Budget Concerns Continue at Malibu City Council

Malibu City Hall

Council members are united in finding a solution to Malibu’s budget woes—a $5 million-dollar deficit in the FY 2021-22 budget brought on by a combination of the Woolsey Fire and COVID-19 pandemic shut-downs. But slashing expenses for the third year in a row is a monumental task, especially for a council with three first-year members.

Last Monday, May 24, council met to discuss the budget for the second time before a final version is to be passed at a June 28 public meeting, but exactly what that final budget will look like is still yet to be determined. At the meeting, council members pledged to get creative and even went so far as to request staff put pressure on LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s office to cover some costs associated with the LA County Sheriff’s Department beach team, the extra beach enforcement Malibu pays for each year. 

In this year’s budget, the beach team expenditure went up 1.45 percent, or $80,000—overall, the LASD contract, $8.5 million, makes up 22 percent of the city’s entire operating budget and is the city’s largest single expense. Law enforcement is a popular part of the budget; at the first hearing, council requested the addition of an overnight patrol, which would cost an additional $420,000.

“We’re taking care of somebody else’s problem,” Council Member Steve Uhring said at the meeting. Uhring requested city staff contact the county supervisor’s office—LA County operates most of the beaches in Malibu—and ask to have the county pay for all or part of the beach team expense.

“Reva did approach Supervisor Kuehl’s office a year [or] a year-and-a-half ago to talk about that with them, and they basically said, ‘No thanks, we’re out,’” Assistant City Manager Soghor—who presented the budget—replied, adding that the team is an optional expense requested by the city and goes above and beyond normal enforcement. “I think this came out of the city’s desire to have enforcement—and additional enforcement—to keep the peace on the beaches in crowded summers … But we can certainly revisit it and ask again.”

Mayor Paul Grisanti said he thought the team was a necessary expense.

“What created the beach team was we had some very bad behavior; the citizens didn’t want the very bad behavior,” Grisanti said. “Very bad behavior is carried on off the beach as well, which is why the beach team is important. They also [prevent] the number one cause of drowning, which is drinking.”

Grisanti said he hoped Kuehl, who was being termed out of office soon, would “give us a parting gift” of pitching in money toward the summertime beach enforcement.

In addition, Lt. Jim Braden of the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station said, the team is responsible for writing “hundreds of thousands of dollars” worth of traffic and parking tickets.

Mayor Pro Team Bruce Silverstein said he still did not believe the city should be on the hook to pay for the team—unless there was an earlier agreement made to do so by a previous city council.

“It doesn’t make sense to me, unless we’ve contractually agreed to patrol the beach, that we need to be patrolling someone else’s beach,” Silverstein said.

Another option to shore up the budget was keeping some city staff positions open; Soghor’s current budget calls for the re-hiring of six positions cut or left vacant since 2020 including a code enforcement officer, administrative assistant, recreation coordinator and planning technician.

When faced with the suggestion to consider keeping those positions open for another year, Soghor appeared audibly distressed, sighing at the council members before saying staff was “underwater.” Susan Dueñas, public safety manager, later agreed, saying staff was “already overwhelmed.”

“I think we have a potential morale problem,” Mayor Paul Grisanti said.

“Yeah,” Soghor agreed.