Frictions over commissions presage election selection

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The proposed development agreement between the city and Malibu Bay Company continued to be the lightening rod of City Council election tensions, with Council Members Walt Keller and Carolyn Van Horn killing a motion Monday to appoint Harry Barovsky and Tom Hasse to an ad hoc committee.

The committee would negotiate renewal of the city’s cable franchise agreement, due to expire June 30. Elections for City Council are set for April 11.

“Do we have to have another secret committee instead of the whole council or the [telecommunications] commission?” asked Keller, referring to Joan House and Hasse, who were on the ad hoc committee that negotiated the proposed development agreement.

House, who along with Keller and Van Horn is running for re-election, said Keller’s remarks were mixing up the mandates of the two bodies.

“The commission is only involved in “in-house” matters, and everyone wants improvement,” House said. “When we talk to a monopoly, we are not coming from the same place. The cable company wants the highest possible price for the least amount of service because Malibu has no choice. We have to have a strategy.”

City officials agreed with House.

“What kind of deal would you get if you negotiate in public?” asked Interim City Attorney Richard Terzian.

“We want to increase our options, so we don’t want to tip our hand,” said City Manager Harry Peacock.

As Barovsky was not present, the 2-2 vote on forming the committee (Keller and Van Horn against, House and Hasse for) was tabled until the next meeting.

In an indication of possible acceptance of the Malibu Bay Company agreement, Ozzie Silna, treasurer of nonprofit Malibu Coastal Land Conservancy, urged the city to purchase Malibu Bay Company land with money from recently approved bond measures for park and water reclamation. The agreement includes a 10-year moratorium on developing a significant portion of the Civic Center.

With Hasse noting the Planning Commission will soon hear a Malibu Bay Company Civic Center project, the council asked Silna and Peacock to track bond funding. The council also decided to discuss specific purchases at the next meeting.

The most virulent objection to the development agreement came from attorney Sam Birenbaum, whose wife, Nidia, was appointed and later fired by Hasse as a telecommunications commissioner.

Birenbaum said commission refusal to have the agreement submitted to an economic consultant, as requested by Keller, made the plan “suspect.” He targeted Hasse specifically, saying Hasse did not grow up here, had lived here only three years, did not own property or have family here, and won his seat by only 29 votes.

Prevailing on a clearly reluctant Van Horn to let him respond, Hasse replied he has lived here 16 years and that the agreement could be amended in many ways.