Council Candidates Want to Crack Down on Vacation Rentals, Fight MRCA

The five 2018 Malibu City Council candidates pictured, from left: Olivia Damavandi, Karen Farrer, Jim Palmer, Mikke Pierson, Lance Simmens.

In an otherwise decorous Malibu City Council candidate forum Monday evening at Fire Camp 8, the first question posed to candidate Olivia Damavandi was presented more as an attack. Taken aback, the mother of three and candidate for local office adamantly defended herself and her husband—who were accused of being developers. 

“It’s my favorite myth to debunk. My husband has built one house,” the former City of Malibu media information officer said. Damavandi went on to explain her husband once worked with developing drug companies and now works in the renewable energy field. She claimed there is no conflict with her pro-environmental stance. 

The other candidates—Karen Farrer, Jim Palmer, Mikke Pierson and Lance Simmens—publicly stated they had agreed not use personal attacks in the campaign, with Simmens calling for “civility and comity. We may disagree on the issues, but we’ve got to maintain civility.”

The crowd of 40, mostly Rambla Pacifico-area homeowners who sponsored the event, then politely posed questions to the hopefuls trying to fill the council seats to be vacated by Lou La Monte and Laura Rosenthal, who will be termed out.

The first issue addressed auxiliary dwelling units, otherwise known as “granny flats”—a hot-button topic. 

“I think those should be for grannies,” Farrer said. “I don’t want to see them turned over to short-term rentals. I don’t think that’s the intended purpose.” Owner occupied or owner nearby, however, Farrer said, “I absolutely believe in.” She added, “I don’t want to see corporations taking over our neighborhoods.”

Palmer agreed, saying vacation rentals were “ruining” Malibu’s neighborhoods.

“I believe short-term rentals should be limited to owner-occupied residences only. If we let short-term rentals continue taking long-term rental properties off the market, at some point we’re not going to have any kids to send to [our] schools. Short-term rentals are ruining our neighborhoods.”

Pierson said, “As a planning commissioner, you see the abuses more readily. Without regulations we will have corporations in our backyards. That’s not what [neighborhoods] were designed for. We need units to be more affordable to support our schools.” 

Calling it a complex, contentious issue, Simmens said accountability and regulation are key. “Corporations should not have a role in this.”

Damavandi pointed to housing costs in the city.

“Granny flats should be available for people to rent because prices have skyrocketed in Malibu. We need to have more options for younger families,” according to Damavandi, who called for regulations including owners being in close proximity and two hours to respond to problems or face shut downs after two violations.

The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, or MRCA, which has been buying up Malibu land to open to the public, came under fire by the candidates. 

“We need to band together as a city to stop the MRCA from devaluing our property values and spoiling our way of life,” said Damavandi. 

Farrer stated she was the only candidate to attend a scoping meeting on the development of Puerco Canyon held in June in Pacific Palisades. 

“The MRCA has been acting outside the law. I don’t know how Joe Edmiston has so much juice,” Farrer added. Palmer stated, “I’m completely against the MRCA invading our neighborhoods.”  Planning commissioner Pierson explained he’s been dealing with land use issues already, noting, “We have to fight like hell.” Simmens suggested, “What we need to do first and foremost is to get the council together and go to Sacramento. This is a political problem that needs to be solved.”

On the dangers of power poles, Farrer said she and neighbors were able to underground some near their homes—at quite an expense. She called for more maintenance on insulators and perhaps a bond to pay for burying wires. 

Pierson suggested grants and maybe a local tax to fund undergrounding, but also called on new technology to make poles safer such as fortifications and wire coating. 

“Undergrounding might take so long there could be new technology by the time it’s done,” Pierson said, referring to power poles as “1800’s technology.” 

Damavandi called undergrounding power lines “imperative.” 

Simmens was forthright, saying, “I know what I know and I know what I don’t know. 

“This is a great idea,” he added. “I don’t know how we’re going to afford it. It doesn’t mean there can’t be a way. I can promise I’ll be straight with you.” 

Public Works Commissioner Palmer acknowledged, “If you add up the costs of the damages that have been done with these fires, you’ll see some of the costs far exceed what it would cost to start an underground utility project.”

Other topics covered during Monday night’s forum included subsidized housing for local teachers, sand replenishment on Malibu beaches, Pacific Coast Highway safety, city staff compensation and a proposed two-acre parking lot on Point Dume that Damavandi said would happen “over my dead body.”