“I’m going to ask my wife to join us and she’s gonna administer the oath,” Mikke Pierson said. His wife popped into view: “Hi, Malibu!”
The other council members waved and watched as Pierson raised his right hand and swore to serve the city. In under a minute and a half, mayoral power Zoomed from outgoing mayor Karen Farrer’s square on the right of the screen to Pierson’s on the left.
Under normal circumstances, this ceremony would happen in person. But as many citizens know, little has been normal in Malibu for quite some time. Pierson’s entire time on council so far has been characterized by crisis after crisis: the devastating Woolsey Fire, costly mudslides and, now, a pandemic. Pierson, though, thrives on challenge.
The Woolsey Fire happened only days after Pierson won his election bid. Immediately, he was on the ground, driving through a smoke-blackened Malibu to check on the houses of—and even feed the chickens of—evacuated citizens.
Two years later, city council has enacted a long list of items to ensure Malibu is safer in time for the next fire: they’ve installed fireboxes filled with hoses, hired a fire liaison in charge of helping with fire readiness programs and doing free home assessments for vulnerability, run countless drills internally, worked closely with local police and fire departments, and changed a number of codes. They’ve also finetuned programs such as the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and the volunteer Arson Watch program (which Pierson himself is on) and purchased megaphones to alert neighborhoods of emergency by car in case the power goes out.
In addition to continuing to rebuild Malibu post-Woolsey, Pierson and his colleagues are handling the city’s response to the novel coronavirus, which has flooded Malibu’s beaches and choked PCH with thousands seeking to escape to the seaside after being homebound for most of quarantine.
Between the novel coronavirus and the Woolsey Fire, Pierson said financial trouble could be on the horizon for the city—with a drop in visitors and loss of property tax revenue, the city will be hard up for cash beginning in 2021. That problem would only be exacerbated by another emergency—such as another destructive wildfire.
COVID-19 has already encumbered the city’s plan to help its homeless population. More than 140 people sleep in vehicles on PCH; many others sleep outside. The city has provided extra masks and equipment for its outreach workers. Fortunately, as far as Pierson knows, none of Malibu’s homeless population has been infected with the coronavirus thus far.
But homelessness is a perennial issue for Pierson’s city council. The city is currently considering several options including a shelter or safe parking area, although without the ability to hold a traditional public meeting, the ideas have stalled.
Pierson is intimate with Malibu’s most pressing issues, having grown up on the beach after being adopted at birth. Fourth-generation Malibuites, Pierson’s family were members of the Malibu Democratic Club and took him to peace marches growing up.
Pierson studied psychology at UC Santa Cruz after transferring from Oregon where he was “the only idiot skateboarding around campus” in the rain. After Pierson graduated, he moved back to Malibu and connected with current fellow city council member Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner. Together, the pair made Zuma Jay’s one of the first computerized surf shops in the nation. Eventually, the pair split, with Wagner taking over the Malibu surf shop and Pierson taking the Santa Monica location.
Over 30 years, Pierson grew his Santa Monica business and hired close to 800 young people. As his business grew, his role transformed from boss to mentor for many of them. Pierson estimates that he has now officiated at as many as 15 of his former employees’ weddings. Pierson now works as a business coach.
Pierson also draws on his institutional knowledge of the city that he gained from seven years on the planning commission. He campaigned on this experience, bringing up issues such as short-term rentals and environmental projects that now seem as if from a different life. Pierson is clear, though, that they are simply on the back burner but not forgotten—notwithstanding recent public conflicts between Pierson and current planning commissioners, who disagree on the role the planning commission should take in decision-making in Malibu.
For now, though, Pierson and the rest of Malibu’s team are in “disaster-mode,” focused on COVID-19 and rebuilding from Woolsey. He is currently leading from his Malibu West home, Zooming from meeting to meeting, shooting Instagram and YouTube videos from his backyard or his bike to keep the public informed.