News Analysis: The Year 2003 in review

A fiery display took place over the ocean near Malibu Pier off a barge paid for by Malibu Colony residents. Nancy Kaye / Special to The Malibu Times


€ The year opens with the California Court of Appeals handing down a bombshell. In a landmark 3-0 decision, it declares the California Coastal Commission to be unconstitutional because it violates the Separation of Powers Doctrine in the state’s constitution. The decision guarantees that the case of Mariner Forests Society vs. the California Coastal Commission is on its way to the California Supreme Court for a final decision, but that will take up to another 18 months.

€ Once again, Malibu is burning. But this time it is a combination of quick response by firefighters and rain that keeps the losses down to three damaged homes and a car.

€ The state of California makes clear its intention to evict the residential tenants from the 1,649 acres of land in lower Topanga, recently purchased from the L.A. Athletic Club, some of which borders Pacific Coast Highway. Many of the tenants are unhappy about being evicted from their, month-to-month tenancies which they have had for a number of years. But they console themselves with some serious cash buyouts of their homes.

€ A shooting on PCH, near Sycamore Canyon State Beach leaves two men dead and one woman critically injured. The sheriff’s department uses bloodhounds to try to pick up the trail of the perpetrators.


€ The Malibu Times Dolphin Award Winners for 2002 are announced.

* Allen Emerson

* The volunteers and

Docents from the

Adamson House and Malibu Lagoon Museum

*Sherman Baylin

*Ann Furguson

*David Katz

*David Legaspi III

*Marlene Matlow

*Ozzie Silna.

€ With the state budget crisis looming, the city of Malibu is looking at the possibility that it might lose $500,000 because Gov. Gray Davis is threatening to take away the Vehicle License Fee (VLF) dollars that flow to the city from the state. Later in the year, the governor does just that. And not long thereafter, Davis is gone. The school district is also looking at potential cuts to cover the expected $11 million shortfall. This could mean staff cuts, from administrators to nurses to physical education aides and even the entire elementary school instrumental music program.

€ A resident of Latigo Canyon discovers a body riddled with gunshot wounds lying in a dark, sparsely populated location near Mulholland Highway in the hills above Malibu. The victim, a 30-year-old man from Van Nuys, dies at the scene from the multiple wounds. The sheriff’s department is still pursuing the assailant.

€Malibu resident Rick Morgan, longtime city engineer, resigns from his post as acting public works director suddenly. He declines to talk about why he has decided to leave. But sources say it is because he has been passed over for the permanent appointment, even though he has previously been the top choice for the job.


€ Continuing a procession of city management officials who have left, Drew Purvis, Malibu’s sixth planning director in 11 years, resigns to start his own planning-consultant firm. Perhaps to foreclose further defections, the city decides to combine the Planning Department with the Department of Environmental and Building Safety. Building Official Vic Peterson, a longtime city employee, is appointed to head the consolidated department.

€ The Malibu Stage Company, which has operated in the city for 10 years, is granted a limited-usage permit from the Planning Commission that Board President Jeff Ortiz says will financially suffocate the non-profit equity-waiver theater out of existence. The company, located in an old church building at PCH and Bonsall Drive, has been in an ongoing battle with some of its neighbors, who want to see the company locate elsewhere.

€ Malibu High School is vandalized again. The damage includes 24 broken windows in the middle school and inflammatory graffiti sprayed on the buildings and throughout the school grounds.

€ The district attorney decides not to file criminal charges against two longtime Ralphs Market employees, Harry McDermott and Nancy Cicatelli, who sold beer to two underage Pepperdine students in December. Although the clerks carded the students many times before, Ralphs followed its standard policy by firing the two employees. This created a wave of protest among Malibu citizens, who knew the clerks and were outraged at their treatment. The Malibu City Council, voted 3-1 to ask Ralphs to reinstate the employees. After the fracas dies down, both employees are rehired by Ralphs to work at other stores.

€ A group of Zumirez Drive residents push the City Council to privatize their road. They say it needs to be done to preserve the rural atmosphere of the area. But the residents are unable to convince a majority of the council that it is a good idea. One councilmember against the privatization of the road says she doesn’t want to see the “balkanization of Malibu.”

April 2003

€ In a harbinger of what is to come, during one of the first Planning Commission hearings to discuss the proposed Malibu Bay Company Development Agreement explodes into a major ruckus. The opponents come to the hearing in mass to show their opposition. Several commissioners express concern that the deal is being rushed through.

€ The school district, faced with budget cuts, sends out pink slips to the employees that are going to be laid-off. This sparks a major protest and a “Pink Slip” parade in Santa Monica, which draws 1,000 people in support of the 207 laid-off Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District employees and the June ballot measure, which would generate money to bring some of them back if approved by the voters.

€ After a long, hard and somewhat delayed process, the Malibu Senior Center opens with a permanent home in a recreation room in City Hall on Stuart Ranch Road.

€ The gavel passes, and Ken Kearsley steps in as the new mayor of Malibu. He follows in the footsteps of a long line that began with Walt Keller and then Larry Wan.

€ State Superintendent of Instruction Jack O’Connell announces that Malibu High School has received a 2003 California Distinguished School Award. Out of the more then 2,000 schools in the state, only 78 middle schools and 52 high schools are selected. This places Malibu High School among the best in the state.

€ The City Council gives the go-ahead for the construction of the 27-unit Forge Lodge bed and breakfast, to be located adjacent to the existing Beau Rivage Restaurant owned by the Forge’s. But the council cuts the size of the units from 680 square feet to 580 square feet. The National Park Service is still unhappy, despite its own proposed massive makeover for Solstice Canyon Park, located just north of the proposed site for Forge Lodge. The Sierra Club, also unhappy, threatens a lawsuit.


€ The citizens of Malibu are turned down by the Los Angeles Superior Court when Judge Alan Goodman says they have no right to vote on the highly controversial Coastal Commission-imposed Malibu Local Coastal Program. This is despite having a referendum petition signed by more than 2,600 Malibu voters. Basically, the judge rules that the legislature giveth and the legislature can taketh away, so tough. The city says it intends to appeal the decision.

€ The Malibu Planning Commission votes unanimously to recommend the City Council reject the proposed Malibu Bay Company Development Agreement. The commissioners say they aren’t against the development of the land, but they don’t like the agreement before them. They suggest the city should go back to the negotiation table.

€ The $5.5 million renovation of the Malibu Pier is near completion, and although it will probably be the summer of 2004 before the old Alice’s restaurant location is up and running, the summer of 2003 will have fishing off the pier. Jefferson Wagner, a local resident whose group, the Malibu Pier Partners, is the master concessionaire for the 98-year-old pier, says he hopes to have shopping, dining and beach rentals in operation before summer of 2004.


€ The City Council and the Malibu Bay Company announce they have reworked their development agreement to come up with a revision in which the city would have an opportunity to buy the Chili Cook-Off site for $25 million. There, the city could build a park and a wastewater treatment facility. In return, the Point Dume location is taken out of the deal. Also, a contribution for ball fields and a community center are reduced from $5 million to $2.5 million. The opposition to the orginal agreement expresses skeptism.

€ After losing before the City Council, the Sierra Club decides to go to court to try to block the development of the Forge Lodge, a 27-unit bed and breakfast planned to be built at Corral Canyon and PCH. Project supporters charge the Sierra Club with having a double standard. They point to how it is deeply concerned about the steelhead trout when a private project like the Forge Lodge is proposed, but it is willing to close its eyes and look the other way when an ally like the National Park Service is tearing up the area surrounding the creek for its own renovation of Solstice Canyon Park.

€ Measure S, the ballot measure to levy a property tax for the school district of $225 per parcel squeaks by at the polls. The measure is approved by 67.61 percent of the voters, just barely more than the two-thirds support required for passage. It is expected to generate $6.2 million for the SMMUSD. The district is able to rehire many of the 207 laid-off employees, including more than 90 teachers.

€ The National Park Service denies the charges that extensive restructuring of Solstice Creek and uprooting of trees have occurred during renovation of visitor serving facilities in the park.

“We haven’t been sneaky about anything,” says Charles Taylor, NPS external affairs chief.


€ The city goes back to court to try to get permission to issue coastal building permits, which are presently in limbo because the city and the Coastal Commission are locked in a lawsuit about the impact of the Malibu voter’s referendum on the Malibu LCP. Unfortunately, it is the same court, the same judge and the same result. Judge Alan Goodman, a former attorney general, once again holds totally for the state and it’s agency, the California Coastal Commission.

€ There are shark sightings in Santa Monica Bay. Some heavy traffic on PCH and a few traffic accidents do little to deter beach-goers on a hot Fourth of July weekend. The two sharks are thought to be 5 feet long and about 200 pounds. It is also rumored they are possibly great whites. There are some panicky citizens predicting the movie “Jaws” playing out in Malibu.

€ A freak mini-tornado with winds estimated to be as high as 70 to 100 miles per hour, sweeps through Carbon Canyon and tears the roof off Malibu Fire Station No. 70. Two fireman at the station report the winds are so strong that they see tall sycamores bend so far that the tops of the trees touch the ground and the station windows start bowing in and out.

€ Malibu resident Lynne Weaver is one of the 10 people killed in the Santa Monica Farmers Market tragedy in which an 86-year-old man loses control of his vehicle and plows through a crowd of shoppers.

€ The Malibu City Council once again takes a shot at fixing the Malibu Bay Company Development Agreement with a hope that it might make it more amenable to the voters. In the final version, the one that will go before the voters in November, Malibu has three years to buy the Chili Cook-Off site.


€ The city decided to close Civic Center Way in the area of Winter Canyon for a five-month experiment. The idea behind it is to divert traffic away from the schools and the Civic Center, bringing it instead onto PCH. Unfortunately, almost immediately, it creates a monumental traffic jam that leaves just about everyone angry.

€ A spell of soaring summer temperatures and dry winds have many Malibuites once again awaking with a Santa Ana-wind anxiety. There is fear of a repeat of the January fire that burned 800 acres locally or, far worse, the 1993 Topanga-Malibu fire which destroyed about 350 homes. The fire threat is rated “very high,” which is one notch below “extreme,” which is as bad as it can get.

€ Two Valley teenagers are killed while running across Pacific Coast Highway towards the beach, just east of Corral Canyon at 11 p.m. on a Sunday night. Sheriff’s Department officials say they suspect the two were “playing chicken” in high-speed traffic before a vehicle driven by a Malibu man struck them.

€ The battle over the Civic Center Way closure and the resulting traffic jam gets even hotter as many local citizens begin to protest the long line of traffic up PCH in the vicinity of the Civic Center. Advertisements appear demanding the road be reopened.


€ The battle over the Malibu Bay Company Development Agreement, set for a vote in the November election, suddenly turns very hot when Heal the Bay sends a letter to the city demanding that some statements attributed to the organization be taken out of the ballot argument offered by the opponents of the agreement, now known as Measure M.

€ The Fourth Annual Malibu Film Festival, in late September through early October, has grown in stature and this year receives over 3,000 entries from independent filmmakers all over the world trying to be part of that select group chosen for the festival. Films include many unknowns and a few soon-to-be-knowns.

€ Malibu Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station Capt. Tom Martin comes to a City Council meeting to explain the position of the sheriff’s department regarding people sitting on Broad Beach in areas that have been posted as private property. His appearance follows a highly publicized incident when Sara Wan, a Malibu local and a coastal commissioner, held her own personal sit-in on Broad Beach with a reporter, photographer and a sheath of property documents in tow. The captain’s solution is if you think it’s illegal, make a citizen’s arrest. In other words, “Leave us out of it.”

€ The Malibu community is shocked by the murder of Gay “Gail” Smith, a longtime and well-liked employee of the Ogden Cleaners. She is shot to death by her nephew at her apartment in Los Angeles. The nephew kills Smith, then shoots her daughter three times and also tries to shoot her 5-year-old granddaughter before turning the gun on himself and committing suicide. In an outpouring of sympathy, the citizens of Malibu raise over $30,000 for Smith’s family.


€ The highly controversial, 17-year-old Ahmanson Ranch development project, located in the valley close to Las Virgenes and the Ventura Freeway, comes to an end. It was to include 3,050 homes, office buildings, shopping centers and golf courses on the 2,800 acres. All that changes when the state, Los Angeles County, who never much cared for the Ventura County project, and a coalition of environmental opponents, which included director Rob Reiner, convince the owner, Washington Mutual, to accept about $150 million from various bonds for the land. It will become public open space.

€ Timothy Treadwell, a wildlife advocate from Las Flores Beach in Malibu, is fatally mauled by a grizzly bear in an Alaskan national park. His companion, Malibu resident Amie Huguenard, is also killed. Treadwell, an author and documentarian is photographing grizzlies in a remote area of the park during the time of the attack.

€ A Malibu Bay Company representative tells the City Council at a meeting that there is no likelihood MBC President Jerry Perenchio would renegotiate with the city if the voters reject Measure M. He says the company has already spent four years and close to $1 million on the proccess. He says if the measure fails at the polls, the company would proceed on a site-by-site basis thereafter.

€ Malibu goes to the polls in the gubernatorial recall election, and pretty much votes the way the rest of the state does. Malibu is only one of three local cities to vote for the recall, with neighboring Topanga, Santa Monica and the rest of the county voting against it.

“I think the margin for recall (in Malibu) was largely based on the high-handed tactics by the Coastal Commission,” Malibu Democratic Club President Ralph Erickson says, referring to the LCP controversy.

€ The supermarket strike has created a boon for the independent markets, because many Malibu shoppers are reluctant to cross a picket line, particularly when they may personally know some of the picketers.

“It’s almost like summer,” says Eric Sustin, assistant manager at HOWS Trancas Market. “This is normally our downtime.” Sustin estimates the strike has doubled the store’s business.


€ Measure M is soundly defeated at the polls. What happens next depends on what MBC President Jerry Perenchio decides to do. He could develop his properties parcel-by-parcel, sell them, or defying earlier statements, renegotiate for a new deal.

€ PierView Café, for the past 13 years a fixture on the Malibu beachfront and a hangout for many locals and Pepperdine students, suddenly closes its doors. In a tearful farewell, many of its present and former employees gather for what is something of an institutional wake at the closing. The restaurant has not been up for sale but the owners were approached by representatives from an unnamed, and still unknown, buyer.

“They basically made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” says Chuck Spencer, owner and general manager of the café. Rumors abound about who the new owner might be.

€ Malibu CAN, the political group that successfully opposed Measure M, and the city of Malibu get together to write a letter to the MBC. They ask for the company to come back to the negotiation table. MBC representatives say it’s highly unlikely the company will renegotiate, a position latter confirmed by MBC President Jerry Perenchio himself in writing.

€ Almost as if to prove its independence, Heal the Bay comes down to the Malibu City Council meeting with a charge that the city of Malibu is trying to eliminate or reduce protections for water quality and natural resources that the California Coastal Commission has put into its Malibu LCP. Their charge strikes a particularly raw nerve with the city because the Coastal Commission has designated a large portion of Malibu as Environmentaly Sensitive Habitat Areas (ESHAs). The city charges the Coastal Commission with doing this minus any scientific basis, and that it is just a bureaucratic device to take away Malibu’s local control of its own land.


€ A battle royal has developed over a planning commission decision to allow entertainment mogul Lou Adler to appeal the construction of a house next door to his beachfront home, even though the approval for the original construction was granted two years before by the city and later by the Coastal Commission.

€ The severe beating of an out-of-town teenager at a Malibu party by an alleged group of Malibu locals called MLO (Malibu Locals Only) a sheriff’s department investigation into the beating and an earlier beating of a young couple on a Malibu beach.

€ The year ends with two planning commissioners being fired by the councilmembers who appointed them. Councilmember Andy Stern fires Planning Commission Chair Robert Adler and Mayor Pro Tem Sharon Barovsky dismisses Commission Vice Chair Deirdre Roneydue the uproar revolving around the Lou Adler appeal and alleged Brown Act violations of the open-meeting

law. Both commissioners were asked to resign before being fired, but they refused. Commissioner Richard Carrigan then resigns in protest, leaving the commission with just two members.