The Junta has Taken Control. Resistance is Futile

By Lester Tobias

On Monday night, one person, one Malibu citizen, one fifth of our only elected body in Malibu decided to impose his will on every single property owner in this town, and the remaining four fifths of the council let him get away with it.

Listening to council member Rick Mullen ram his vision of who we should be and what we should build down our throats was frightening, but not as frightening as the observed lack of meaningful participation of the four other council members.

The agenda item was an “advise and consent” charade;  Mullen came loaded for bear while the other members seemed more prepared to do their regular song and dance repartee that typically leads to a watered down, everyone loses, resolution (usually a sign that democracy has done its job).

But on this night they were outgunned (and with the mayor being Zuma Jay, that’s hard to do).  On this night, one man took the fate of all properties in Malibu into his own hands, shaped them to his will, and slammed the door on open debate. The sickest thing about it was that he seemed to really enjoy the wielding of power from his seat at the far end of the table.  He verbally patted himself on the back.  More than once. A lot, actually.

The agenda item was supposed to be a discussion of neighborhood character.  The staff report was good.  It gave the usual back story to the issue, discussed pros and cons of the various solutions, and gave the council several options to entertain that evening.   The public comments were made by the usual suspects.  Advocates for both sides had good points, as this is a growth, development, and property rights issue.  Plenty of fodder on which all advocates could feast.

Then came time for council deliberation. Before mayor Jefferson Wagner had finished the sentence, “Does anybody want to start to dig in on this?” Mullen had all ready grabbed the microphone and began what can only be described as a premeditated, self aggrandizing,  boorish diatribe on his perspective, from the dismissive “praise” he heaped on people whose opinion he obviously loathes (“To the professionals over there.  I get that you are ardent advocates for your clients. You do a dang fine job of it.  I get it.”), to his interpretation of the Malibu Vision Statement, (with his non-sensical nexus between a house the commercialization of Malibu’s natural resources), to his oft repeated “keep it simple” admonishment when any of his colleagues deigned to attempt to think through his half baked schemes.  What follows is a brief position recap of the council members.


Mullen’s position is that Malibu is about inconvenience.  Malibu is about living outdoors on large lots with small homes. Malibu is about avoidance of commercialization of its natural resources.

He said a one-size-fits all approach works, but didn’t successfully explain why.  He acknowledged the changes in Malibu, stating, “It’s not the same town anymore.” Yet he seemed to be trying to turn back the clock. So, which is it?

He discussed incremental growth versus quantum growth, acknowledging that Malibu was supposed to change over time, but that it was changing too fast.  At this point a graph showing the change over time would have been nice.  It might have proved his point.  But no graph or analysis was provided, so it was Rick’s statement, left unchallenged.

Mullen wants to “keep it simple”.

Mullen wants incremental growth.  Okay, so what is his solution?

The self described “small house guy” decided to:

Reduce the largest allowable development square footage from 11,127 square feet to 8,500 square feet, a roughly 25% decrease in size.  Now, if he had stopped there, I think it would have been a done deal.  When you tax the super wealthy, most people don’t give a shit.

But he didn’t stop there.  He cobbled together several speaker’s suggestions, to reach the position that a 25% reduction be applied to every house in town, including those that all ready just got whacked by 25%. Thank God he forgot about the pre-existing 25% whack on hillside homes, or we’d be down to about 4,300 square foot homes on five acre lots with a 25% slope (but I digress…). With that, he began to march the commission down to Waterloo. But it was a simple march, I reckon. So it was okay.

Keep it simple.  Keep it simple.


Mikke has struggled with this large house issue as a seven year member of the planning commission.  He stated that the last few years “have been different”.  It sounded like he was watching the canary start to cough and breath heavily, so he wants to get it out of the coal mine. An admirable position, to be sure. Besides, he has more standing than Mullen; his opinion is rooted in seven years in the trenches.  Mullen’s seemed to be rooted in class warfare and social engineering.

After giving the history of his position, he immediately went to work trying to generate interest for neighborhoods creating their own overlay districts where, assumedly, they would have the right to adopt their own character guidelines, reducing the allowable square footage (or leaving it alone).  But he does want to reduce the size of all buildings in Malibu as well. And he did just appoint a commissioner that presented several ways to downzone at the hearing…so there’s that…

At this point, both Mullen and Mikke had looked over at the design professionals in the room and in individual, bazaar acts of faux empathy, said that they were only doing this to provide the pros with certainty.  Umm, excuse me.  We had certainty until the planning commission decided to make shit up about a year ago. But thanks, I guess?


Karen’s position was simple, clear, understandable.  The existing codes work.  Yes, buildings are too big on the top end, but,”… if the planning commission will not respect the code, then no matter what the code is we will have problems.” Finally, someone up on the dais was willing to lay the blame where it belonged.  She also briefly touched on developing incentives for smaller homes. Smart. Obvious.  Will never happen.


Skylar’s time was spent relaying, to anyone who was still listening at this point, the process to change the code through a Zone Text Amendment.  He voiced concern with the constant tearing down of old homes and replacing them with maximum allowable square footage structures.  He correctly surmised that reducing TDSF will piss off a lot of people. He agreed with Karen’s incentive idea by proposing a quicker processing time for smaller homes.


Jefferson’s big concern is with projects that seek permit extensions for approved projects for 10, 15 20 years (the fact that he kept calling them “amendments”, with no one correcting him, was driving me nuts…).  His point is well taken, and in fact, an elimination of the extensions would go a long way to reducing the number of developer driven homes.  But of course, since it didn’t reduce the size of homes, since there was no punishment attached to it, nobody ran with it.

At this point, Mullen regained control of the free thought process, put an end to that pesky little part of democracy, and started writing code on his own, ignoring or dismissing all attempts to discuss his declarations.  In a few minutes, a blanket, one-size fits all ordinance was crafted.

Here it is.

The TDSF Graph is no longer the maximum allowable amount.  It is the “absolute” maximum amount (a new type of maximum!  It’s like finding a new galaxy!).  I thought that maximum meant absolute maximum….but what do I know, I’m just an architect, doing a dang fine job advocating for my clients…

The old maximum allowable TDSF (for lots 5 acres and larger) was 11,127 square feet.  That would now be reduced to 8,500 square feet.  So the lot size required for the absolute maximum TDSF would be about 2 1/2 acres. The remaining parcel sizes (those less than 2 1/2 acres) would have their old,  “by-right” TDSF reduced to 75% of the absolute maximum TDSF.  The only way an applicant could recapture any part of the remaining 25% would be through a modified Neighborhood Standards analysis (which will never get you there – Fun Fact!).

The planning director and city attorney, knowing that this was stupid, tried valiantly to get Mullen to simply pull the existing size graph down to 75% of its original amount, thereby leaving no confusion as to maximum TDSF.  They correctly observed that we all ready have a neighborhood standard in place for exceeding the TDSF.

Mullen would have none of it.  He said he liked the “hard cap” of 75% of the absolute maximum (WTF?).

The other members of the council spent their remaining time making sure they understood Rick’s policy so they could vote on it.  It was too late at night to think for themselves any longer.

To add insult to injury, when Bonnie explained the difficulty in ascertaining surrounding properties square footage due to inaccurate data,  Mullen’s response was that we should use the assessor’s parcel map info.  When Bonnie brought up that that would eliminate counting the basements and garages, incorrectly reducing the average TDSF, Mullen invoked his mantra for the night, “Keep it simple.  Keep it simple. That’s what I think.  Keep it simple.”

So if you were to try to prove that your house had a right to be larger than 75% of your “absolute maximum” TDSF,  Mullen has handicapped you by anywhere from 400 to 2,000 square feet, through his insistence on using the assessor’s number. “Keep it simple.  Keep it simple. Bend over.  Keep it simple.”

And, if I understand all that went down Monday night, if you were originally allowed to build 11,127 square feet because you are on a 5 acre parcel, you actually got a first whack to 8,500 square feet, then you got another 25% whack to 6,375 square feet.

The final act of comedic code writing occurred in the struggle to deal with applicants “in the pipeline”.  It was like the commercial where the one guy on the phone is asking for “Frog” insurance and the agent on the other end of the line is selling ‘fraud” insurance.

“Do you have frog insurance?”

“Yes.  We have fraud insurance.”

“Frog insurance?”

“Fraud Insurance.”



“Great! I think we’re on the same page….”

Mullen asked about “pipeline” projects.  Bonnie and Christie responded referencing “complete applications”.  Complete applications are those projects which have essentially been approved by all agencies, are having their staff reports written up, and are merely awaiting their hearing date.  This is not what most people think of when referring to projects “in the pipeline”. Pipeline projects are basically submitted projects where the applicant has provided the various agencies with all reasonable documents and fees for those agencies to perform their reviews.

It can take six months to a year to submit these packets, and it can cost several hundred thousands of dollars to get to that point.  But unless you are ready to be approved, according to Bonnie and Christie, you would go back to square one.

Mullen: “What about projects in the pipeline?”

Bonnie: “We typically grandfather complete applications.”

Christie: “I like the complete application as the bright line because, you know, you need a bright line.”

Mullen: “Okay, so we’ve taken care of the guys in the pipeline.  Next?”

Frog. Fraud.  Frog.  Fraud.


Planning Staff will write up an ordinance that will go to the planning commission (the guys who started this whole thing….). The commission will mess around with it and send it back to the city council for adoption.  The entire process will probably take at least 6 months.  My estimate.

Stay tuned to “Building in the ‘Bu” and “The Local Malibu”.  This is a big fucking deal and everyone needs to know that Rick Mullen are coming for your home.

It’s what’s best for you.

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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