Councilmember Farrer faces accusations of malfeasance

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With a few interesting topics on the agenda, and 23 speakers signed up to voice their concerns, the last Malibu City Council meeting on July 11 lasted nearly nine hours. From fire rebuilds to school safety, public comment participation has increased weekly. 

While meetings have remained virtual throughout all departments due to the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the public are still given the opportunity to speak through Zoom. Public comment may be restricted to the items on the agenda. Each speaker is limited to three minutes. Although no action may be taken, the council and staff will follow up, at an appropriate time, on those items needing response. According to the city website, it is not guaranteed that all who request to speak can be accommodated.

During last week’s meeting, a video compilation was shown during public comment in collaboration from residents in response to Councilmember Karen Farrer and “Rebuild Option No. 4.”

Option 4 consists of a Planning Verification Woolsey Fire (PVWF) approval for in-kind plus 10 percent rebuild of the destroyed structure with a subsequent Administrative Plan Review Woolsey Fire (APRWF) application or APRWF with Site Plan Review to add more than 10 percent square footage, for properties located outside of the appeal jurisdiction of the CCC.

During the public comment Public Works commissioner Jo Drummond and residents presented a video during public comment claiming that despite code violations, Farrer’s project was approved. 

“It also proves the favoritism granted to Farrer with all these concessions (despite code violations) and the fast-tracking of her rebuild,” Drummond said in an email to The Malibu Times. “This video is a collaboration from residents (put together by me) in response to Councilmember Farrer’s complete deflection last month. Firstly, she, her husband who is a licensed contractor, and her architect are not following the Local Implementation Program of Malibu’s city codes — they should have professionally known — and secondly, not taking any responsibility for codes she voted on and codes she violated over and over again.” 

Drummond said the house was over the 10 percent height limitation in the rebuild codes, over the 10 percent square footage limitation required for an exemption, avoided the coastal development process completely after being deemed in environmentally sensitive habitat, and avoided any penalties or delays with a code violation for building the second story before permits were in place. 

“Recently the public works commission also made a motion to add major telecommunications projects to the annual work plan and have City Council approve this as it states right in the code that the PWC has the right to make decisions on telecommunications,” Drummond said. “This all came about because of the non-scrutiny that allowed the huge and hideous SMC college tower to proceed.”

Drummond said a staff member took the Santa Monica college tower out of the City Council agenda without notifying the commission and it is not on the work plan now. 

“These are the devious things being done in the back room of City Hall and [we] need two new candidates in November’s election to make sure this doesn’t continuously happen and to stop things that keep sliding through the planning department with ease,” Drummond said. “I have also brought this up with the new city manager and hope he can do something about this as well.”

In response, Farrer said to refer to her remarks during the Malibu City Council meeting on June 13. Her remarks begin at 2:31:32.

Since this item was not on the agenda at the June 13 City Council meeting, nearly 16 speakers called to voice their concerns on the subject, along with Woolsey Fire rebuilds and approvals.

During that meeting, Farrer responded to the accusations from community members regarding city developments and approvals, and Option 4, and explained how she and her family came to purchase the property in question that was initially put on the market in November 2017, a year before the fire. 

Farrer further explained that her family purchased the land with the intent that her daughter would move home to Malibu with her family. 

“We [Farrer and her family] have been falsely accused of getting special treatment by the city on permits and approvals,” Farrer said. “Our submissions were prepared by our architect; we paid all fees, we got in line with the other applicants, no favors were sought, none were provided.”

Farrer didn’t respond nor deny anything in the video and stated it was political, yet no candidate has yet declared they are running.

“Obviously we’re in campaign season; we can only assume with the comments tonight that they’re politically motivated by somebody who has aspirations to be on the ballot,” Farrer said during the meeting.

While virtual meetings have been convenient for city staff and members of the public to attend in the comfort of their home or office, the loss of interpersonal interactions has made it difficult for members of the public to express their concerns. 

Malibu resident and regular public speaker Bill Sampson was asked to not speak about a certain item on the agenda during the City Council meeting on May 11 and was interrupted before explaining he was not addressing that item. 

“​​Mr. Grisanti interrupted me while I had the floor and I had explicitly stated I was not addressing the library issue but was addressing a lobbying without registration issue,” Sampson said in an email to The Malibu Times. “It is my opinion that Mr. Grisanti attempted to silence me in order to illegitimately defend his political supporter, Ms. Rosenthal. He accused me of speaking on an agenda topic when I said I was not and while I was not doing so.”

Grisanti said time is available for any items that are not on the agenda.

“There is no requirement that the comments be rational, truthful, or productive,” Grisanti said. “If a member of the public wants to use their time to expose themselves to derision, legal liability, or economic ruin, there is no way to prevent it that I am aware of.”

As for how long meetings can last, Grisanti said the only limitation on the length of the meeting is the endurance of the staff and council. Grisanti said they do have a policy that requires a vote to start any item after 10:30 p.m. 

In regards to the Malibu Library Set Aside Fund for Fiscal Year 2022-23, to rescind approval of the $500,000 endowment for the Los Angeles County Library Foundation, Grisanti said the City received a letter from Sky Patrick, who heads the County Library System, withdrawing the county’s support for the donation. 

“As a formality, the item was continued to a future meeting so the public comment can be heard, but the item is dead,” Grisanti said.

The July 25 meeting is canceled, with the next City Council meeting scheduled for Aug. 8 at 6:30 p.m. Location to be determined.