The Malibu Times former assistant editor now city’s public relations representative

Olivia Damavandi

Olivia Damavandi has returned to her native city and plans to present Malibu as a good citizen.

By Laura Tate / Editor

In her new position as the City of Malibu’s media information officer, Olivia Damavandi, former assistant editor of The Malibu Times, said one of her first priorities is to “utilize multimedia to illustrate how the City of Malibu is front and center in its attention to such issues” as “clean air, clean water, public access, environmental justice and appropriate, intelligent development [that] will make a difference to future generations.”

She also plans to change how people and other entities view Malibu as a whole.

“The City of Malibu has been grossly misrepresented by the media,” Damavandi wrote in an email to The Malibu Times. “It’s a sexy target for environmental lawsuits and celebrity gossip. Unfortunately, this stereotype of Malibu as an elitist, NIMBYist community has overshadowed much of the city’s hard work toward environmental improvement. I’m here to change that.”

Damavandi’s appointment to the newly created position of media information officer was announced last week. Her salary will range anywhere between $63,000 and $83,000, plus benefits.

The 26-year-old Malibu native will be responsible for the management and development of a city-wide communications and public relations effort based on the needs identified by an ad hoc committee that was formed to determine the city’s needs in this area. Other responsibilities of the media information officer include overseeing the city newsletter and press releases, updating and improving the city’s Web site and cable television content, and serving as the principal city spokesperson with media representatives.

There was initial criticism at the announced salary of a possible $90,000, but city officials said it was lower than using the PR firm Fiona Hutton and Associates, which the city hired to deal with water quality issues facing Malibu. The contract with that PR firm, which cost the city approximately $96,000 per year, expired at the end of 2010. City officials also said the salary of the media information officer would never exceed the higher amount of $83,000, plus the benefits.

As the city’s principal public representative, Damavandi will face a host of critical issues, such as the city’s water quality problems and the proposed formula retail ordinance, as well as the highly charge issue of traffic safety on Pacific Coast Highway.

However, Damavandi said she realizes the importance of how others view Malibu, and she is prepared to tackle the problem of the city’s image regarding these matters.

“The City of Malibu is a hotbed of environmental litigation and political activism that is closely watched by environmentalists, government, developers, athletes, community activists and many other interest groups,” she said. “The issues we face are a microcosm of important issues facing the world at large.”

She plans to use social media on a larger scale to help communicate with the public.

“I look forward to launching the city into the digital age,” she said.

Malibu Mayor John Sibert said of her appointment, “I think it’s great. Always when Olivia was working for [The Malibu Times] she was the best reporter you had. She was more accurate than most and if you called her on something that was wrong, she fixed it. She knows Malibu Š she’s young enough to understand all the technology we need the city to update.”

Damavandi, a Malibu native, graduated in May with a master’s degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She attended Webster Elementary School and graduated from Malibu High in 2003. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Hawaii, where she was the editor of the Hawai’i Pacific Review, a literary magazine.

She started her career at The Times in early 2008 when she became copy editor for Malibu Times Magazine and a freelance writer for both the magazine and the paper. She was hired as a staff writer for the paper in November 2008, and was promoted to assistant editor in October 2009.

Of her new job, Damavandi said, “I am grateful to the city for entrusting me with the critical task of showing the world what Malibu really is: a community with wonderful schools and residents who are passionate about local, national and international issues, especially those involving the environment.”