The year in review

January

The market for Malibu Real Estate was showing signs of heating up when, for the first time in six years, the number of homes for sale dropped below 270.

A Malibu couple was robbed, beaten and shot in a home-invasion robbery at 8 p.m. New Year’s Eve on the western end of Malibu Road. The couple, longtime Malibu residents, received treatment at Santa Monica Hospital and were released. The robbers also shot their two dogs, killing one.

The Malibu Times 1997 Dolphin Awards, recognizing individual or group contributions to Malibu, were awarded to:

  • Honey Coatsworth, founder of The Artifac Tree
  • Rebecca Dmytryk, executive director of Wildlife Emergency Rescue
  • Ronn Hayes, chair of the Emergency Shelter Committee
  • Lee Ford, manager of Hughes Market
  • Betty Glass and Phil Cott, principals of the Juan Cabrillo and Webster schools
  • Charles Marowitz, founder of Malibu Stage Company
  • Rev. Larry Peacock, co-pastor of Malibu Methodist United Church
  • Reopen Kanan Road Committee and its leaders, Terry O’Connor, Sara Grisanti, Katherine Yarnell and Natalie Soloway

“The level of distrust that you all have to my ability to know what the City Council as a whole would support or oppose appalls me.” City manager Harry Peacock, referring to the council’s reluctance to delegate authority.

Beverly Taki took the reins of the Malibu Association of Realtors in what is looking more and more like a hotting-up real estate market.

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The Los Angeles County District Attorney filed a 25-count misdemeanor complaint against the Kissel Company for allegedly causing or permitting the discharge of sewage and the effluent of treated sewage in##to the state waterways on at least 11 occasions. Kissel Company pleaded not guilty.

Malibu bid farewell to 8-year-old Parker William Lawrence Hughes, a second-grader at Webster Elementary School, who died after a long and courageous fight against leukemia, which had been diagnosed when he was 18 months old.

February

El Nino slammed into Malibu with heavy winds, pounding surf and rock slides, closing the canyons and Pacific Coast Highway, isolating the city and embarrassing all the prognosticators who said El Nino was nothing but a bunch of media hype.

“We have to expect this. We live in an isolated community.” John Clement, director of Public Works

Malibu fell into a pot of gold when, during a routine check of an old property tax agreement with the County of Los Angeles, City Manager Harry Peacock and Interim Finance Director Andrea Daroca couldn’t figure out how they had calculated Malibu’s share of the property tax revenue. So they checked with the county and then were told, “Oops. Small mistake. We’ll put a makeup check in the mail.” Next thing they knew, a check for $1,185, 905 arrived.

The Civic Center Specific Plan, the master plan for the Malibu downtown, long in development appeared to be stalling.

“We can’t hold property owners hostage the rest of their economic lives.” Architect Ed Niles, referring to the unwillingness of a badly split City Council to send the compromise Specific Plan out for environmental review.

In Real Estate, the average sale price of a Malibu home increased about 15 percent in 1997, due mostly to nine mammoth beach and and bluff sales that weighed in at more than $5 million## each. Still, the landside market where the majority of the sales occur locally measured well in 1997.

El Nino rains continued to take their toll. A retaining wall protecting Rambla Orienta Road in the La Costa area began to fail, threatening to isolate the hillside enclave, which was previously decimated in the 1993 Calabasas/Topanga fire.

March

After the total collapse of their retaining wall, La Costa area residents lost all car access to their# neighborhood, putting many of them on foot for the first time in years. The agonizingly slow wall collapse was even more agonizingly documented by a media circus of 13 televisions crews, six satellite trucks, and a half a dozen radio and print reporters hovering around, waiting for something to happen.

“This is about as exciting as waiting for Monica Lewinsky.” One very bored TV crew member.

Tattooed Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee was in Malibu Municipal Court before Judge Lawrence Mira, charged with spousal abuse and child endangerment. Bail was set at $500,000 and Lee was ordered to stay away from his Malibu home and his wife, “Baywatch” star Pamela Anderson Lee, following a fracas between the two.

Local 16-year-old high school student Sabrina Csato was killed in a traffic collision at 7:30 a.m., in the vicinity of Geoffrey’s Restaurant, when the other vehicle, allegedly driven by an unlicensed driver, drifted into her lane and the two collided almost head on. The other driver survived.

After months of preliminary sparring and arguments about what constitutes proof of a low return, the Kissel Company finally got its hearing on a rent increase in the Paradise Cove Mobile Home Park. The company was turned down cold.

After 18 months and a titanic political struggle with just about everyone, Kanan Dume Road, a Malibu lifeline to the Valley, closed since September 1996, opened amidst fanfare, with speeches by a very happy Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and then-mayor Jeff Jennings.

The El Nino price tag fo#r the city of Malibu came in hefty. With a 20-inch, near record rainfall in February, the winter toll in the city of Malibu was $5 million in public property damage and another $7 million in private property damage. The city was hopeful of getting most of the city dollars back from FEMA.

Malibu director James Cameron’s “Titanic” swept the Oscars, tying “Ben Hur’s”11 awards as the most honored film in Hollywood history. Cameron, then still married to Malibu Actress Linda Hamilton, modestly declared himself “King of the World.”

Faye Hove, a Malibu activist for many years, a leader in the successful campaigns to keep out the freeway and other environmental challenges and a winning candidate for City Council in the failed cityhood 1976 effort, passed away at age 74.

April

The City Council turned down a proposed deal with the County of Los Angeles to get money to repair and re-open Malibu Pier. Some cynics expressed the view that perhaps the council didn’t want to give its prime mover, Jeff Jennings, a victory just before the upcoming City Council election, and that the pier issue would resurrect itself right after the election. The council was mum on instructions to staff about what to do next.

“We’ll get it back on the agenda. As soon as the election is over, the Malibu Township Council will go to one of the City Council members.” Frank Basso, MTC member

After another contentious and bitter City Council election campaign, Planning Commissioner Harry Barovsky won a City Council seat handily and Planning Commissioner Tom Hasse edged out incumbent Mayor Jeff Jennings, after a recount that saw Hasse’s lead grow from nine votes to 29 votes. The campaign was filled with charges of campaign law violations, and a critical election factor may have been a pro-Hasse video narrated by actor Jack Lemon. The election marked the retirement of John Harlow from the active political scene. In all, 3,615 Malibu citizens cast a ballot out of the 8,725 registered voters, a voter turnout of 41.46 percent, higher than most cities but not a particularly impressive record.

Following the election, complaints were filed with the California Fair Political Practices Commission and with Malibu City Attorney Christi Hogin requesting an investigation of campaign practices.

The driver of a vehicle that swerved into oncoming traffic late last year, causing a head-on collision near Malibu Pier that killed two Pepperdine Law School students, pled guilty to second degree murder and received an 18-year-to-life state prison sentence. The defendant, Kelly Dan Eastman, 37, had a blood test result reading of 0.22 percent.

California Coastal Commission approved the expansion of two Malibu-area universities. Pepperdine’s expansion was approved 11-0; Soka University’s expansion was approved 9-2 after four hours of raucous debate.

The new City Council members had hardly been sworn in, Joan House named mayor and Walt Keller mayor pro tem, before the first battle began. Keller moved to shorten the mayor’s term to eight months, which would have the effect of allowing Carolyn Van Horn to come into the next election as the mayor.

“I estimate they spent approximately $15,000 to accumulate the 30 votes necessary to beat Jeff.” Paul Grisanti, a Jennings supporter.

Controversial independent counsel Kenneth Starr, Clinton’s prosecutor or persecutor depending on your point of view, announced he had decided not to come to Pepperdine University, where he was slated to become Dean of the Law School and Director of the## new Public Policy Institute. In a public statement, Starr said he was withdrawing because, “The investigation has expanded considerably, and the end is not yet in sight,” which as it turned out was very prescient. It is unclear whether Starr, who had very much become a political hot potato, jumped or was pushed.

May

Monica mania hit Malibu when Monica Lewinsky showed up for a not-so-secret photo shoot on Broad Beach by renowned fashion photographer Herb Ritts.

State Park officials put the cabash on the idea of any additional ball fields on Bluffs Park even thought the population of children in Malibu has grown significantly. The state wanted the current fields moved out as well because the state has plans for a visitor’s center and sees the uses as incompatible because of lack of parking.

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, which has been buying land in the mountains over the years by tying up the land with a down payment and promising to make a balloon payment in the future, ran into a snag. It ran out of money, and its vassal agency, the MRCA, defaulted on a $2 million balloon payment.The sellers got tired of waiting and foreclosed. The agency stood to lose the $1 million down payment and 184 acres of land in the foreclosure, so it tried like mad to renegotiate the deal.

June

The battle over the future look of the Malibu Civic Center, primarily at the Chili Cook-off site, began to heat up. The City Council set up public meetings to get public feedback and a new group formed, seeking to create a land trust to raise money to try and buy back the Civic Center and turn it into open space and wetlands.

Actor Charlie Sheen was back in Malibu court, accused of probation violation for checking in and out of rehab. His dad, actor Martin Shee##n, said he hoped he would “accept recovery and become free.”

The Malibu City Council and the Business Roundtable were looking into requiring a Malibu business license for home businesses, which could include writers, directors, producers, musicians, song writers, lawyers, CPAs, business people, consultants and just about anyone with a home office. The roundtable decided it wasn’t such a good idea after all, and the City Council has yet to decide.

The actual cost of El Nino and and its impact on Malibu was tabulated. The Malibu portion was $3.65 million, which doesn’t count what the the county, state and federal government spent to keep the roads open. Malibu Road and the Calle del Barco slope failure were the the big ticket items and Broad Beach the hardest hit with a total of six homes either red or yellow tagged.

On June 19, the rocks started rolling down onto PCH, adjacent to Las Flores Canyon Road, and before the day was out the highway closed and would remain closed or limited to two-lane operation for the next five months, causing havoc and inconvenience, burned dinners and frayed nerves for our entire population. Many had to go to work through the Valley or follow a dangerous, circuitous route through the mountains to Topanga Canyon. It ultimately would take $20 million of Caltrans dollars, two condemned homes and repairs on a sometimes-seven-day-a-week, 12-hour-per-day schedule before the road would fully re-open.

The city cou#ncil balked at hiring an outside lawyer to assist City Attorney Hogin in her investigation of campaign finance violations arising out of the last City Council election. Because the alleged violation related to some of Hasse’s supporters in the last election, Hasse recused himself from the discussion and votes relating to the investigation, leaving a badly divided City Council with Keller and Van Horn on one side, House and Barovsky on the other and the council unable to get a majority on this issue.

July

Hughes Market, the culinary heart of Malibu, passed into foreign hands when Fred Meyer Company, a chain based in Portland, Ore., bought the local market in the Malibu Colony shopping center and renamed it Hughes-sort-of-Ralphs. After promising there would be no major changes, familiar old Hughes items began disappearing from the shelves to be replaced by generic Ralphs standbys, and finally all of the employees were slipped into the telltale green Ralphs corporate team colors. Lee Ford, Hughes’ hard-working, popular manager, worked like crazy to bridge the corporate cultural gap, and at last look the customers were grumbling but no longer mutinous.

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy lost a piece of potential parkland off Malibu Canyon Road when the attempts to stall or renegotiate its purchase deal with the original unpaid owners failed and those same owners foreclosed on the state agency to get their property back. They won, the state lost and the taxpayers were out of pocket $1 million.

The city of Malibu agreed to settle a long-standing lawsuit with six property owners alongside Las Flores Canyon Creek for $4.2 million, by buying out their frequently flooded properties on the banks of the creek. The homes and prop#erties were repeatedly damaged in the major storms by floodwaters diverted from their natural flow by the old landslide on Rambla Pacifico Road, for which the appellate courts held the city ultimately responsible even though the landslides happened long before Malibu had become a city. Apparently, you get a new city the way you get a used car –As Is.

Corral Canyon Road became the next casualty of the winter storms, turning into the city’s next top repair priority with major efforts to save the road.

Continuing its run of bad luck, or bad judgment, a buying-arm vassal agency of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy got hit with a $6 million-plus judgment, this time for failing to pay off a promissory note. The agency’s attorney seemed to say — No big deal. Essentially, we’re judgment proof.

Malibu Little Leaguers moved into the big leagues when, for the first time, a Malibu All-Star squad of 9- and 10-year- olds trounced the competition and took the Division 25 League championship. After losing their first playoff game, they came back to win the next seven games, hitting a torrid .470 and finally beating the perennial Little League heavyweight Culver City in the final by a score of 14-2.

The campaign violation investigations being conducted by the Malibu city attorney was the target of an organized attack by a number of speakers at the City Council meeting. They wanted City Attorney Hogin to tell all about the investigation, which she has pointedly refused to do, earning her the enmity of many in the audience and a pointed attack by Keller and Van Horn, both trying to pressure her into giving them a date the investigation would be over. Hogin, not easily intimidated, refused to knuckle under and resisted being pushed.

The results are in on the skills tests given to the students in the Malibu public schools. Most have performed well, substantially above the national averages on skills assessments. At Juan Cabrillo Elementary School, however, roughly half the students posted low scores on the statewide test that measured skill levels in reading, mathematics and other basic subjects. This set off a flurry of parental meetings, some soul searching by the faculty and excuse giving by the district officials.

The Malibu City Council decided to axe the Parks and Recreation Study Group, whose many members have been involved for years, and replace it with a five-person, council-approved Recreation and Parks Commission, over the protest of some of the longtime recreation and parks activists.

August

The transformation of the old SandCastle Restaurant into the brand new Paradise Beach Caf under the hand of restaurateur Bob Morris came to a screeching halt when some bones were discovered, raising the possibility they struck an ancient Chumash burial site. Some were skeptical.

“This used to be a working ranch. They could easily be cattle bones.” Old timer Woody Smith.

A few days later, the L.A. County Coroner said they were not human bones, and the stop work order was lifted by the city.

Public Works Director John Clement left after five years to become the public works director of the city of Santa Cruz, the latest in a process#ion of city staffers that included former city manager David Carmony and former city planning director Joyce Parker.

Crown Bookstore, just about the last full-service bookstore in Malibu, shut down suddenly after the company filed for bankruptcy reorganization and the judge approved shutting down 79 of its 174 stores. Crown shared the fate of the Malibu Books & Company, which shuttered its doors in April 1997.

September

Malibu attorney Peter Knecht threw a Malibu “Happy to be Alive” party after he survived an attack by a group of gun- and knife-wielding attackers at his Hollywood Hills home. His attackers had jumped him as he pulled into his garage, held a .44-caliber pistol to his head and, because he wouldn’t give the door lock combination to get into the house where his family was, slashed his throat from ear to ear and left him for dead on the garage floor. He survived and lived to identify them from a courtroom witness chair.

Once again the PierView restaurant ran away with the Malibu’s Best Merchant’s Chili trophy at the annual Kiwanis Malibu Labor Day Weekend Chili Cook-off.

Famed actor and director Leo Penn, longtime Malibu resident, died of cancer at age 77. Penn, a multiple Emmy Award nominee and a winner for a two-hour episode of Columbo, is survived by his wife of 40 years, actress Eileen Ryan, and his sons, Sean, Chris and Michael.

The City Council fought over whether they should award a $25,000 contract to delineate whether or not a wetlands exists in the Malibu Civic Center to the Wetlands Action Network, a group dedicated to finding the answer to that question is “Yes#.” Even the council balked at employing an “advocate” to do an objective study, as a “Yes” answer might mean no development in the Civic Center short-term and long-term years of expensive litigation to defend its decision.

“If it’s a wetlands, you can’t put in ballfields.” Marcia Hanscom, executive director, Wetlands Action Network

Pepperdine law professor Ben Stein, a most unlikely, rapidly rising MTV cult icon, raised scads of money for Pepperdine Center for the Arts from the adults at a gala at the home of David and Linda Foster, while the kids passed Paul Anka and Pat Boone to ogle Stein, totally baffling the grownups.

October

Malibu’s long battle to end the Las Tunas GHAD, a special district originally designed to fix the groins in the water along Las Tunas beach, may finally be coming to an end. A special bill carried by Malibu Assembly Member and President pro Tem Sheila Kuehl passed the legislature, allowing the city to dissolve the GHAD, which they have been trying to do since 1994.

The ever-contentious Malibu Planning commission battled over what its basic goals should be for shaping the look of the Malibu landside homes. Chair Charleen Kabrin and member Jo Ruggles pushed towards an architectural review board, while others on the commission and some architects bitterly opposed.

“It amounts to a group of artists telling Vincent Van Gogh or Pabl#o Picasso, ‘Sir heads are not square.'” Local developer Norm Haynie scoffing at the idea of a review board made up of architects.

Following surveys and public meetings, the council finally confronted many angry and disturbed Point Dume residents and turned down the idea of speed humps or bumps on Point Dume streets as a method of slowing down the automobile traffic.

The tensions between the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the residents of Ramirez Canyon, in their long battle over the conservancy use of the Streisand Center as a commercial banquet facility to raise funds, ratcheted up several notches. The residents picketed and the Conservancy called in the CHP. Everyone was pointing fingers and making charges, and all headed for the courts.

Real Estate: 1998 is shaping up as a banner year for Malibu real estate. By mid-August, the industry had already surpassed the year before in overall sales volume and was on its way to close to a record year. Increases in values of 10 percent to 15 percent in both 1997 and 1998 did much to recover the 35 percent to 40 percent losses suffered in the dreadful real estate depression of 1991 -1996 when prices slumped each year.

November

The fifth anniversary of the Malibu/Calabasas fire saw the rebirth of homes and new plantings in many of the Malibu neighborhoods that were devastated by the fire. Touched off in Calabasas and driven by gusting 60 mph winds, the 1993 fire swept through the hills and Malibu and left three people dead and 350 homes destroyed.

Charges that some on the planning commission wanted to be the “taste police” were raised by those who objected to the commission’s choice of acceptable colors and the aversion of some on the commissi#on to white houses with red tile roofs. But the law, if not common sense, seemed to be on their side. Malibu City Attorney Hogin said, “There is no constitutional right to paint your house yellow.”

With major fanfare and a deep sigh of relief by Caltrans and local businesses, PCH re-opened to four lanes and the traffic started moving again, amidst a sea of T-shirts with a new slogan, “Welcome to Malibu — The Coast is Clear.”

“It was like having open heart surgery. Now it’s over. We can take a deep breath and heal.” Barbara Lazeroff, co-owner Granita Restaurant

The state of California, the owners of Malibu Pier, stepped in and found $900,000 in its budget to repair the pier. After completing an underwater survey, it was prepared to begin fixing the aging pier early next year. With a completion date in September 1999, the pier could re-open to foot traffic and fishing, but probably will have to await additional monies (the original repair estimates were $2.8 million to $3.6 million) before the Alice’s Restaurant site is repaired and back in use. The city’s consultants have recommended the city take a pass on the pier because their crunching of the numbers said the pier would be a money loser for the city.

Mudslinging over the Civic Center became literal when Valerie Sklarevsky, a local activist and an adamant opponent of any development in the Civic Center, dumped a bucket of muddy water onto a large model display of the proposed Civic Center developed by architect Ed Niles for the Malibu Bay Company. Whatever her protest intentions, it seemed to have had the opposite effect, and the following week, after the model had been dried off and repaired, it went back on display to larger, more interested and generally more sympathetic citizenry.

The L.A. District Attorney’s Office filed another 20 misdem#eanor counts of environmental code violations against the Kissel Company, the owners of the Paradise Cove Mobile Home Park. The entire case has grown to 45 counts. In related civil actions, the Kissel Company sued the city for denying it a rent increase, and the residents of the park sued the Kissel Company for failure to maintain the park.

December

Comedian Flip Wilson, 64, a longtime resident of Malibu, remembered by many of his fans for his alter ego “Geraldine” and his hugely popular Flip Wilson Show in the ’70s, died of liver cancer at his Malibu home.

The Malibu City Council, following what was described as a contentious meeting in executive session, decided it didn’t want and probably couldn’t use a workshop by the California League of Cities that teaches council members how to communicate and get along better with each other. The only thing they could agree on was that# the prospect of spending 48 hours together seemed to fill them all with dread.

After seven parental previews and reams of correspondence, the sex education course for the High School and Middle School students in Malibu was presented to the students. Approximately 80 percent to 85 percent of the students attended the lecture, which was optional because a number of parents remained deeply opposed to the lectures by sex therapist Suzy Landolphi.

A truck driver was killed at Pacific Coast Highway and Kanan Dume Road after his truck apparently lost its brakes and careened down Kanan Dume Road. The driver apparently missed the escape median and crashed into the hillside on the south side of PCH. The truck, towing a 10,000-pound fork lift, struck the hillside with such impact that the cab was practically demolished. Several people inside cars, waiting for the red light for east-west traffic, witnessed the accident; none were reported hurt.

The battle between the city of Malibu and the Regional Water Quality Control Board, which wants the city to do something about the city’s septic problems, heated up when the RWQCB voted to implement a resolution that could impose a moratorium on septic system hookups or even mandate a sewer system in the city. Malibu, of course, threatened to appeal.

“If the objective is to require a big sewer for Malibu, the city will not support that objective.” Mayor Joan House in a letter to the RWQCB.

The City Council voted not to ban construction on Saturdays despite some neighbor complaints, after the contractors and some citizens scrambled to make themselves heard and to outline the negative impacts on the city from the proposed ban.

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