Residents raise concern in regards to Woolsey Fire rebuilds

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The Malibu City Council met virtually on Monday for the first time since May 23, and addressed the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2022-23, provided an update on the Woosley fire rebuilds and addressed community concerns with the California Coastal Commission’s response to the Woolsey Fire Rebuild Option 4 among other agenda items. 

The City Council addressed two items in closed session, one being the anticipated litigation involving a claim from Jo Drummond against the City of Malibu dated Jan 24. The council voted 5-0 to reject the claim and directed the city attorney to send correspondence stating as such. 

Since this item was not on the agenda, nearly 16 speakers called to speak during public comment on the subject, along with Woolsey fire rebuilds and approvals during public comment on non-agenda items.  

The topic came up following last week’s news that the California Coastal Commission (CCC) recently contacted the city of Malibu, stating that it considered the city’s “Rebuild option No. 4” to be inconsistent with the city’s Local Coastal Program (LCP). CCC requested that the city remove the option from the city’s rebuild website, MalibuRebuilds.org, until the matter is resolved. 

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.

Drummond, who was mentioned as the claimant in the anticipated litigation against the city, addressed this issue during public comment stating “…on May 25, 2022, the California Coastal Commission code enforcement office notified the city to cease the city’s practice of granting secondary exemption for Woosely fire rebuilds because doing so violates the adopted Malibu local implementation and our local coastal plan and thus the coastal act.” 

Drummond continued, “…two council members, one of which did hear and make decisions on fire rebuild codes, questions these planned much-larger homes that were previously there and why they were not going to the Planning Commission for approval and the public receiving due notice. Their questions were never answered; however, the council member who actually voted on those fire rebuild codes and knew the intention was not to create any loopholes to incentivize larger home rebuilds after the fire, actually circumvented the codes that she signed off on in her own burn-out purchase and rebuild in over 40 percent larger in size. 

“I would like [Councilmember] Karen Farrer to answer what she was thinking in trying to get away with going against the codes, that she helped put in place, for her own personal benefit. Why did you jump ahead of actual fire victims who were just trying to complete one-to-one builds? Your extra square footage was more than quadruple what the law allowed — 10 percent…” 

Several additional callers addressed the possible mishandling of the council and the city with rebuilds along with addressing Drummond directly and the CCC notice.

One resident, Heather Alfano, addressed her frustration with the rebuilding process, stating, “we are in the midst of a housing crisis here in California; the rent is exorbitant; we are on a very strict timeline currently —our family personally — to try and finish our home before our displacement money has been completely used up. It has been three and a half years since the fire with more than 500 homes burned, and I believe only 82 have been rebuilt; that’s embarrassing and a travesty. The rebuilding process has not been expedited or made easy by the city. Our family only received our final permits six months ago, three years after we lost our home. 

“I know of multiple high-end projects that were able to get their permits in a much more expedient manner, and they were not fire rebuilds, but they were paying full pop. So please ask yourself are you holding true to keeping the fire victims at the top of the priority list? Please help us get back to our home and stop impeding this process. I just want my kids to be able to walk to the elementary school we live a block away from; that dream is already lost for my firstborn; I have hope for the next two.” 

Farrer responded to the accusations from community members regarding city developments and approvals and Option 4. 

Farrer 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. It went back on the market after the fire, as a package, land, plans, and planning approval already completed to make it more attractive for buyers. Farrer stated that in February 2019, the council unanimously passed motions to address Woolsey fire rebuilds, then noted that it was not until 18 months later, in September 2020, that her family purchased the land in question 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 went on to ask several questions about Option 4, which Assistant Planning Director Adrian Fernandez answered, one being that there are currently 26 projects on hold due to the letter from the CCC staff. 

The email from the CCC addressed the question that was sent to them by Drummond, which was requesting clarification on the purchase of Farrer’s property she purchased with her family under option 4. Farrer went on to ask several other questions even though city attorney John Cotti advised her not to because it was not on the agenda. 

Grisanti weighed in on the Woolsey fire rebuilds.

“Right now there are 344 sets of plans that have been approved by planning; of those, 234 have permit issues, and of the 234, 82 are finished, so there are still 152 active permits that our people have to inspect and our inspectors are working very hard,” Grisanti said. “That’s still leaves the 470 that burned, [and] that leaves 130 that have not done much of anything.”

City Manager Steve McClary provided an update on the increase in COVID-19 cases, the Malibu Public Facility meeting, and a meeting that was organized between the city, the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Department and the school district to discuss safety in school. 

Sheriff’s Capt. Jennifer Seetoo said they had a meeting with the council and school district to address ways to improve security and safety in the Malibu schools and within the community in response to the Uvalde, Texas, school massacre. Seetoo said there has been an increase in police presence.

“It does not mean that we had any threats to the schools at all, it was just merely after an incident that’s normal practice we do put additional personnel at school but also for large events such as the graduations,” Seetoo said. “We have deputies attend those graduations and provide high visibility patrol.” 

Grisanti asked Seetoo if she can address the incident that occurred on Friday at the Point Dume Speedway gas station on Pacific Coast Highway. A suspect held the clerk at gunpoint and tried to rob the gas station. He shot the employee on the scene and fled in a red Land Rover Discovery and abandoned his vehicle at Mastro’s Restaurant. Seetoo said major crimes are investigating the incident.

Councilmember Steve Uhring asked Seetoo if the beach team was increased or decreased for the summer patrol. Malibu Liaison Lt. Chad Watters addressed the question stating they have experienced a high increase in supervisor overtime, but enforcement still remains the same.

Interim Assistant City Manager Ruthie Quinto presented the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2022-2023 with the resolutions for the appropriations limits, authorized positions, salaries, and job descriptions. Quinto presented the proposed budget at the May 23 meeting and said the council would need to approve the budget by June 13.

Quinto said the General Fund revenues are driven primarily by property, sales and transient tax and represent 62 percent of the total general fund revenues. To see the full proposed budget visit item 4a on the City of Malibu’s website (malibucity. the full agenda.

Public Director Rob DuBoux presented the 2022 Engineering and Traffic Survey. The survey is performed every seven years and evaluates city streets, with 46 locations being evaluated. DuBoux said out of the 46 locations, 11 segments are recommended to be lowered. Locations such as Civic Center Way, Dume Drive, and Encinal Canyon Road will be lowered. To see the new speed limits, watch the City Council Meeting at 4:54:52 on Youtube

The Short-Term Rental Ordinance was one of the last items, but because the meeting ended late, Councilmember Bruce Silverstein recommended continuing the discussion at another meeting.

“It’s time to stand up for our residents and support the law that we’ve always had that coastal gave us 30 years ago that says residential neighborhoods are for residents,” Silverstein said. 

Silverstein proposed a motion to decline the Coastal Commission staff’s invitation to further weaken the ordinance, explain to the staff that the hosted ordinance increases the availability of short term rentals in Malibu and begin enforcing stricter zoning laws that prohibit short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods.

Grisanti seconded the motion and the motion passed.

Council quickly addressed item 7A and motioned to push items 7B and 7C to the next meeting since the meeting ended late.

In further regards to “Rebuild Option 4,” anyone working on a rebuild project with questions or concerns about how this may affect their project is encouraged to contact the Rebuild Team for one-on-one assistance at (310) 456-2489, ext. 385 or Ashah@malibucity.org. 

Reporting by Samantha Bravo and Hayley Mattson.