The February 14 council vote was a slap in the face of everyone living in Malibu as the majority succumbed to their baser natures. Instead of elevating Mayor protem Bruce Silverstein to the position of mayor, Karen Farrer, Mikke Pearson, and Paul Grisanti re-elected Paul, breaking a long-time precedent for this ceremonial post. Everyone needs to be clear about why this occurred.
Bruce received the most votes in the last election, running on a platform of replacing then city manager, Reva Feldman. This was mainly because Reva abandoned Malibu residents during the Woosley Fire (a petition to replace her gathered 4,000 signatures) but also because many felt that Reva had a pro-development bias and often had her own agenda. But knowing she had the support of Karen, Mikke, and Paul, she refused to provide Bruce basic information he needed to do his job, information that any citizen has a right to request. The situation got ugly on both sides, spilling over into social media. Eventually, Reva departed, claiming sexual harassment and demanding a huge settlement. The City attorney investigated and found no sexual harassment. Three other attorneys were consulted, and they also said Bruce had done nothing wrong. The Council then hired an outside law firm to investigate further, and it came to the same conclusion. Yet, for some reason, the majority on the Council — Karen, Mikke, and Paul, who had always supported Reva, decided to give her a payment of $300,000 of taxpayer money, this before the law firm issued its report. They then withheld the report until recently, when public outcry caused it to be released. The report exonerated Bruce for sexual harassment, though was criticized his tone as sometimes being too harsh.
The council majority has been very critical of Bruce in public, blaming him for harassing Reva, accusing him of untrue nefarious conduct, and for creating a toxic atmosphere surrounding the departure of their friend.
Sadly Karen, Mikke, and Paul cannot put Reva’s departure in the rear mirror. They have disparaged Bruce in public. Joined by only nine speakers, the vote on the 14th only increases the division in our city. If you watch the meeting, to avoid elevating Bruce, the three predictably nominated Steve Uhring, but Steve honorably chose to follow precedent and also predictably turned down the post.
But there is a second issue brewing underneath all this. Malibu is under huge pressure by those who profit from commercial development, and by others, such as the MRCA and the Coastal Commission, whose goal is to eventually eliminate most homes on the beach, using sea-level rise models as an excuse. The pressure also emanates from MRCA, who actively uses its unlimited state-funded legal resources to beat down private citizens in the canyons in an attempt to open private neighborhoods to the public.
While Malibu’s vision statement clearly states that we want to preserve the rural character of our town and protect our unique marine and coastal resources, there is a growing gap between what Bruce and Steve see as appropriate and what the others seem to want. Perhaps more than anything, it is the appointments to the Planning Commission that tilt the scale towards development. When a Planning Commissioner like Kraig Hill was terminated by Mikke with no reason and replaced with someone more amenable to developers, one wonders about the influence certain fixers have on such appointments (Kraig was reappointed by Bruce). The same thing happened with the replacement of Georgia Goldfarb on the Arts commission on March 28 by Mikke because she had spoken at the February 14 meeting in support of following tradition and precedent. As Georgia explained, this had nothing to do with the individuals involved.
Without a united front, we will not be effective in dealing with the issues facing us. PCH has turned into a race course largely because Sacramento withdrew the CHP from patrolling our main thoroughfare, only increasing danger to residents and visitors. We must ramp up our fire prevention and home hardening, knowing that once a fire starts during a Santa Ana, it will likely race to the ocean, consuming any non-hardened home in its path. Our short-term rental ordinance is stuck at Coastal. We still struggle with school separation. Enforcement of code violations is almost non-existent, resulting in restaurant employees taking up the most scarce public parking. After three years, many Woolsey houses still haven’t gotten through the labyrinth of the City building department. Our planners are overworked and thus make mistakes. We need to hire extra planners and pay bonuses. Development projects often are granted variances, some that encroach on ESHA districts. Big commercial projects seem to sail through planning while small projects and fire rebuilds get stuck.
While I applaud anyone who puts in the long hours to serve our community, the Council’s refusing Bruce a rightfully earned ceremonial position only serves to harm our city. With the exception of the Council and Planning Commission, other commissions in the city seem to work together in harmony and, with Malibu’s great staff, in a spirit of cooperation. The Council majority needs to rise above the pettiness, put citizens first, or be replaced.
Scott Dittrich, Malibu