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Malibu city staff, council members and attorneys meet via Zoom on January 25

The new Malibu City Council is slowly ticking off a growing list of items that are stacking up amid long, contentious hearings.

At its Monday, Jan. 25, meeting, council addressed two planning commission appeals and appointed members to the A&F subcommittee—and also scheduled another meeting for Thursday, Jan. 28, in order to work through a growing list of items that are stacking up early in the new year. 

The Monday meeting—only the second of the new council—had a calmer tone than the Jan. 11 meeting. While there were still the usual public comments supporting Council Member Bruce Silverstein and slamming City Manager Reva Feldman, as well as the usual comments doing the exact opposite, most of those came from the public, not the council members themselves. Silverstein also apologized for his conduct at the prior meeting, saying that while his “side of the street” was not “clean,” he was not alone.

“I’m hoping we can all be in a better place this week,” Silverstein said.

The council heard two planning appeals, one of which was a contentious dispute among neighbors over a Woolsey rebuild. Finally, just after midnight, council appointed Mayor Mikke Pierson and Council Member Steve Uhring to the Administration and Finance subcommittee. The highly influential subcommittee works with the city manager and staff on the upcoming year’s budget. This year will see the city’s budget squeezed like never before, thanks to the coronavirus crisis. 

Pierson and Uhring were nominated by their peers for their strong business backgrounds. Silverstein also spoke up for himself, saying that he wanted to be put on the committee and mentioning that he once helped manage a law firm’s budget that was bigger than the city’s. 

Even with his experience, Uhring deferred to higher vote getter Silverstein: “Bruce, you really want this?” Uhring asked. But after asking if the committee appointments could later be changed down the line, Uhring was swayed: “I’m in.” Silverstein at first passed on the vote to confirm the Pierson-Uhring pair, then voted yes, making the vote 5-0.

The council notably disagreed over what to do about a planning appeal from Malibu Park. All parties involved are Woolsey victims. One family, the Denkers, want to rebuild their home to the full second story-structure they had before it burned in the 2018 fire. However, new fire department regulations mean the second story must be built in a different part of the home, where it will impinge on the ocean views of the Clunies-Ross family. Multiple other neighbors chimed in to give their thoughts, too, with one saying that the Clunies-Ross family were being treated as if they did not have a home before the Woolsey Fire, when in reality they had been just about to begin construction when the fire hit. 

Council Members Karen Farrer and Paul Grisanti were in favor of allowing the Denkers to go ahead with building. 

“I think we need to get some people back in their houses and the only way to do that is by giving them permits,” Grisanti said.

Pierson, on the other hand, wanted to work with the families and fire department to see if an exception could be made. He called the situation “a tragedy” with “no winners” that had divided a neighborhood, referring to heated language used in the hearing, and voted to hold off.

Earlier, Craig Clunies-Ross had said the Denkers’ lawyer had used language to refer to him that was “offensive” and “insulting”; Jen Denker called one of Craig’s claims “untrue” and offered a slideshow of photos of her old home as proof.

Because both Uhring, who had seen the case come up during his time on the planning commission, and Silverstein, who said he was good friends with one of the parties involved, recused themselves, the council was gridlocked in a 2-1 vote. The group moved to hear the issue again in February.

The clock struck midnight, then ticked even further past before the council could broach Silverstein and Uhring’s long standing homelessness and transparency proposals. Those will be addressed at a council meeting scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 28, which City Clerk Heather Glaser confirmed would start at 5 p.m. Malibuites may attend virtually either through the city’s Zoom link or by watching the YouTube livestream, as usual. 

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