City manager looks back on 2022 as a year of many transitions

City Manager Steve McClary. Photo courtesy the City of Malibu.

Looking back: 2022 a year of many transitions for Malibu

By Steve McClary

Malibu City Manager

In preparation for this article, I took some time looking back at everything that occurred in Malibu in 2022. My head hasn’t stopped spinning! 2022 was certainly a year of many transitions. Here is my take on some, but certainly not all, of the significant milestones and events for Malibu this year past. 

In January, the City Council continued the long-standing effort to separate from the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (a process ironically called “unification”) by presenting a counteroffer to the school district. After several months of challenging negotiation, the city and school district announced in October that they had agreed to a non-binding framework for a deal that would permit Malibu schools to seek to separate and form their own district. The coming year should see additional steps taken to bring this concept of separation toward fruition. 

February saw Councilmembers Paul Grisanti and Bruce Silverstein re-elected to mayor and mayor pro tem, respectively, for consecutive terms. The council reorganized again in December following the election of Marianne Riggins and Doug Stewart to the City Council, choosing Silverstein as mayor and Councilmember Steve Uhring as mayor pro tem. The council also said goodbye in December to Councilmembers Karen Farrer and Mikke Pierson, who both served four years on the City Council and did not seek re-election.

The implementation of Malibu Dark Skies moved ahead in 2022, with the City Council approving changes to the ordinance in February and then again in August to make modifications to address service station light trespass. In April, the city hired a lighting consultant to assist the city with implementation, and staff conducted a series of public workshops to help residents and businesses come into compliance. The ordinance took effect in October for residential and commercial zones and the staff continues to address compliance issues. 

To address a long-standing issue with illegally parked vehicles in the summer and lack of an available location for a daytime tow yard, the City Council authorized a temporary Day Use Impound Lot on city property near the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) and Heathercliff Drive. The lot operated successfully from Memorial Day until Labor Day weekends. The city will reconsider a location for 2023 as this site was temporary. 

Efforts to address persons experiencing homeless continued in 2022. In 2021, the city experienced a significant number of emergency calls related to fires started by homeless persons in and around Malibu. This year, that number dropped considerably due to efforts to clear out illegal camps and other measures. The 2022 count of 81 persons experiencing homelessness in Malibu was a significant drop from previous years’ counts. (There were 239 counted in 2020.) The city’s Homelessness Task Force continues to work diligently on recommendations to address the matter, including the procurement of temporary shelter beds outside the city.

In June, contracts were approved for studies necessary to complete work for Phase II of the city’s wastewater treatment facility. The city continues to work with the state on options for Phase II, and we expect several key decisions to be made in 2023 on this important project. 

In another boost to local education, the City Council approved the Malibu High School and Middle School specific plan in July, and later approved the demolition of the Juan Cabrillo campus as the first phase toward the construction of the new school complex. 

The City Council approved a balanced budget in June for the 2022-23 fiscal year. The city continues to enjoy better than projected revenues, and the spending plan continues the priority of keeping the city’s general fund reserve high enough to maintain the highest possible bond rating for the city. The budget allocated funds to add several full-time positions to help support City Hall operations, and increased wages by 7 percent across the board to address inflation. The budget addressed several other needs related to personnel and staffing, including funding a compensation study to see how well Malibu stacks up compared to other nearby cities. We have also hired a consultant team to analyze the city’s planning development processes; that effort has just been launched and will continue through the first half of 2023. The council further approved funding in November to immediately hire additional planning consultants to help the Planning Department address its current workload. 

In August, a city ordinance that would have required short-term rentals to have an on-site host was rejected by the California Coastal Commission, which cited a shortage of accommodations in Malibu and the assumption that fewer persons would use STRs if hosted, as reasons why the commission could not support the plan. The City Council will be re-examining the issue in 2023 and is expected to discuss the matter early this year. 

Following the horrific school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, the city and school district formed a school safety ad hoc committee in August to look at solutions to address safety and security in Malibu schools. The city later hired Guidepost Solutions to perform a comprehensive school safety assessment. That assessment is currently underway and will be completed in 2023.

Another long-standing issue, banning the use of rodenticides and pesticides in Malibu, took a step forward with the City Council adopting the city’s new and stricter pesticide policy in October. The policy is aimed at stopping the use of rodenticides (and other harmful substances used in pest management) in order to protect wildlife and the environment. 

Malibu marked its Annual Day of Preparedness on Nov. 9. This date commemorates the 2018 Woolsey Fire and encourages residents to ensure they are prepared for the next wildfire or natural disaster. Being prepared for the next natural disaster remains one of the city’s top goals, as does rebuilding from Woolsey. On fire rebuilds, 507 of the affected parcels have submitted a rebuild application. To date, 249 permits have been issued for single family dwellings, and 116 of those are completed. For multifamily buildings, permits have been issued for 18 units, and 12 are completed. 

For the November ballot, the City Council approved placing a Transactions and Use (TUT) tax measure before the voters. The measure, which was approved, increases the sales tax in Malibu by 0.5 percent beginning in April 2023. The tax measure is expected to generate about $3 million in annual general fund revenue to the city. As a general tax, the monies are not restricted to a specific use. 

The city hired special legal counsel to help it oppose two matters which have the potential to impact wildfire safety in Malibu. One, the County of Los Angeles surprised Malibu with plans to move serious juvenile offenders to the low-security Camp Kilpatrick, located in the Santa Monica Mountains just north of Malibu. The camp was significantly damaged in the Woolsey Fire and the city has sent letters to the county objecting to the transfer of these youths until more is known about the plan and more is done to address security and fire safety concerns. Two, the city continues to oppose plans by the county to allow low-impact camping in environmentally sensitive areas in the Santa Monica Mountains. Both issues will continue to garner city attention in 2023, as will the plans announced by the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority (MRCA) to develop campsites at Malibu Bluffs and Ramirez Canyon Park. 

In the fall, the city adopted an urgency ordinance and directed staff to obtain waivers to facilitate the temporary location of the Farmers Market in Legacy Park. The market needs to temporarily relocate as its footprint is impacted by the continuing construction of the new Santa Monica College campus on Civic Center Way. Construction of the college is nearing completion, with classes anticipated to start in the spring. An upcoming dedication for the college is being planned — watch for an announcement for that.

The year came to a close with the City Council approving an ad hoc committee to explore potential acquisition of the “Edge” properties. These three substantial properties are currently undeveloped, and the City Council is eager to ensure they are protected from any development.  

The year was certainly not without its setbacks, however. Traffic and pedestrian safety on PCH remain as high a concern as ever. We saw too many persons lose their lives on the highway this year, and we are going to have to work with all our public safety partners if we expect to make any real improvements. While we look forward to benefits of projects such as the Traffic Signal Synchronization in 2023, we know that it will take much more to turn around this dangerous trend for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians on PCH. 

City Hall saw several key personnel changes over the year, with the departures of Assistant City Manager Lisa Soghor, Community Services Director Jesse Bobbett and Deputy City Manager Elizabeth Shavelson, among others. We welcomed Joe Toney as Assistant City Manager, and the city is currently recruiting to fill the other two positions. Ruthie Quinto, the city Treasurer, aptly served as the interim Assistant City Manager in between Lisa and Joe and continues to serve as treasurer. The city also said goodbye to Interim City Attorney John Cotti, who was replaced in the position by longtime Assistant City Attorney (and now Interim City Attorney) Trevor Rusin. In May, I was formally appointed permanent City Manager after serving one year as the interim.

Throughout the year, the pandemic continued its ebb and flow. One day, we thought we were heading out of it, and the next, we felt the dread of what seemed like its inevitable return. We celebrated the dropping case numbers in the spring as more persons got vaccinated, held an in person (yet outdoors) State of the City event with Malibu Chamber of Commerce, and a single, in-person City Council meeting in May, and then went back to remote meetings over ongoing concerns with transmission of the virus. The City Council will take up the issue of returning to in-person meetings at its first meeting of the new year on Jan. 12.

Looking back over 2022, I am proud of everything that Malibu has accomplished this year. We are often so busy it’s easy to forget to stop and take note of that. I want to thank the members of the City Council both current and past for their guidance and passion, the tireless and dedicated city staff for getting all this done, and the amazing Malibu community for your support in 2022. There is no reason to think we cannot achieve even more in 2023. Malibu’s future is bright and will remain so if continue to work together vigilantly and mindfully in 2023 and years to come.