of the agencies [state, county and city] to get the problem solved completely.”

Tellem said she disagreed with Conley Ulich and Wisnicki’s comments.

“I think that the lawsuit has come because we have done too little too late. The City Council, the Planning Commission, have been city on their hands. And it’s really not the way it should be.”

Wagner added, “Our present council, some of the [Planning] Commission, has not moved forward fast enough to resolve these issues. They’ve been given time.”

Sibert, an environmental scientist, said the city “has been moving forward, but we still don’t have the information we need in order to learn where it’s all [the water pollution] coming from.”

A major issue discussed at the forum was the disappearance of local businesses, and what the city government could do to save them. Conley Ulich advocated her retail limitation ordinance. Wagner also said he supported the ordinance. Wisnicki said the city should take advantage of development agreements with landowners to require some of their tenants to be local businesses. Tellem made similar comments.

The candidates also said the city should talk to Civic Center area landowners about development issues.

Another issue discussed was Santa Monica College’s proposal to build a satellite campus where the shuttered Los Angeles County Sheriff’s substation is located in the Civic Center area on county-owned land. The college would use voter-approved Measure S bond money (of which $22.5 million must be used in Malibu) to pay for this. The college and the county are currently in negotiation. However, Sheriff Lee Baca recently said he opposes this plan, and supports the substation eventually reopening.

Tellem said she feared a satellite campus would create too much traffic. “We’ve got Pepperdine if you want to get educated,” she said. “There are plenty of classes up there.”

Sibert said there were several courses SMC would offer that are not available at Pepperdine. However, he also echoed Tellem’s concern. “I think before we move forward with that, we need to think of it in the context with the Civic Center. And I think traffic is a critical issue.

Wagner said it was important for the city to get the substation reopened. Conley Ulich said she planned to meet with Baca to discuss the issue. Wisnicki said a campus could be built there, and include a Sheriff’s substation.

The candidates agreed on several issues. They all supported the petition requesting the county conduct a study on the feasibility of creating a Malibu school district. They claimed to have “green” agendas. And they said they supported creating a view protection ordinance. Voters will be asked on the April 8 ballot if they want the city to pursue drafting such an ordinance.

The Malibu Township Council is hosing a candidates forum at Webster Elementary School on Saturday at 10 a.m. The school is located at 3602 Winter Canyon Road.