With an unprecedented focus on wildfire prevention across California due to record high temperatures, and in the wake of the worst wildfire in modern LA County history—the Woolsey Fire of 2018—the City of Malibu is looking to arm itself against one major wildfire risk: homeless encampments.
Though the majority of large wildfires in recent years have occurred due to issues associated with power poles and powerlines, the risks associated with people camping out in dry brush have inspired city council to move forward a proposal that would allow officials to arrest anyone who refuses to vacate brush areas of Malibu during Red Flag Warnings—periods of especially dry, windy weather.
Malibu recently experienced three full days under a Red Flag Warning, but details as to how many such warnings are issued for the Malibu area annually were not available in the city-prepared staff report.
“Unauthorized camping or dwelling in brush areas within the [Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone] increases the risk of wildfire and poses a serious threat to public safety,” according to the report prepared for the Monday, Oct. 14, Malibu City Council meeting. “The proposed ordinance bans camping and other unauthorized activity in those sections of the Zone closed to the public for reasons of fire safety. Entry in these areas is deemed a trespass and law enforcement is authorized to give verbal notice of a violation to persons found therein and to evacuate (or arrest) those who refuse to vacate.”
All of Malibu has been designated by Cal Fire to be part of the Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone.
According to Public Safety Manager Susan Dueñas, a similar resolution was recently passed in the City of Los Angeles, giving Malibu more confidence on its palatability. She added that this was not meant to impose punishments on Malibu’s homeless population.
“We don’t want to come off like we’re trying to criminalize homelessness and punish people who have nowhere else to be,” Dueñas explained.
The ordinance was supported by all five council members, with some conversation about the legality of the measure.
When asked about legal challenges, City Attorney Christi Hogin said she did not anticipate an issue.
“Certainly, we’re not going to implement it in a way that’s illegal or unconstitutional, that’s the goal,” Hogin said.
“I think it’s a necessary step in the right direction,” Mayor Pro Tem Mikke Pierson said, thanking city staff for bringing the item forward.
There was some question as to how best to enact the rule but no clear determination was reached.
The ordinance will be formally adopted at a future meeting.
District-based election proposal fizzles
A proposal to explore the possibility of moving Malibu toward district-based council elections arrived DOA on Monday evening.
The idea, initially presented by Council Member Skylar Peak, requested the consideration of dividing Malibu into five districts, each district electing one representative, rather than the current at-large system.
Currently, four out of five council members represent areas west of Malibu Canyon Road: one lives in the Civic Center area, two in Point Dume, one in Ramirez Canyon and one in Malibu West.
Despite some support from members of the public—many from the historically underrepresented eastern half of Malibu—no council member seemed interested in taking up the banner.
Malibu-based attorney Kevin Shenkman, who has worked on several voting-rights cases, including one in neighboring Santa Monica, spoke to defend the idea, claiming it would “bring Malibu’s city council elections into the 21st century.”
Shenkman added there was a clear contrast between Malibu residents imploring Santa Monica for district-based elections for school board seats while denying a similar measure in Malibu municipal elections.
“The view by LACOE [Los Angeles County Office of Education] ... will be ... that It’s simply hypocrisy—not necessarily that it is, but that’s how it’ll be viewed,” Shenkman warned council.
In response, longtime planning commissioner John Mazza also spoke, telling council, “We don’t have a barrio, OK?”
Council appeared to agree, stating the vast majority of Malibu issues are shared among the whole population. Two council members reflected on the many Malibu neighborhoods they’ve called home for the past decades.
“I don’t think this is the right time to do this. It might be in the future,” Mayor Karen Farrer said. But, Farrer added, it is not a priority, what with everything else the city has to consider.
“The city’s maxed out in capacity, in the workload and in the budget,” Farrer said. “I just think this is the wrong time for us to go this way.”