Build Malibu Better: 2019—Why We Are Glad It’s Over

Paul Grisanti

The year began with anger, confusion, pain and uncertainty about the future on all sides. The County of Los Angeles and the City of Malibu were just as overwhelmed as the residents. Finger pointing, commiserating and rumors were the currency of the day. Woolsey was larger than anyone (state, county, or city) had contemplated. The response during the disaster had been a disaster. It could only get better, we hoped, but torrential rains turned the denuded hills and valleys into rivers of mud that overwhelmed the various flood control devices protecting our neighborhoods and roads. 

Thanks to financially prudent city councils, the city was in good enough financial shape after Woolsey to spend over $13,000,000 on the emergency response, infrastructure replacement and lots and lots of mud removal without additional debt.

I’m grateful that Supervisor Sheila Kuehl embraced the problem that we were going to have meeting the fire flow requirements in most of the areas served by Water District 29, and that she was able to make solving that problem a priority for LA County Fire Chief Daryl Osby and District 29’s Mark Pestrella. They negotiated two very complex solutions over a four-month period.

The city manager and the city council made rebuilding Malibu their top priority in nearly every meeting during the last year. Political divisions were set aside to find obstructions and remove them. Codes, ordinances and the local coastal program were modified to speed the process. Additional staff was hired to assist with the necessary plan research and processing for rebuilds. 

The council restructured the budget, canceling or delaying pet projects. This allowed the city to free up the funds to motivate residents to rebuild quickly by paying for owner-occupied fire rebuild permit fees. The amount of fees waived in the last 12 months is well over $1,000,000 at this writing. The program is currently authorized through June 2020.

We suffered through an unforced error by the council with an ill-advised attempt to reduce the total development square footage allowed on every parcel in Malibu. In response to an outpouring of opposition from residents at the planning commission and city council meetings, the council graciously apologized and decided to kill the proposal and refocus their efforts on rebuilding Malibu in 2019.

I’m grateful that city staff and the council have changed the climate for the employees in the planning and building departments by applauding the speedy processing of applications in every meeting and setting a goal of application to permit in six months or less. 

Other progress has been made as the California Code Check bottleneck was addressed by bringing a code check employee in house to spee  the turnaround time.

Adding Yolanda Bundy to lead the building and safety staff was another stride in the right direction. Yolanda has the right experience and the right attitude to motivate and encourage the compassionate treatment of applicants.

At this writing, the City of Malibu has granted 47 rebuild permits and is currently processing the 200th rebuild application. That means around 267 residents are still working toward settling their claim and filing an application

In November, I was grateful to learn from City Attorney Christi Hogin of a $13,700,000 settlement with SCE to repair our depleted reserve account and put us back on a sound financial footing.

I hope that 2020 brings even more progress toward a more resilient and repopulated Malibu.

On a personal note, Paul and Sara Grisanti wish you all our heartfelt good wishes for family, friends and a safe place to share memories.