Building in the Bu – An Open Letter to Supervisor Sheila Kuehl

Our resident pitbull with building and planning (even more so after the Woolsey Fire!), Architect Lester Tobias, sends an open letter to Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

Dear Supervisor Kuehl,

I watched the live stream of last night’s Gillette Ranch meeting. It left me completely unsatisfied as to obtaining useful information on actual policy, events, timelines and likelihood’s of how we in Malibu are going to put our town back together.

The presentations were fine. Good bedside manner was exhibited by all involved. Unfortunately Fire Chief Daryl Osby was not present, as he is the guy scaring us the most. Until we get some sense that he will work with those in our community who cannot meet the current fire code’s water and access requirements (you know, the requirements that did not save any homes on November 9th), many of us will live in a state of fear that we will ultimately be run out of town by a bureaucrat who, to date has shown no compassion whatsoever to our plight, or any ability to effectively fight a fire even with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of access PER PARCEL that homeowners have been reluctantly installing and paying for lo theses many years.

The attempt to clarify the debris removal policy was ineffective. The gentleman from Public Works was either deliberately obfuscating the truth or he didn’t understand the policy himself (where was CAL OES?). Here are the pertinent questions that perhaps can be answered on Sunday at Pepperdine:

1. Why is there such pressure for homeowners still reeling from the disaster to sign their property access and full insurance limits away to the state in the next two weeks? This deadline is exacerbated by the holidays which will be upon us in a matter of days, not weeks or months. WE NEED UNTIL THE END OF JANUARY, 2019 TO MAKE AN INFORMED DECISION. It was not clear what timeline was extended last night. It needs to be the decision to opt in, as opposed any of the other deadlines in the program.

2. Realizing that some parcels are basically uninsured for this removal, and will have those services provided LITERALLY FOR FREE by the State, why are the parcels that are either somewhat, adequately, or heavily insured by their homeowner’s policies CHARGED THE FULL EXTENT OF THEIR AVAILABLE COVERAGE? It would seem to me that either everyone pays or everyone gets it free. You must explain AND DEFEND this approach on Sunday at Pepperdine.

3. Who is responsible for this seemingly ill conceived approach, where the State is basically contracting with what appears to be a no bid, single entity to test, remove and retest 500 homes in a few month’s time? Why are there no real metrics being provided on actual costs for this work? Why is there no real understanding of the available insurance pool of funds for reimbursement? In my business (architecture and construction) that kind of deal means that either there is a huge windfall for the people providing the services (and they know it), or everyone else in the state or the nation is on the hook for any shortfalls that the contractors might incur. Can you say “sweetheart deal”?

4. Why is there such a “bulls in a china shop” policy with regard to this opt in effort? Have you yourself read the policy? If you do decide to read it, would you take this option, especially if you had adequate insurance?

The State of California owes it to the people on whom they are basically forcing a service to FULLY AND COMPLETELY EXPLAIN THIS SERVICE TO THOSE PEOPLE.

The next issue that was glossed over at last night’s meeting was this notion from the County Building Department that everyone will get to rebuild “what they had”. The comment that since building permits go back to the 1930’s everyone should be able to obtain their home’s permit history is laughable in a Malibu context.

Every home in Malibu built prior to 1994 is non-conforming and has a very spotty permit record. In addition, county assessors’ square footage records are always undersized when compared to building permit sizes, as the two agencies use different methods of calculations. And finally, the inability of the City of Malibu to implement a fair and timely permit process has led to twenty five years of un-permitted work that basically complies with both zoning and building codes. The local architects have come up with a fair process for determining a structure’s baseline square footage. Why haven’t we been consulted on this matter, when we are the ones who for 25 years or more have been in the trenches dealing with both an onerous zoning code and a completely inept review process?

Next, please have someone at the Pepperdine meeting who can give us a timeline and other answers on the following milestones:

1. The selection of, hiring, and start date of the private code firm, and the name of that firm.

2. Where will they be located? Will their commencement of duties be delayed by the preparation of their space? If so, why?

3. Will this be a true one stop shop where planning, structural plan check, grading and environmental health (as a partial list of agencies) be performed by this one company in this one location?

4. How long with the complete permit review take? Obviously the straight like for like will be faster than the 10% additions and those requiring special dispensation, but it seems like someone can figure that out. This is important because unlike business as usual, most people are on limited insurance timeframes so everyone needs to be advised as to the regulatory process and timeframe.

And finally, will you please tell Reva Feldman that the people of Malibu want her to know the following:

1. She is the City Manager.

2. She is in charge.

3. When something goes wrong, it is her fault.

4. To those of us who lost everything and are trying to get our homes and lives back on track, she looks like a deer in the headlights who doesn’t give a crap doubt about us.

Thank you for your time and all your personal efforts on behalf of our city.


Lester Tobias

Cece Woods

The Current Report Editor in Chief Cece Woods started The Local Malibu, an activism based platform in 2014. The publication was instrumental in the success of pro-preservation ballot measures and seating five top vote-getters in the Malibu City Council elections.

During the summer of 2018, Woods exposed the two-year law enforcement cover-up in the Malibu Creek State Park Shootings, and a few short months later provided the most comprehensive local news coverage during the Woolsey Fire attracting over one million hits across her social media platforms.

Since 2020, Woods was the only journalist reporting on the on-going public corruption involving former L.A. Metro CEO Phil Washington. Woods worked with Political Corruption expert Adam Loew, DC Watchdog organizations and leaders in the Capitol exposing Washington which ultimately led to the withdrawal of his nomination to head the FAA.

Woods also founded Malibu based 90265 Magazine and Cali Mag devoted to the authentic southern California lifestyle.

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