Get to know our city commissioners: Suzanne Guldimann

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Suzanne Guldimann. Contributed photo.

This multi-talented Renaissance woman is also a Parks & Recreation Commissioner

Lifelong Malibu resident Suzanne Guldimann cares deeply about the environment, and can instantly identify almost any local animal, bird, and wildflower — even down to the snakes and spiders. Being a naturalist is an asset when it comes to being on the Parks & Rec Commission and deciding how to best manage and preserve the city’s nature parks — especially the 532-acre Charmleee Wilderness Park with its hiking trails and nature center.

After the Woolsey Fire reduced over 100,000 acres of the Santa Monica Mountains to a barren moonscape in November 2018, Suzanne documented nature’s recovery by taking over 10,000 photos of plants and animals as they re-grew and returned in upper Zuma and Trancas Canyons and other parts of the Santa Monica Mountains. She then shared her observations and images of life renewing itself over the eight months after the fire at a standing-room-only “Life in the Burn Zone” talk at the King Gillette Ranch Visitor Center.

Suzanne “grew up in a family of activists” dedicated to saving Malibu from over-development. Back in the day, her father, in particular, worked hard to support the Coastal Act, create the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, push for Malibu cityhood, and squash a large proposed boat marina at Paradise Cove “that would’ve turned Malibu into Marina del Rey.”

“I saw a lot of the history of Malibu unfolding in our living room where they held meetings,” she said. “My father worked hard along with a group of ordinary people; and they really accomplished a lot by working together and pushing back against some things that would’ve really changed this community.”

She has written two historical photo-filled books about Malibu — “Life in Malibu” (2018) and “Life in Malibu II” (2021) as well as numerous newspaper articles on interesting events in local history, going all the way back to the original Chumash residents and first homesteaders. She’s currently working on a new book about wildlife in the Santa Monica Mountains, expected to be out in time for the holidays, and is also writing her first novel, “The Coastwatchers,” set in Malibu during World War II.

A long-time Celtic harpist, Guldimann has always been fascinated by early and traditional harp music, and has written a number of music books for the small (lap) harp.

With a Master’s degree in fine art, Suzanne has also been successful as a book illustrator and theatrical designer, and last year published a “2023 Life in Malibu” wall calendar featuring her depictions of life along the Malibu coast.

Guldimann was a writer/reporter for the Malibu Surfside News for many years, and an associate editor of the Messenger Mountain News in Topanga. She is currently editor and resident naturalist for the Topanga New Times, and a board member of the Topanga Historical Society. 

Here is our Q&A:

Q. Why were you interested in serving on the Parks & Rec Commission?

A. I believe we’re far better off as the City of Malibu than we were under county control, despite the challenges we continually face as a community. I know, because I had a front-row seat for the fight against the county and the claustrophobic future that was planned for Malibu — one with 180,000 people crammed in high-rise apartment buildings, with a six-lane freeway running right through the heart of the community and a Marina Del Rey-style harbor in place of what is now a legendary surfing beach and a marine protected area. No matter where any of us stand on the issues today, nobody wanted that future and we were able to avert it. Serving on the Parks and Rec Commission is a way for me to give back to a place that I love. I bring my background as an environmentalist and naturalist and my knowledge of Malibu’s history to the commission. It is important to remember how we got here as we move forward. Very few communities have the kind of ecological resources our city has, so I’m honored to be able to have a role in the stewardship of those assets. 

Q. What all do you hope the commission accomplishes during your term?

A. I just have one year left, but I feel that we have made good progress during the seven years I’ve served this commission. It’s been a tough ride. I served through the heartbreak of the Woolsey Fire and the uncertainty of the Coronavirus pandemic, but I had the opportunity to help with some important projects, including implementing the earth-friendly management program, planning, designing, and making the temporary skatepark a reality, installing shade structures at Bluffs Park, wildlife cameras at Charmlee and Legacy, and making suggestions for the restoration of Charmlee Wilderness Park in the aftermath of the Woolsey Fire. It’s been a joy to participate in the rehabilitation of Legacy Park. After a rocky start, it is becoming a robust habitat that supports an increasing number of plant and wildlife species—not bad for a stormwater runoff facility. We even played host to a rare white-faced ibis this winter at Legacy, a bird that is rarely seen in this area. 

I’ve watched our staff become more aware and knowledgeable about our environmental resources. Our former director didn’t know what an oak tree was when he arrived and was astonished to learn we have owls in Malibu. We have a really good team right now who not only know we have owls but also appreciate them and the ecology that supports them. We’re waiting for what will be the third community services director during my tenure. I’m hoping the city will make a wise and farsighted choice. 

Our current commission works well together and has a lot of good ideas. We are all on board with finding the resources to build a community aquatic facility, and we all agree that it is important to make sure that the facilities the city does commit to are environmentally sensitive, are practical and useful, and have the potential to serve the needs of the community. I look forward to seeing the permanent skatepark become a reality. I would also like to find a way to use the city’s library set-aside funds to create a multigenerational community center with library services. That’s not something that can be accomplished in the year I have left on the commission, but it is a seed that can be planted. Our seniors need a permanent space where they can have their classes and activities. As our city grows there is less and less space for the seniors at City Hall. They have lost almost all of the resources they were initially promised. A community center would offer the space they need, plus room for children’s and youth classes and activities and community events for all ages.

Q. Do you think the city will ever pass the Poison Free Malibu policies?

A. Yes I do. Government often moves at a frustratingly slow pace, but this City Council is unanimously committed to passing the ordinance. I know the item is supposed to come back to council soon. Unincorporated Los Angeles County already has a poison-free policy and so far it is working well. We can do this, and I am optimistic that the legislature will eventually pass a statewide law. We need it, urgently.

Q. Do you spend much time in our parks or have any favorites?

A. I love Charmlee Wilderness Park. The Chumash archeological record goes back more than 10,000 years— that’s the end of the last ice age, when civilization was just starting to emerge in Europe and the Middle East. It has rare plants and animals, incredible ocean views, and more than 500 acres of solitude and beauty. It is a treasure beyond price. I was appalled when a previous City Council gave it away, saddened when it burned in the Woolsey Fire, and incredibly grateful to have the park back again. Malibu Community Services staff is doing an amazing job. The contractors who restored the trails were excellent, the park is clean, loved, and cared for, and the biodiversity that makes it such a special place is recovering from the damage done by Woolsey. Charmlee is close to my heart, but I love the view of the ocean from Bluffs Park, and watching the birds at Legacy. Trancas Field is a small treasure that is home to many rarely seen residents: ground bees, king snakes, and even a long-tailed weasel or two, and Los Flores Canyon Park offers a welcome opportunity to stretch one’s legs on the homeward drive, or enjoy a moment of tranquility when traffic is bad on PCH. No matter what the community decides to do with the city’s undeveloped property, I hope we will incorporate walking paths and native plant and wildlife habitat. We already have resources unlike any other community anywhere, and we have the potential to do more while still meeting our needs for recreational and civic facilities.

Q. Is there anything else you’d like to share in terms of future Parks & Rec plans?

A. I would like to see the City Council find a way to buy back the parts of the Ioki and Heathercliff properties that were bought with transportation bond money. Being able to use those extra acres for community resources instead of parking lots would be a tremendous asset for the community. Instead of a sea of asphalt we could have gardens, multi-use fields — a lot more green space for the next generation. I also want to make sure that the Ioki property keeps its name and that we don’t forget the Japanese-American family who lived there and the sacrifices they made. Our history is important. I am grateful to have had this opportunity to serve our community on the commission and look forward to seeing what grows from the seeds that we have worked together to plant.