The code blues


    After a few protest gatherings and a demonstration at the City Council meeting and a series of stories, columns and editorial cartoons in The Malibu Times about the problems with the city’s code enforcement policy, they’re finally going to do something. They, being the council, are going to have what they call an “educational workshop” to explain exactly what they’re doing, and why it’s really very fair and, my guess is, why it’s really very good for us, and probably why we should take our medicine and stop bellyaching since they really know best. Now, the idea of having a meeting to explain it all is really a pretty good one, but it’s also a classic illustration of just exactly what’s wrong with our city government.

    It’s based on a fundamentally incorrect assumption that once they give us their version of the facts, and do it in a forum they can control, where they dictate the agenda and keep it away from the rabble-rousers (one guess who they think that is), we will, of course, see their wisdom, which to them is self-evident.

    I know this because I spent several hours watching their quarterly meeting where they talked about what happened at the last City Council meeting and then planned the upcoming meeting, slated for the evening of Feb. 10, to enlighten us all. At that quarterly meeting, the council members, namely Walt Keller, Carolyn Van Horn and Joan House, congratulated the code enforcement crew on how they handled themselves at the last contentious City Council meeting. Tom Hasse said nothing, and Harry Barovsky was absent.

    I watched them on cable and I walked away feeling very uneasy and not quite sure why. But Karen, who I drafted to watch the meeting with me, much against her will I might add, cut right through to the core. What she observed is not what they did but what they didn’t do. They never said, nor ever considered, a couple of simple questions.

    What is it that these people are so upset about and is there any reason for them to be so upset?

    It’s as if it never even crossed their radar that maybe, just maybe, there possibly could be something even slightly wrong with their zoning code or their code enforcement process, and maybe they ought to take a hard look at it, perhaps declare a temporary moratorium, and get some independent, unbiased people to take a look at it and not just rely on staff.

    The code enforcement staff, namely Vic Peterson and Gail Sumpter, were apprehensive that this “educational workshop” will turn into an exercise in staff bashing, which is not an unreasonable concern. I must tell you Vic Peterson is a pretty good guy. He’s conscientious, and he tries to be fair and even occasionally compassionate, which I know some people find hard to believe because with his gruff manner and shaved head he looks a bit like an extra on the “Sopranos.” But he wears the blinders that many city staff wear, that blocks them from seeing maybe the people have something intelligent to say that might help to solve the problem. That’s why, if you run an “educational workshop,” where you’re going to tell them, as opposed to an event, where you’re going to listen to them, you’re doomed to failure.

    There is still time before the workshop to agree to do as much listening as talking. That’s why it’s really important people attend this meeting. This council has always counted noses, and if you don’t show up they figure you don’t care so why should they.

    We, the citizens of Malibu, can change the code enforcement policies of our city. My judgment is Hasse and Barovsky will listen, as will Joan House once she overcomes her need to be agreeable and just go along. As for Keller and Van Horn, well my views on them are well-known, and you might just as well be talking to the wall. I also think we should expect to hear from the challengers, John Wall, Ken Kearsley and Jeff Jennings, and how they feel about the code enforcement issue because in April, we’re going to have to make some choices.

    I hope to see you at the meeting.

    P.S. As long as we’re going to have the city prosecutor present, perhaps he’ll deign to explain to us what happened in the prosecution of Remy O’Neill for allegedly violating the campaign ordinance. Why was it thrown out of court? Why wasn’t it appealed by the city? Was Remy right? Was the prosecution political? Do we owe her an apology, or what? We have a right to know, and she has a right to know. I know they probably could take away my Bar card for suggesting maybe lawyering is not quite the priesthood the city prosecutors seem to believe it is, and if we are to trust the system is fair, then perhaps they owe us some explanations.