Malibu City Council

Planning issues under discussion at a Malibu City Council meeting during January 2006.  Photographed from Malibu Public TV broadcast of the meeting.Copyright
Planning issues under discussion at a Malibu City Council meeting during January 2006. Photographed from Malibu Public TV broadcast of the meeting.

History of the Malibu City Council

The June 1990 cityhood election also selected the first Malibu City Council, individuals active in the Malibu cityhood movement. The first City Council was, in order of number of votes:

  1. Walt Keller
  2. Larry Wan
  3. Mike Caggiano
  4. Carolyn Van Horn
  5. Missy Zeitsoff

After the incorporation of the City of Malibu in 1991, it quickly became clear that there were two factions on the Council with Keller and Van Horn as a "slow growth" faction and Wan, Caggiano and Zeitsoff opposing most of their positions. However, the first election was only for two year terms for part of the council and in the 1992 election Caggiano and Zeitsoff were ousted as a new Grassroots Movement dominated the election, bringing Van Horn, Jeff Kramer, and Joan House in for full four year terms, allied with Keller. Larru Wan became Mayor in September 1991, but found himself outnumbered 4-1 and resigned.

Malibu activist John Harlow was appointed to replace Wan and Malibu had a unanimous City Council on most issues. Harlow was popular in Malibu and gained a full four year term in the 1994 election. That election was determined by the votes of newer, moderate Malibu residents as well as the long-term residents who remembered Harlow from his pre-City activist days. However, Keller narrowly lost to Jeff Jennings (who had a good showing in 1992 even though not elected). Future councilman Tom Hasse finished fourth. The resulting Council of Kramer, Van Horn, House, Harlow and Jennings was well balanced and productive for Malibu. This council created the Malibu General Plan and the zoning code among other accomplishments.

In the later elections for Malibu City Council, the basic dynamics of Malibu politics continued. The "no growth" and "slow growth" wings normally dominate, but with a shift toward the center as it became clear that merely being against development is not enough to run a city. The shift of the Malibu population toward more families with children meant greater need for public services. These any many other infrastructure issues eventually split the old coalitions.

In the election of April 2000 the "no growth" and "reasonable growth" wings were opposed over the plans for the future of roughly ninety undeveloped acres in the Malibu Civic Center. The "no growth" faction favored a plan to convert the land, in the flood plain of Malibu Creek, to a park with a 45-acre lake connected with the creek or the ocean (Van Horn, Keller and Wall). The "reasonable growth" slate (House, Kearsley, Hasse and Jennings) favored what they termed a more balanced, moderate plan of development with the Malibu Bay Company. The latter slate prevailed in a landslide, Long-time incumbents Carolyn Van Horn and Walt Keller were overwhelmingly defeated. In an unanticipated twist, Councilman Harry Barovsky died suddenly at the end of February 2000, precipitating a special election in November 2000 to fill tha seat, won by his widow, community activist Sharon Barovsky.

The next four years saw continuation of the fights over how much development, at what pace was good for Malibu. In the April 2002 election incumbent Councilmember Sharon Barovsky and Planning Commission Chair Andy Stern swamped the opposition in the race for the two seats on the Malibu City Council by almost a 2-to-1 margin in a low voter-turnout election. Only 33.2 percent of registered Malibu voters went to the polls. During the 1999-2005 period, the Council struggled with Malibu Bay Company in a series of negotiations and a ballot measure over the acquisition of the Chile Cook-Off site in the Civic Center. Although the City Council unanimously approved an agreement in late July 2003, the required measure failed in a referendum (Measure M) in the November 2003 election.

After the election of 2004, the City Council said goodbye to its longest-serving member at its meeting April 26, 2004. Joan House ended her 12-year tenure on the council with a speech in which she said she was pleased with what the council had accomplished, but that she was concerned about divisiveness in the city. Accomplishments included the passage of the General Plan and zoning ordinance, a joint-use agreement with the school district for ball fields and the high school swimming pool, the rebuilding of Kanan Dume Road, the creation of a budget reserve to protect the city when a disaster comes, the purchase of Las Flores and Trancas Park and the opening of the Senior Center.

The election of 2004 was about going forward and solving problems as a community. Councilmembers Jeff Jennings and Ken Kearsley were re-elected easily when 3,424 ballots are cast out of a pool of 8,779 registered voters, a voter turnout of 39 percent. In a surprising upset, newcomer and a virtual political unknown attorney Pamela Conley Ulich stopped former Mayor Walt Keller's comeback bid, as she edges out Keller by 69 votes.

In 2004, the Council managed to recover the option to purchase Chile Cook-Off site and 2005 was absorbed with fund raising to complete the acquisition. The mission was accomplished in December 2005, with the property in escrow and development of the site forever off limits. This Council success will have very long term impact on Malibu.

At the beginning of 2006, a new election year, the current City Council could point to accomplishments that included purchase of a portion of Bluffs Park (the property is in escrow), the purchase of the Chili Cook-Off site (the property is in escrow), the completion of a library needs assessment, an improved relationship with state agencies, a partnership with Santa Monica College, in which the two parties plan to build an educational facility and sports fields, and implementation of a sound fiscal policy for the city.

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