Mayor pro-tem Steve Uhring plans to introduce motion to dissolve new City Council ad-hoc committee

Photo by Samantha Bravo/TMT.

The ‘Development Services Ad Hoc Committee’ was formed just last month to oversee Planning Department consultants 

For more than 20 years, the City of Malibu’s Planning Department has been a source of frustration for many residents in Malibu who want to construct or renovate any type of building.

In a local Oct. 6 presentation, land use consultant Don Schmitz reported current wait times that average 2.3 years for a single-family home in Malibu. (Not counting time spent on design, application prep, Coastal Commission, and appeals, which bring the average total time up to 4.3 years). 

According to Schmitz, other coastal cities do it in one-tenth the time: Santa Cruz takes 3.4 months, Capitola 2.5 months, and Newport Beach three to four months. The California average is 2.3 to 3.4 months.

Due to these delays, which Schmitz reported as “unprecedented in the state of California,” the city manager and City Council decided to bring in consultants to study the Planning Department and its processes, policies, employees and “customers,” to identify the bottlenecks.

At the Nov. 28 City Council meeting, council voted 3-2 to authorize the mayor to execute the Professional Services Agreement with Baker Tilly US, LLP for Comprehensive Development Services Review; appropriating $80,850 from the General Fund Undesignated Reserve. Uhring and Silverstein were the ‘no’ votes — Silverstein wanted to delay the decision until the next council meeting, and Uhring wrote that he voted no because “as the Council meeting progressed, the upcoming relationship between Baker Tilly and the council remained confused.”

Uhring said at the time he wanted City Council to participate in regularly scheduled status update meetings with the consultants. City Manager Steve McClary responded that he hadn’t anticipated that request, but would ask the consultants to “figure out a check-in procedure.” 

Baker Tilly Consultant Jay Trevino added that “we’d be happy to have ad hoc meetings with council.”

After that City Council meeting, Steve McClary told The Malibu Times that “We spoke to Baker Tilly US and they agreed to provide monthly status reports to the City Council. Staff has been providing those reports.”

Further, the city manager stated that, “Consultants’ contracts are typically administered by staff; the City Council voted against forming an ad hoc and approved the contract as is on Nov. 28. Therefore, no, there was no anticipation at the time of contract approval that the City Council would want direct involvement. Subsequently, the City Council formed the ad hoc committee in January.”

At the City Council meeting on Jan. 9; when various subcommittees were being formed for the year. Mayor Pro Tem Steve Uhring, followed up on his November request by making a motion to form an ad hoc subcommittee to meet regularly with the Planning Department consultants. 

“I’d like to make sure we know what they’re doing, and give an oversight, and make sure they’re on track,” he stated. Council voted unanimously to approve it, with Uhring and Councilmember Marianne Riggins volunteering to serve on the committee. 

A month later, at the City Council meeting on Feb. 13, Uhring expressed his dissatisfaction with how the ad hoc committee was being treated, and read a prepared statement:

“When the city announced they were commissioning a study of our permitting process, I applauded. The mayor and I had previously recommended a similar solution to the city manager.

“I believed that to arrive at the correct answer, the consultants would need to learn how Malibu works as a city, a municipal government and a community. It’s a lot of work but I thought … it was certainly an achievable objective…

“All that changed this week when I received an email from the consultant informing me that the city manager had negotiated an agreement that restricted any oversight by the city council or any city council subcommittee. In the words of the consultant, ‘We rarely work with a city council subcommittee and a subcommittee interface was not spelled out in the city’s request for a proposal…’ 

 “It seems to me that even though we thought Reva Feldman had gone, she may be sneaking back in disguised as [city manager] Steve McClary…[I was] totally blindsided by this … 

“I’ve spent the last 30-plus days in a fruitless attempt to get our subcommittee working. I’ve had two-hour meetings with the city manager and assistant city manager that went absolutely nowhere. The consultants were preparing a survey and I requested to see a draft, and I was told ‘no, you can’t do that.’

(In response to The Malibu Times questions, Uhring expanded on why he felt the meetings went nowhere: “At a meeting in late January, the assistant city manager began reciting the consultant’s scope of work from a document … and I was consistently told that [City Council] oversight wasn’t going to happen … The list of planning department ‘customers’ to be interviewed seemed heavily weighted with architects and expediters; and I recommended adding residents I knew that had interacted with the city on a rebuild … As best I can tell, none of my recommendations were acted upon … After the meeting, I wrote to a Baker Tilly managing director to see if common ground could be found that would allow both their consultants and our subcommittee to do their jobs. Once again, the answer was ‘no.’”)

“One of my objectives for the subcommittee was to keep the council informed of progress. The consultant told me not to worry because they provide written progress reports. Just so you get an idea, the conclusion of their December progress report was ‘Baker Kelly is pleased to be working with you on this important engagement. We’re confident we will provide a thorough analysis as we move forward.’ It’s not exactly educational in terms of helping the City Council…

“I’m getting calls from residents and city staff asking me what’s going on and I have no idea…Next [city council meeting], I’ll forward a motion to dissolve this subcommittee.”

Riggins responded, “I’m disappointed in the assertion that there’s some type of inappropriate behavior by our city manager with regards to the consultant, and I think that warrants an apology to him. With regards to the meetings … they have taken some suggestions from us and incorporated those, and we need to allow this to go a little bit farther. If Mayor Pro Tem Uhring wants to step down, we can see if one of the other members wants to step in … but I don’t think dissolving it is appropriate at this time.”

The service contract voted on by the council in November did not say anything regarding a “restriction” of oversight by the City Council or City Council subcommittee. It didn’t mention the city council at all other than to say that City Councilmembers could be interviewed individually by the consultants for a $4,700 fee. 

With a somewhat different take than the city manager, Uhring responded to The Malibu Times that, “Historically, Malibu contracts do not include a requirement that specifies that the contract party needs to work with the City Council. Despite that, cooperation between the contractor and the council has always been in play. In this contract, it became clear that cooperation was a problem, so I argued for confirmation that the council would have the appropriate oversight role on this important project … I believe that one of the responsibilities of the City Council is to oversee the effectiveness of programs initiated by the city,” Uhring continued.