Newly sworn-in Mayor Karen Farrer spoke with The Malibu Times recently, addressing city preparedness, Malibu schools and other issues as she begins her nine-month tenure. Farrer was sworn into her first term in the mayor’s office in September and is expected to serve in that role through June 2020.
This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.
Have your goals changed since becoming mayor?
I don’t think they’ve changed. They’ve been strengthened, starting with the fire. One of my platforms was increased public safety and protection from fire. Two days after I was elected, the Woolsey Fire started. The very worst we hoped to prevent happened. We’re now aware of how bad things can be.
Could you have ever imagined the devastation of the Woolsey Fire?
Sadly, yes. I’ve lived here for so long and through so many fires. I’ve evacuated numerous times. I’ve seen friends, colleagues and neighbors’ homes burn.
How is Malibu better prepared for the next disaster?
The city’s done a lot since Woolsey. The budget council adopted this year named three priorities: public safety, Woolsey Fire recovery and school district separation. The city created and hired a Fire Safety Liaison Jerry Vandermeulen. He’s meeting with homeowners, HOAs, businesses and schools offering specific pointers on wildfire preparedness, home hardening and brush clearance. He’s helping the city monitor fire conditions.
We’re looking into a public address warning system that can be used during loss of electricity.
We still urge everyone to sign up for city alerts through the city website.
We’ve hired a traffic consultant to help create a custom evacuation plan.
We are looking at a zero-power communications plan. We recently had a community meeting regarding emergency points of distribution and information. We will put information stations throughout Malibu at commonly used gathering places. We’ll have information in the absence of electricity.
The city also acquired an additional 9,000 cell phone numbers for our disaster notification system. The city has numbers for almost every cell phone in Malibu. We use WEA (wireless emergency alert system). Its benefit is it sends a message to cell phones in a given area—not just to Malibu residents. It would go to anyone passing through.
The city increased the number of CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) classes. Enrollment is maxed out. We’ve quadrupled classes. I highly encourage everyone to sign up. CERT teaches basic first aid, search and rescue, and fire suppression so residents can be better prepared.
We’ve had symposiums on disaster preparedness and evacuation for seniors, people with limited mobility or disabilities.
I wanted to plug our fire safety specialist and his team are doing home inspections. You can get an assessment of your home and how to make safety improvements. Since the fire, there are neighborhoods like Malibu West and Corral Canyon that have volunteer fire brigades.
I’m personally impressed with how much the city has done that we haven’t in the past—since the fire since I was elected.
You’re known as the past president of AMPS. Your thoughts on school district separation?
We are still in negotiations with Santa Monica. That is identified as the No. 3 city priority. Rick Mullen and I are on the school separation ad-hoc committee. I appreciate the changes the school district has made to help things function more effectively. SMMUSD has divided itself into three pathways. We have a pathway director, Assistant Superintendent Isaac Burgess. He’s been a huge asset. For the first time ever there is a top-level administrator located in Malibu. His office is at the former Juan Cabrillo campus. It’s a huge improvement. We have separate facilities district advisory committees. Most importantly, we have separate bond districts. Measure M Malibu money is only able to go to schools in the Malibu area. Still, we passed a motion to continue a plan for separation with the LA County Office of Education and to continue negotiations.
What are some of your goals for the city?
To readdress solutions for the homeless—encampments and those living in vehicles. To look for solutions to affordable housing.
The last word for our readers?
Please get involved. Come to a city council meeting. Come to a cultural arts event like the Library Speaker Series or the art exhibition that just opened at City Hall. Take a city class through parks and rec or CERT training. The city offers a lot of services. I’d love to see more people use them.