Editor’s Note – This is an open letter to Malibu City Council written by resident, Emmy award winning documentary filmmaker, and contributing journalist Paul Taublieb regarding the City Manager’s review taking place tomorrow at City Hall at 10 a.m.
Resident participation is vitally important and if you cannot attend in person to participate in public comment, please send your correspondence to city council by 12 pm tomorrow, November 12th, 2019. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org,
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Dear Malibu City Council,
Regrettably, I am not able to attend the meeting in person (late season south swell – in Mex!). I am not sure, btw, who felt 10 a.m. after a holiday weekend was the optimum time? Along with coinciding roughly with the open-ore of our one year-anniversary of the Woolsey Fire, but both items feel, anyway, to echo the city’s and in particular, the city manager’s disconnect from the community. And while I asked the city attorney to confirm it was the city manager who picked this both inopportune and insensitive timing, I have not heard back (Christi, you listening? Any reason you didn’t respond to my email with this question?), but I am told by a councilperson it was Reva who selected the date and time.
But I do want to echo resident and local journalist Sam Hall-Kaplan’s highly-qualified analysis. As he notes, he knows whereof he speaks as a truly knowledgeable person in the sphere of city government, along with being a treasure to a community which he has been kind enough to shine his light of insight.
“And beyond her indefensible failures as City Manager during the disaster, has been her muddled management in the year since. This has included the city’s plodding rebuild efforts, the contradictory handling of the Airbnb quandary, the questionable leasing of land in the Civic Center to the SCE, the absolving of any responsibility for a dangerous PCH, and the questionable use of consultants in the face of a bloated bureaucracy that continues to be padded.” –Sam Hall Kaplan to City Council on November 10th, 2019
I will, however, add a few comments which hopefully you will take into consideration. If the past is prelude, then most likely decisions have been made in private deliberation, but one can hope. And perhaps the council people will come out of whatever grip or thrall they are being held in, with the knowledge they are going against the desires of many. This will most certainly reflect on their standing in the community, and when they run for re-election. They may get pats on the head from certain interests, but I suspect not from the rank and file who are their neighbors.
As most of you know, unlike Sam, I have no background or expertise in the ways of city governance. I do, however, have a small knack of gathering data and learning, hopefully modulated by common sense and some old fashioned journalistic instincts and experience. Whatever opinions I have they are the result of what I’ve learned and personally experienced, not coming from any per-conceived notions as I can confess that prior to the fire and all that followed, I barely knew where city hall was, let alone grappling with who ran or city, or what obligations or expectations the citizenry could reasonably expect.
But I can say now, that given our form of government is a “weak mayor/strong city manager”. It’s clear there have been dramatic shortcomings in performance, and given this form of government, the only logical conclusion is the “strong city manager” has failed in her duties and meeting the expectations of the community. (There is a discussion to be had on another day on changing this to a “strong mayor,” but that will have to wait).
But let me digress (I am wordy, if anything, I confess). In order to solve any problem, as all of you know, the first and maybe most important step is acknowledging the problem. And the problem we have, from the mouth of the city manager herself, is that she thinks and apparently believes she did a “great” and “fantastic” job during and after the fire. She even put herself up for, and received, an award – albeit one from a group on which she serves on the board of, which kind of tells you a lot.
So while our city manager considers the 5+ hours to evacuate the city a “great success,” — again her words — while someone more knowledeable than her or I, veteran LA Fire Chief Tony Imbrenda called it “A near disaster, total mismanagement and very nearly a highway of death.” As someone who stood on PCH and saw a wall of flames descending over the hill above Zumirez, and traffic locked heading south. In many places, cars up against rows of trees seeming poised to catch fire and engulf the stranded motorists, all the while two northbound lanes lay quiet, empty, unused. Only by the grace of a last-minute wind change was a fiery holocaust avoided. My own eyes and thoughts find themselves agreeing with Chief Imprenda, not a City Manager trying to paint a rosy, successful picture. Or as she might put it, don’t believe your lying eyes. (If you need a reminder of how the city manager tried to explain the problems of the city’s response by saying she had a very busy week the week leading int other the fire – yes, that was the cornerstone of her excuse – you can read about that and a lot more
But you’ve already very, very likely read it. And most likely, almost a handful of you five are willing to look past it all and vote yea.
You see the core of the problem? See, she can’t admit it was a near disaster as that would be disastrous to how she sees herself and her job performance. And I empathize with her – no doubt she does many managerial things quite well – but one is tested when one is tested, and it is in the hot furnace that we must be judged. Not when things are easy, but when they are hard. And when things were hard, she failed us – and worse, now, either won’t publicly admit it, or even worse, isn’t even being honest with herself.
And then the other rub. The horrendous mismanagement of the re-population. Again, her words: “The city had no obligation to anyone who stayed behind,” which was echoed in my interview, I need to add, by council member Sklyar Peak. As far as both of them were concerned, doing anything for the thousand or so people who stayed and fought and per the latest, non-governmental report, should be treated as heroes for the countless homes they saved, were, as has been widely reported and I experienced, were treated like criminals.
Has there been contrition? No. The opposite. Read her responses the Management Partners report, one she actually was unhappy with, more mealy-mouthed excuses and no self culpability. There were 53 recommendations in that report, virtually all of them should have — and could have — been addressed before the fire. They weren’t then, and despite her attempt to amend the document after the “final” was submitted (to no fanfare, as it remained critical of her), most aren’t now.
You see, if you’re determined to believe you did a great job, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that is not the case, then how can you effectively change things so the past is not prelude the next time fire (or other disaster) visits Malibu. If the CERT containers weren’t filled with the proper supplies, and the CERT volunteers weren’t able to even activate, who if not the City Manager is responsible? The buck has to stop somewhere, and in our “strong city manager” form of government, there is no ambiguity here.
I would also like to share most recent article with you. but here’s all you need to know: the sheriff said the city could and should have responded to the recent blackout in the Heathercliff/Paradise Cove/Latigo area. But instead, the public servant was both incompetent in not fulfilling her duties as well as being. I would happily take competent and snide, but in the case of this individual, we net neither competency or civilized manners or acting in a respectful, professional manner.
And to think that right now we STILL don’t have an evacuation plan in place? Really.
BTW, Jefferson Wagner and an associate actually wrote up the beginning of a plan and submitted it to the city where it was discarded, and nothing final has been generated and shared with the public. Fire chief Imprenda (not me, not editor-in-chief Cece Woods, not Sam Hall Kaplan) said it was an egregious failing of the city and the system as a whole that the northbound lanes of PCH were not opened to fleeing southbound traffic, or least one lane. There still is no plan for this today, at least as far has been publicly disseminated.
Council members – here is where you say amongst yourselves that I’m naive and don’t understand the complexities of inter agency planning. You probably murmur to each other that I don’t know all that’s going on behind-the-scenes, and maybe even how much Reva is doing to solve this. But while I may be ignorant, ok, maybe naive, I nonetheless find it entirely, wholly and totally unacceptable that a plan is not in place as we dance around another red flag warning few days. At the very least, where is our city manager and YOU GUYS screaming from the rooftops this needs to happen NOW?
In conclusion, let me put it this way. Have you ever stayed too long at a party? You know, people are still there but you realize it’s just a tad past the time go to? I think that’s where we are. If one doesn’t learn from their past mistakes — which starts by admitting and owning them – then you are doomed to repeat them. Sometimes it’s just best to leave the party, move on, go to next. Not only a contract extension but also a raise? Huh? Really? Asking for it when you know it will be difficult for the community you say you serve and love to come and comment? Doing it in the shadow of dark anniversary?
Leadership requires people to believe in you, and shows you understand people. And while yes, she may have the support of some, by most accounts, it’s clearly not the majority of locals. (Didn’t something like 4000 people sign a petition to remove her right after the fire?) So it’s time to move on. Yes, a pain to find someone new, yes, no doubt. But at $300k a year, plus benefits, somewhere out there there is a person who will take the job and if nothing else, at a bare minimum, approach things with a fresh start.
A fire cleanses the earth. We need that in City Hall. No hard feelings. Time to move on – best for all involved.