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If it were not for quarantine, Malibu’s City Hall council chambers might have been packed.

Were it not for a pandemic, the meeting may have stretched into the early morning hours, as meetings so often used to when officials discussed hot-button issues.

But as it was, controversial items—such as a proposal for a potential safe parking lot for homeless people at Zuma Beach—are not currently appearing before council.

The agenda item was a minute zoning change that could eventually have opened the doors for the future placement of a safe parking zone, not a proposal to create an area for a homeless encampment.

But that didn’t stop council members from weathering a barrage of letters—according to Council Member Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner, more than 300—commenting on the proposal that originally appeared on the council’s agenda. 

Officially, the item would have had council discuss a modification in zoning rules that would have helped pave the way for the proposed safe parking lot—an area set aside for homeless people to safely park overnight and access restrooms, while being required to depart in the morning.

“The city’s emergency shelter provisions only allow emergency shelter uses in the commercial general and institutional zones, and do not address overnight parking lots, only structured shelters. The ZTA [zone text amendment] would provide a path for a [sic] permitting a safe parking program on a temporary basis in the city, subject to conditions,” the meeting’s staff report described. “The County of Los Angeles Department of Beaches and Harbors, in cooperation with the city, intends to apply for a TUP and coastal development permit to allow temporary placement of a safe parking program at a portion of the Zuma Beach parking lot. The Zuma Beach property is zoned Public Open Space and such uses are not listed as a permitted use.”

The item was “continued to a date uncertain”—and it could be weeks or months before the proposal could go before council in a traditional hearing.

“Everyone should be afforded the opportunity to chime in in a regular session,” Council Member Rick Mullen said. “It’s too big an issue to be handled here. It’s not being just tossed out; it’s being put at a time that’s more appropriate for everyone to speak on it.”

Other council members agreed.

“This is not the forum for such a big item,” Mayor Pro Tem Mikke Pierson said, adding, “Public participation is vitally important.”

Wagner asked City Manager Reva Feldman for an explanation of the proposal and its placement on the agenda.

According to Feldman, city council originally met in January about the homeless situation and asked staff to propose locations for both a safe parking area and a temporary shelter. Those plans were shelved due to the pandemic, and the fact “No Parking” signs on Pacific Coast Highway have removed many of Malibu’s visible homeless population.

“Knowing that the stay-at-home order will be lifting soon, those no-parking signs will be taken away,” Feldman explained, adding the city should “act as quickly as possible” with the knowledge homeless visitors could be returning. The county had suggested the lot at Zuma Beach as one opportunity for a safe parking zone, Feldman said.

“Hopefully in July, we’ll be able to meet in public,” the city manager explained.

“What we were hoping to do on the staff level was get through some of the technical hurdles … we were just trying to make sure that when we presented to the council all the possible options from which council could select, we had something ready to go,” Feldman said. “The intent was never to bring something forward without a robust discussion.”

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