Green light for Malibu GreenMachine project

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One activist is concerned that Malibu would be liable for any accidents caused by a project to beautify a median of Pacific Coast Highway.

By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor

The City Council Monday night unanimously approved an agreement with the California Department of Transportation for an encroachment permit that would place the city in charge of the Pacific Coast Highway median from the Malibu Lagoon Bridge to Malibu Canyon Road. The MalibuGreenMachine will beautify this section. The nonprofit group is paying for the $1.5 million enhancement, but the city will be responsible for the median’s maintenance at a cost beginning this fiscal year of $20,000.

According to the agreement, the city will also be liable for any accidents that could occur because of the median, while the state will not be. Since the highway is owned and operated by the state, usually the city has no liability for accidents that take place on it. This portion of the agreement concerned Malibu activist Ryan Embree.

“This ropes the city into some incredible liability,” Embree said. “And, given enough time, with the 30 thousand-plus vehicles that drive this section [of the highway] every day, we’re going to get caught holding the bag.”

City Manager Jim Thorsen and City Attorney Christi Hogin said the liability section of the document is not something unusual.

“If it were the other way around, and someone were asking us for an encroachment permit … we would insist that they fully accept the risk,” Hogin said.

Councilmember Jefferson Wagner expressed some concern about the city taking on the responsibility, although he did vote in favor of the agreement. The other council members said the liability issue was greatly outweighed by the opportunity to make the highway median more pleasing to the eyes.

“The center median looks like crap,” Mayor Pro Tem Andy Stern said. “And that is the single thing I hear from more people: ‘How can we have such a beautiful city and have the center median look so horrible?'”

GreenMachine President Jo Giese said after the meeting that construction should begin by the end of the month. She said about $300,000 still needs to be raised, but she believes this can be accomplished.

Vicious Viewshed Committee told to play nice

In response to last month’s heated first meeting of the View Protection Task Force, the council on Monday voted to put the meetings on television so committee members might act more civil. Also, council members said it would give an opportunity for more members of the public to see the meetings.

“I decided it would be better to videotape it [the meeting] and put it on TV so the whole community could see how we make sausage,” Barovsky said. “And this is making sausage. It was a contentious meeting that bordered on abusive at times to the staff … and people were pretty nasty to each other.”

The council also allocated $25,000 from the general fund to hire a consultant for the task force. The task force was told it has six months to come up with its recommendations. The task force was formed following last April’s election, when a majority of voters said “yes” to a question of whether the city should work on creating a viewshed protection ordinance. The committee meets next on Sept. 23 at 6 p.m.

Economic study given new life

The city’s Economic Services Study was given a new lease on life at Monday’s City Council meeting. The council asked for the study to be reexamined by the economic committee that helped draft it before it would return to the council for another look. The Business Roundtable, a group of city and business leaders that meets monthly, will also look at the document before it returns to the council. Some council members and others who spoke at Monday’s meeting said they hoped the document could serve as a guide for the city on business issues.

The study was released last year after a committee and a consultant spent many months working on it. It includes information on what types of businesses are in Malibu and what types people want in this city, according to a survey that was conducted. It also contains other economic information about Malibu. The council took a look at the document last summer, although city leaders did not take action on it. At Monday’s meeting, city staff had recommended the document be “received and filed,” which to some people meant that it would be stored away and never seen again.

“We don’t want it to go on the shelf and not be used again,” said Chamber of Commerce CEO Rebekah Evans. “We invested in it: time, energy and effort. And this is an incredible piece of document. It’s not that we want to pass all these recommendations. But there’s information in here that is very, very useful to the community.”

City Councilmember John Sibert sided with Evans regarding the document’s usefulness of the report. “This shouldn’t just sit off in the corner somewhere and be filed as a report,” he said. “I think there needs to be some kind of ongoing effort … we need to have some ongoing group where these kinds of things can be discussed.”

Sibert suggested a committee should be created that would discuss the report and the issues involved in it, with adjustments being made as situations change.

Councilmember Sharon Barovksy voted along with her other colleagues on the council to keep the document in the public domain for at least a little while, although she noted what she considered to be flaws in its recommendations that “would never be approved.” Among those, it’s the one that got the most attention last summer, that the maximum allowable development on a property be increased from 20 percent to 60 percent.

City Actions

n The council voted unanimously to support Senate Bill 1420, which calls for chain restaurants to provide nutritional information on menus and menu boards

n Graeme Clifford was appointed as a non-voting member of the Parks and Recreation Commission

n Councilmember John Sibert appointed Rodney Perlman to the View Protection Task Force