The people of Malibu face similar challenges today to those the Rindge family faced 120 years ago: to preserve this beautiful and unusual location; to meet the challenges of outside government agencies trying to exert influence; to prevent people camping in the hills from starting brush fires; to mitigate the destructive forces of over-development; to live in the topographical challenges of this coastal area where the mountains and canyons meet the sea; and to deal with the impact of many people wanting to come out and see the area for themselves. It was similar for the Chumash before them adjusting to the impact of the Portuguese and Spanish explorers on their once-idyllic lives. It is a recurring theme of struggle against change that has manifested itself in stopping both the 101 Freeway being built along the coast in the late 1950s, the nuclear power plant slated for Corral Beach in 1963 and the later very successful conservation efforts in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Our challenges today in preserving Malibu seem to be increasing in mass and complexity. Technology has increased the velocity of changes, with the smartphone alerting people via YouTube and social media posts to beaches like El Matador that were previously rarely visited and has made short-term rentals a highly profitable enterprise that injects visitors directly into the fabric of neighborhoods and communities. Highly profitable drug rehabs charge outlandish fees for questionable results. Federal court decisions resulting in an army of RV-borne squatters on PCH, along with the rise of the homeless and allegedly conservation-oriented agencies like the MRCA, are destroying the properties they have acquired through their intensity of public-access use along with neighborhoods and communities they seem hell-bent on guiding these visitors into and through. These are a few of today’s challenges facing Malibu’s elected leaders, in addition to the risks of large brush fires.
Yet, as daunting as these challenges are, there is reason to be hopeful as we look back over the last 125 years and consider some of the noteworthy things that have been done and understand the big challenges that our predecessors faced. The Rindge family actually constructed their own railroad as a countermeasure to the government imposing one on them. They identified federal regulations that said the government could not impose a railroad where one already existed. They built a railroad! This was one family. That is a monumental undertaking and was effective in achieving its goal and their protective railroad has disappeared.
The conservation accomplishment in the Santa Monica Mountains of the late 1960s and early 1970s is another impressive achievement. In the late 1960s, the LA County Department of Regional Planning was anticipating up to 300,000 people living in the area known as Malibu which included much of the Santa Monica Mountains. Former Los Angeles-based developers seeking cheaper land and undeveloped areas had come out here and were readying their plans. But these plans were largely halted by the very successful conservation efforts by private citizens and government officials and agencies working together. In many places, the Santa Monica Mountains are frozen in time, circa 1965. The efforts to stop plans for the 101 Freeway going along the coast and the nuclear power plant on Corral Beach as well as achieving cityhood itself are equally monumental achievements. All of these actions by our predecessors have a scale of achievement equal to or greater than the challenges we face today and show that individuals and organizations working together can make a difference. Those accomplishments, which have shaped what Malibu is today and have helped to preserve what is unique about our town, should instill confidence that we can handle some of the current massive forces acting on our small coastal home.
Malibu owes an immense debt to the efforts of one family, the Rindge family, that spent its own money in an effort to preserve this area we live in. Frederick Hastings Rindge loved his beautiful Rancho Malibu but, after his death, these efforts were shouldered by his widow May Rindge, who was country girl from a simple Midwestern family farm background. Today, Malibu is an extended family of residents. The city’s vision statement tells us: “The people of Malibu are a responsible custodian of the area’s natural resources for present and future generations.”
We are all the “responsible custodians” of Malibu mentioned in the vision statement. Your responsibility is to choose someone for city council whom you trust to uphold the impressive legacy of our predecessors. Choose wisely.