Eight Men Running for City Council Square Off at Virtual Forum

Moderator and Malibu Democratic Club President Jane Albrecht (top left) hosts all eight council candidates for a forum about fire safety.

All eight candidates vying for three seats on the Malibu City Council were questioned Sunday in a virtual forum presented by the Malibu Democratic Club. While the public was able to watch over Zoom, the only questions posed were from moderators Jane Albrecht, president of the Democratic Club and former Malibu Mayor Pamela Conley Ulich, representing the Point Dume Neighborhood Watch Association. How the candidates will help the city strategize fire safety was the chief topic.

42-year resident Paul Grisanti has lost two houses in the many local blazes he’s survived. “I was so upset with how Woolsey played out,” Grisanti began. “In the next fire or emergency, people will have supplies in their cupboards. They will have firefighting equipment in their garages and we will be here to support the firemen who will come.”

Albrecht echoed that comment: “The most commonly held belief is that the Woolsey Fire will only result in the next time, more people staying.”

Incumbent candidate and fire captain Rick Mullen said planning was paramount.

“The key to resiliency comes from the individual homeowner and neighborhood having a plan. A lot of the people who stayed were successful saving their homes,” Mullen said, cautioning, “If in a big disaster you’re overly reliant on public agencies to come and save you, it’s probably not the best idea because everyone’s going to be overwhelmed.”

Steve Uhring countered he did not want to “promote this concept” of civilians staying to fight fires.  

“I can’t think of any home I’ve had that’s more important than my life,” Uhring said. “I don’t want to see dead bodies all over the place.”

Andy Lyon, running again after a loss in 2012, recounted how he stayed behind to help save his home two years ago. 

“People are going to stay behind and they’re going to need support,” Lyon said. He praised neighborhood fire brigades such as in Malibu West and Point Dume, adding “that shows we’re not getting the help we need.” Lyon’s suggestion to rename evacuation zones after neighborhoods seemed well received.

Doug Stewart did not favor a stay-behind approach. 

“I don’t think people realize how much of a risk they’re taking,” he said. “I can’t imagine what a wall of flames would do to people. They’ll probably try to leave at exactly the wrong time. That’s when people get killed.” As a better solution, Stewart stressed, “We need to harden homes.”

Lance Simmens emphasized the need for resources.

“I think it’s dangerous and unwise to basically say, ‘You’re on your own.’ We should not be on our own,” Simmens said. “The reason we pay taxes and have fire departments, police and everything else is to help us in times of need. But in preparedness it’s up to us to prepare our homes the best we can. When it comes to fighting fires, we need to have the resources to do it in the safest way possible and that’s not getting out there with a hose and hoping you can get enough embers off of your roof.”

Bruce Lee Silverstein called the suggestion citizens defend their own homes “reckless.”

“Unfortunately, I think a lot more people will stay because members of city council at the time, sitting up at the dais, said people will need to stay next time,” Silverstein said. “That was reckless. People need to follow the civil directions. People leave because they expect the fire department to do their job.” Silverstein and Simmens suggested pooling resources with the county and state. “Unless people have that confidence, they’re not going to leave, and if people don’t leave, there’s going to be deaths,” Silverstein added.

Mark Wetton did somewhat favor a fire front brigade that would consist of reserves coming into neighborhoods after an initial blaze has passed in order to squelch hot spots and embers, which were responsible for many lost houses in the Woolsey Fire. 

“It all begins with you,” Wetton said. “It’s a leap to say that because you have a volunteer fire brigade that everybody should stay. I don’t believe every should stay.

“The further you get from yourself, I think, the less reliable the solution’s going to be,” Wetton continued. “The further away from your neighborhood the less control you have. Having less control is not good.”