A strange thing happened at the City Council meeting Aug. 26. There was an outbreak of civility.
Well, that’s probably a little strong. It was more like a discussion about experimenting with the possibility of civility at the City Council meetings.
Even Joan House and Tom Hasse agreed, something they haven’t been doing very much of lately, that perhaps the lack of civility was beginning to get in their way.
There actually seemed to be a consensus among the council members, after Marissa Coughlan beat them up a bit for their lack of civility, that they’d better mend their ways if the council was ever going to get the job done.
During this discussion, Walt Keller and Carolyn Van Horn were generally quiet, which, I guess you could say, was a first step toward achieving civility on the council.
In case you’re wondering what this is all about, there has been an ongoing and not-too-loving split on the council, with Keller, Van Horn and Hasse on one side and House and Harry Barovsky on the other. After the last election, without so much as a missed beat, Keller, Van Horn and Hasse wheeled and turned on House and designated her the new reigning meanie — a replacement for Jeff Jennings. Jennings, despite what some of the more rabid letter writers seem to think, is gone and nowhere to be seen.
In fact, the last time I ran into him, he looked more relaxed than he’s looked in years. Life on the Malibu City Council must be tougher than it appears because, while both Harlow and Jennings look better, the currently sitting fearsome five are looking more and more like people under siege.
It’s understandable because we’ve taken some major hits lately. The beleaguered PCH has hit us all, tried our patience, been economically devastating to many businesses and taken a slice out of the quality of our life. It used to be that summer was a good time. We all had family and friends as beach guests, but not this year. That was part of the fun of Malibu, part of our ambiance, our hospitality. Today, with PCH as it is, it’s just too much of a hassle.
It’s at time like this when a city like Malibu has to call in all the favors, the goodwill it’s cultivated with the other agencies: the state, Caltrans, the Coastal Commission, the County of Los Angeles, the Sheriff’ s Department, the Highway Patrol and various public works departments, as well as their own employees for service above and beyond the call of duty.
Again, it should come as no great surprise that we don’t have many chits with many of those aforementioned groups. We have systematically antagonized, sued, obstructed and refused to cooperate with almost every one of them, and I suspect that if the PCH road repair took five years to complete, some of them not only couldn’t care less, but would probably take a perverse joy in our distress.
Unfortunately, this climate of combat and contentiousness isn’t going to end with just a few nice words. The Keller-Van Horn-Hasse axis is built on confrontation and polarization. It’s their MO. It’s worked for them politically in the past, and they’re not people who believe in surrendering a winning political hand.
For example, check out the letters to the editor this week. Look at the names on those letters. It’s the usual cast of characters, spewing their usual nastiness. They’re excised because I likened some of their mobile homes to converted Campbell Soup cans. It was a nasty crack, and it really wasn’t very fair. But I did it to make a point. There are a lot of differing lifestyles in Malibu. Malibu used to be a live-and-let-live place. No one likes it when their lifestyle is attacked. We don’t like it any better than you do. But what I see growing, particularly with Keller-Van Horn-Hasse, are the beginnings of lifestyle police. They know how we should live. They know what our houses should look like. They know what color they should be. They know what our setbacks should be. They know the perfect size for our trees.
Unfortunately, what they don’t know is how to keep our roads open. How to get our landmark Malibu Pier fixed. How to get our potholes filled. How to find ballfields for our children to play on. How to solve a permanent sewage problem.
Pardon my cynicism, but I’m wondering if their sudden discovery of civility may have something to do with their plan to turn the Civic Center into a park, or a salt marsh or whatever grand scheme they’re concocting. They suddenly figured out if they’re going to ask us to give them millions of dollars to buy some land, we’re probably not going to do it unless we trust them first.
Maybe it’s a good idea and maybe it’s not. I don’t know yet. But a better idea might be to first spend some energy doing something about PCH, perhaps that third lane, so all of us can see an immediate improvement in our lives.