From the Publisher: Under several thumbs

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Arnold G. York

Something big is brewing in Malibu. The town is changing and a bunch of the locals are very uncomfortable with what’s happening. It started simply enough with the protests about the possible closing of the nursery in Trancas, which produced an outcry. But it wasn’t just the nursery. It was a sense that the residents were losing control of Malibu and that the City Council was just going along as if this unease didn’t exist. 

It is showing itself in many ways. The retail mix is changing and many of the new stores are more Rodeo Drive than Malibu. They are there, but they’re not part of the community nor do most of them make any attempt to be part of the community. Local people have no authority to do anything but ring up the cash register, and they’re selling wares that many of us don’t need or want, at prices we can’t afford and in sizes that are way smaller than most of the people I know. Many of us, and I include myself, feel as if we’re caught in a historical tide, pushing us in a direction we don’t want to go. 

But it’s not just the push of the changing retail environment. It’s also the push of the government, or more accurately, governments, because government is really a series of governments all with very different agendas. Just in our little town of 13,000 we have the state controlling the beaches and our main street, Pacific Coast Highway, and if it wants to tear up a wetland at the Lagoon and replace it with new improved wetlands, it just goes ahead and do it and no court’s going to stop it. 

Then we have another state agency, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, which owns land all over Malibu. And now it has its own police force, I guess so their leader Joe Edmiston, the local governmental state land baron, can sleep comfortably at night. Some would say it’s better that a conservationist like Joe owns the land than some developer, and that might well be true if Joe weren’t so pushy. Recently, the City of Malibu wanted to move the skate park temporarily over to the Bluffs Park, onto city land, but that required removing some parking spaces. Joe said “No, unless you give me something in return,”—probably something like our firstborn. So that plan died. It didn’t matter that the city was actually going to add parking spaces. The spaces apparently just weren’t in the right place and would have required hikers to walk a little further to reach the hiking trails, and Joe apparently had some sort of control over that. 

But Joe is a pussycat compared to the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board. That is another state agency charged with keeping our water clean, populated by regulatory fanatics who believe clean water is good, cleaner water is even better and distilled water is best. The cost of any of this is not their concern because they don’t pay for it, we do. No matter that we have some very reputable scientists who say this pollution is not caused by human beings, because they, the RWQCB, have their own in-house scientists who say it is, or that it might be, and that’s enough. In cases of a tie, the decision almost always goes to the regulators. 

Then of course we have the California Coastal Commission. Now the commission has a policy to discourage the armoring of the coast, such as building large structure or seawalls. The rationale is that by building the walls you just shift the problem down the coast, which may very well be true. The problem is that the globe appears to be warming, and though we could argue about the reasons water levels are rising, in 10, 20, 30 years the California coast is not going to be where it is now, and many of those beachfront homes are going to be underwater. If you want some proof, go down to Broad Beach in west Malibu. What was once Broad Beach is now Narrow Beach, and is being repaired with emergency permits at an incredible expense. Unless the Coastal Commission changes its philosophy, in time they’ll have to rename it the California Inland Commission and set up headquarters in Riverside. 

Now lest you think it’s only the state, let me point to the County of Los Angeles Fire Department’s set of rules. There are currently a number of people living up in the canyons who were burned out in one fire or another and access their property via PCH. They want to build on those lots and have already received permits, except for one small problem. They can’t pass the new fire department water standards. Now, mind you, these are not standards for those great big fires that come racing across the hills. These are for simple little old Malibu house fires, which actually do happen, if rather infrequently. If the water lines are insufficient, or too narrow, then what you have to do is put in new waterlines to meet the standards. In some cases that can mean a cost of several hundred thousand dollars or more to put in the lines. 

The effect is that there is an unofficial moratorium on many of these potential homes. There is currently a major study going on about bringing our water capacity up to date, and the overall cost is roughly estimated at $280 million for Malibu and Topanga. 

So, you can see that there are lots of things frustrating the residents of our little town and a number of very expensive solutions, for problems real and imagined, headed our way. Some of the reaction to all this frustration is going to be put, perhaps unfairly, onto the people who own the local shopping centers and some of the developers of projects that are now in the pipeline.

I find myself in a bit of a dilemma. As a good Obama Democrat I find myself believing that regulation is absolutely necessary in some cases. The problem is that in California there is no check and balance in the regulatory world. Agencies will never check themselves because they are always convinced what they are doing is righteous, the legislature is notoriously chicken about stepping in even in the worst cases of excess and the courts have done a woefully bad job because most will invariably give the agency, whether federal, state, county or local, the benefit of the doubt. 

Well, enough cynicism for one day.