Six candidates for City Council sound off in friendly forum

From fire mitigation practices to short-term rentals to the mansionization of Malibu, the six candidates vying for two open city council seats faced a barrage of questions during a friendly two-and-a-half-hour virtual forum on Oct. 8 hosted by the Lowe Rambla Pacifico Road Association. 

When asked about controlled burns, mandatory evacuations, and the practice of “fire following” by local brigades, there was some consensus on one of the biggest issues facing Malibu, and that is wildfire.  

Marianne Riggins said she “absolutely” supports citizen fire training for neighborhoods. “What they have in Malibu West is remarkable.” As for staying behind during a fire evacuation, Riggins commented, “I’m fearful of people who are untrained. I’ve stayed behind in fires; I’ve left in fires.” The lifelong Malibu resident agreed with the other candidates that staying behind is a personal decision based on safety. And on controlled burns, Riggins said, “They’re one of many tools that can be used. They have merit when done safely.”

“I think fire front following is an excellent concept. It takes training,” said Doug Stewart, who has been trained and has equipment. “Unfortunately, this last fire, we taught a lot of people that the only way to save your house is to stay behind, and that’s wrong. It’s risky. We’re going to lose people. We need to encourage people to follow the evacuation unless they’re prepared to stay. I think it’s a bad idea for many people to stay behind and thinking they’re just going to work their way through a horrific fire. As far as controlled burns, they’re essential.”  

Bill Sampson said he would listen to fire professionals on prescribed burns. In his more than four decades as a Malibu resident, Sampson says he’s vacillated many times on whether to stay or evacuate. Next time, “I probably won’t stay,” he said. “There was nobody with Malibu skin in the game that was here that had any power during Woolsey. That’s a serious problem. They don’t know us. They don’t appreciate us. We need a Malibu fire czar, and we should chopper in the city manager and city council to City Hall, get ‘em here unless their house is in danger.”

“Controlled burns work. Mapping shows where the fire will go,” said Ryan Embree. He advocates for state partners to clear brush on neighboring lands that interface with the city. We have to be proactive with a prescribed burn. There’s a federal component. We need a wildfire management program and have it certified every year.”

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Jimy Tallal is also a proponent of prescribed burns. She hopes a previously canceled burn in eastern Malibu will happen since “we all know that’s the area that will burn next because it hasn’t burned in almost 30 years.” On evacuating, Tallal said, “We know there’s going to be limited fire department response. We should let people decide whether or not they want to evacuate. It’s a personal choice.” Tallal supports local fire brigade training.

Hap Henry would like to see more prescribed burns as well as other means of brush clearance. “I would like a more coordinated effort of Malibu leadership gathering together to direct and respond to the next wildfire, which was not the case during Woolsey. If elected, I would like to be a part of having a centralized response center where city leadership is gathered. At the same time, it’s a spur of the moment decision, and I might be inclined to stay if that’s the best option of saving our home. Henry has been working with his Point Dume neighborhood to boost fire mitigation efforts and has CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) training.

Asked about the difficulty in fire rebuilds and if regulations should be relaxed, Embree responded, “Why would Malibu want substandard brand-new housing stock that doesn’t meet fire code?” 

On the growth of Malibu, Steward commented, “I don’t think anyone here is pro-development. That’s just a canard that gets thrown out there to try and separate people that have similar views.”

On short-term rentals, Henry said they were out of hand. “We need to put a cap on the number of days people are able to rent their house out on a short-term basis. That will accomplish the goal of driving out corporations that are buying homes and completely selling out the character of our neighborhoods.”

To speed fire rebuilds, Sampson pledged, if elected to let those homes in the 10-percent category be “first in line for city services in planning and building.”

Tallal said she wants to focus on prohibiting overnight camping and short-term rentals but said, “I don’t think anything is going to get solved until we all learn to work together, and I think that’s actually the biggest challenge.”

Riggins agreed, saying, “We are lacking community togetherness that we really need. As a council, we need to set the tone and show that we are a team. We need to project that to the county supervisors, the Coastal Commission, Mountains Recreation, and the State of California.”

The link to the forum to view in its entirety is available on The Malibu Times website by searching Eastern Malibu Candidate Forum. 

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