Attorney Bruce Lee Silverstein has been a Malibu resident for nine years and said he previously had no interest in becoming involved in city politics, but is campaigning to reform City Hall.
This is an abridged version of a much longer Q&A. We encourage our readers to read the text, in full, here.
In five words or less, what is the theme of your campaign?
Safety, environment, fiscal responsibility
OK. Tell me about your history in Malibu and what prepares you to take on this role.
I’ve lived in Malibu for approximately nine years. I had no intention, when I moved here, of being active in city politics whatsoever. For the majority of time I lived here, I wasn’t. I was incensed at how little I perceived the city government to be doing to help residents who lost their homes [in the Woolsey Fire]. I began to look at all kinds of other things the city government was doing and became increasingly frustrated by what I perceived to be a city council I view to be fairly ceremonial. I practiced law for over 30 years in the corporate law arena. I know how to think out of the box and get solutions to problems people think are insurmountable. The city council has no member who’s a lawyer ... I think it is essential that there be someone on that council that understands the law. It’s not enough that they have a city attorney. They need an actual decision-maker who has legal knowledge who can challenge the city attorney when the city attorney isn’t necessarily giving 100 percent accurate advice ... I’m doing it out of civic obligation, not because I personally want to be doing this.
Why do you think [that is]? Is there something specific to Malibu?
It’s my impression the residents of Malibu, for the most part, elect their friends to city council. The city is really run by the city manager and it shouldn’t be.
It’s generally acknowledged in Malibu that the Woolsey Fire and its response were mishandled. Who do you think was responsible for that and how would you prevent those same mistakes in the next fire?
It’s easy to say that the fire department ... did not handle the fire appropriately ... Malibu did not and still does not have a well-publicized and effective evacuation plan. It’s shocking to me that, two years after the fire, we still don’t have that. If there is and I don’t know about it, that’s a bigger problem. [The plan] should be staring me in the face.
On your website you mentioned something about your own legal volunteer efforts to help after the fire. Do you want to tell me a little bit about that?
Days after the fire, advertisements started swamping Malibu for lawyers ... They were there to solicit business ... [Fire victims] were being basically sold, under high pressure circumstances, a product at a high ... contingency rate. I thought that was offensive and it needed to stop. If we could get enough residents together, we could use collective bargaining and get a major discount. [Now] over 100 residents of the city are being represented at a 21 percent rate by a good firm. I believe that as a result of these efforts ... those clients, collectively, will probably save many tens of millions of dollars, if not in excess of hundreds of millions of dollars, in attorney’s fees.
Reforming City Hall is something that you’ve said you’d prioritize during your term on council. You wrote that “in the past, you pressed city council to exert greater authority over the city manager and staff.” Specifically, what did that pressure look like and did any results come of that?
No results have come of it because the city council doesn’t perceive a need for reform. If you look at the résumés and who is endorsing many of the other candidates, I guarantee you that if many of them are elected, there will be no reform because they’re backed by “the establishment” ... The short-term rental ordinance, which city council directed the city manager and the city attorney to put together a long, long time ago, is still floating around because they just didn’t do what they were directed to do. I believe, despite the fact there are some city council members who claim otherwise, that the reason for the foot dragging is because the city manager does not want the short-term rental ordinance because it will reduce taxes ... I have [also] been hearing rumors for years about corruption, about bribery, about kickbacks. I like to presume goodwill. I often think people don’t do a good job because they’re just not capable. I don’t tend to believe people don’t do a good job because they’re purposely doing the wrong thing. I’ve heard too many rumors to ignore them. Not pre-judge them, but take a look.
Voices in town are calling on you to pledge to fire certain staff members, namely [City Manager] Reva Feldman, if you’re elected. Is that something you’re willing to pledge to do?
With some reluctance, I actually did agree to it.
Really interesting year to run, especially because of COVID. Campaigning looks completely different.
Any candidate that’s out there meeting with people, even socially-distanced, I think is disqualified off the bat from running. I really believe that. They’re demonstrating a lack of concern for the health and safety of the people they’re campaigning to.
What do you think is the No. 1 issue facing Malibu today? We’ve talked about short-term rentals, we’ve talked about crime, talked about the environment. If you could pick one—and what would you do in your first year in office to tackle it?
They’re all important. You can’t create a hierarchy of critically important issues ... Which ones are capable of being addressed on day one? ... The government reform-type things can be done day one. If I were elected and if two other reform-minded candidates were elected, we can have an agenda at the very first city council meeting ... I have identified a number of very concrete initiatives but none of them can be done overnight.