City Council members, residents debate over Malibu Library set aside funds

The Malibu City Council returned from hosting their first in-person meeting on May 9 since March 2020, to meeting again through Zoom. The May 23 meeting proceeded without Malibu Mayor Paul Grisanti and Mayor Pro Tem Bruce Silverstein due to a scheduling conflict.

The council discussed the 2021-22 fiscal year third-quarter financial report, proposed budget for 22-23, and potential tax measures. During the meeting, multiple attendees struggled with the internet connection during public comment.

The most debatable item on the agenda was the Malibu Library Set Aside Fund for Fiscal Year 2022-2023. Councilmembers Karen Farrer and Steve Uhring disagreed with approving the additional $500,000 

Every year, Los Angeles County sets aside the difference between the property tax dollars apportioned to the County Library from property within the city and the Malibu Library expenses into a designated fund. As of June 30, 2021, the Set Aside Fund totaled approximately $14.1 million to be used solely to improve Malibu Library facilities and services.

Due to the pandemic’s extended impact on library activities and staffing challenges, most of the allocations that the City Council approved for certain positions and programs in Fiscal Year 2021-2022 have not been expended. Some positions were unfilled, and several programs were put on hold during the pandemic. As the library returns to pre-pandemic service levels, expenditures will increase. For example, the Malibu Library Speaker Series was put on hold during the pandemic and recently resumed. 

The Malibu Library Speaker Series held its first virtual event in November 2021 and then its first in-person event since the start of the pandemic on April 7. The Malibu Library’s hours, which were decreased during the pandemic, were increased to 60 hours on Feb. 14. In addition, the County Library paused its Management Fellow Program, funded at $140,000 annually, during the pandemic and has no plans to continue the program. Malibu’s unused allocations remain in the county’s Malibu Library Set Aside Fund for programming in future fiscal years.

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On April 20, the City Council Malibu Library Subcommittee met to consider the use of the Fiscal Year 2022-2023 Library Set Aside Funds. At the meeting, the subcommittee requested that representatives from the LA County Library Foundation, Boys & Girls Club of Malibu and Malibu High School submit written funding requests for additional Malibu Library Set Aside Funds to be used for library-eligible purposes. The written proposals include $500,000 to support the establishment of an endowment for the LA County Library Foundation and $25,000 to support the Boys & Girls Club of Malibu.

Uhring strongly opposed the approval and asked the department and subcommittee what the funds will be used for.

“We gave $300,000 to the library foundation a couple years ago, so we made our contribution,” he said. “My sense is we have this list of projects that we want to get done that aren’t done. If we’re going to spend the money, let’s spend it on the residents of Malibu — that’s their money. So I would vote against this.”

Farrer addressed the benefits of literacy and how the Malibu Library resources are important to the community. 

“We live in a world-class county and I believe that the thing to do to improve the greater good, which will also improve things in Malibu, is to do this endowment and let this fund generate,” she said.

Farrer motioned and Councilmember Mikke Pierson seconded to approve the library requested funds. Uhring voted against the motion. Motion carried.

The council also introduced Malibu’s new captain, Jennifer Seetoo, during the meeting. Seetoo originally arrived at the Lost Hills station on Nov. 4, 2018, and was promoted to acting captain the following day. Seetoo was transferred from the Lost Hills station near Agoura Hills to the West Hollywood station after she was denied promotion in 2019. Seetoo was well-liked in the Malibu community and highly visible at nearby events.

“I am so happy to be back and work with you all again,” Seetoo said. “I’m looking forward to meeting with each of you to understand what’s changed in the last couple of years and see what we can do to partner together.”

Lt. Chad Watters provided an update and said vehicle burglaries and assaults have increased while speeding and collisions have been steady with the extra patrol. 

City Manager Steve McClary provided an update on code enforcements and reported 28 citations have been made in the month of May for the use of leaf blowers. McClary said in terms of returning to in-person meetings, while the numbers are not spiking, positive COVID tests and hospitalizations rates have increased. McClary mentioned the facemask requirement for public transit and transit stations due to increased cases in worksites.

McClary also introduced new Assistant City Manager Joseph Toney.

“I’m happy to be here, looking forward to supporting you and the city team and helping serve our community and implement this council’s policy directive,” Toney said.

Interim Assistant City Manager Ruthie Quinto provided an update and hearing on the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2022-2023. The council would need to adopt the budget by June 13.

McClary said the budget includes a focus on public safety, Woolsey fire recovery and continued focus on the school district separation. The budget also states its critical alignment to achieve the city’s mission, staffing, technology, and protection of natural and cultural resources. 

The general fund expenditures have increased $1.5 million for management and administration. In regards to public safety, the contract with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department includes a $9.3 million in operations, $900,000 in beach team, a 1.45 percent increase of $84,000 over prior year and 21.5 percent of city’s annual operating budget. The new sheriff’s substation scheduled to open on July 2, 2023, could add $4 million to the city’s sheriff’s contract.

Community Service Director Jesse Bobbett presented the budget for the community service department and its budget increase of $400,000. The increase includes the resumption of programs to pre-pandemic levels, senior center reopening, special events resuming, additional surf camps and skate programs. The Arts Commission is also requesting $55,000 for program expansion and would require additional staff support; the $55,000 is not currently in the proposed budget. The chart also included Malibu Bluffs Park improvements as well as the Michael Landon Center, major ball fields irrigation and safety boulders. 

Public Works Director Rob DuBoux presented the capital improvements projects for construction and said there will be an increase of $700,000. DuBoux said the department has decreased $300,000 for street maintenance for storm response. The 16 projects in construction will cost approximately $33.3 million. Four projects that are under design will cost approximately $1 million. Eight new projects will cost $740,000. The city will also continue to pursue state and federal infrastructure funding for the Civic Center Water Treatment Facility Phase 2 and will return to City Council. 

Environmental Sustainability Director Yolonda Bundy provided an update on the Environmental Sustainability Department overview proposed budget 2022-2023 and work plan. Bundy said the new work plan will improve workflow, project turnaround time and improve communication. 

Planning Director Richard Mollica provided an update on the planning projects, inspections, and phases. There are currently 1,970 planning projects and 544 active projects. Mollica provided the proposed budget summary for Fiscal Year 2022-2023 of $3,989,307, which includes planning and code enforcement.

Quinto said the general fund grant recommendation totaled to $200,000 for 2022-2023. The Administration and Finance Subcommittee recommended grants to 26 organizations.

Public Works Commissioner Jo Drummond recommended the council to wait to approve the proposal to have a full council present. 

Deputy City Manager Elizabeth Shavelson provided a report on potential tax measures requested by the City Council and direct staff to bring back resolutions to submit the question to the voters, setting priorities for arguments and rebuttals, and directing the City Attorney to prepare an impartial analysis.

On April 25, staff provided the council with information on the three potential tax measures it had identified. Council discussed the information presented and directed staff to bring back more information regarding the following measures:

1) a Transient Occupancy Tax Measure

2) a 0.5 percent Transaction and Use Tax Measure

3) the process to become a Charter City so that the city can implement a Documentary Transfer Tax

The city is authorized to levy a transient occupancy tax (TOT) upon the privilege of occupancy in any hotel, motel or other lodging. The operator is responsible for collecting the taxes owed and remitting them to the city.

On Jan. 1, 2021, the city’s TOT rate was increased to 15 percent. As part of the Nov. 3, 2020 General Municipal Election, Malibu voters approved Measure T, increasing the city’s TOT rate from 12 percent to 15 percent. The city receives TOT from six hotel/motel properties, one RV park and the short-term rental of numerous residential properties. The city currently has issued approximately 205 active short-term rental permits.

In Fiscal Year 2020-2021, the city received $2.6 million in TOT from hotels and motels and $5.4 million in TOT from private rentals. This was due to an increase from the very low levels during the pandemic as well the 3 percent increase in the city’s TOT rate. In Fiscal Year 2021-2022, the city is projected to receive approximately $2.8 million for hotels and motels and $5 million from private rentals. Future TOT revenues from private rentals may be significantly impacted by the anticipated Hosted Short-Term Rental Ordinance. Preliminary loss estimates are $2 million to $3 million.

To view the May 23 City Council meeting and agenda visit, malibucity.org/virtualmeeting..

Samantha Bravo
Samantha Bravo
Samantha Bravo is an inspiring photojournalist based in Los Angeles California. She began her journalism career at Pierce College Media Arts Department. Twitter @samanthavbravo

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