Lance Simmens is campaigning for Malibu City Council after a long career in public service, mostly based in Washington, DC. He has become active in Malibu politics since moving to the city in 2015 and last ran for council in 2018.
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?
Unity, community, no BS, no baggage
Tell me about your history in Malibu. What prepares you to take on this role?
I’ve been here five years. I was president of the Malibu Adamson House Foundation. I was president and currently vice-president of the Malibu Democratic Club. I’m an active member of the Community Emergency Response Team. I’m vice-chair of the Malibu Public Works Commission. I’m a regular attendee at city council meetings. This is my community. I’ve always contributed and given back to the community in which I’ve lived regardless of where it was ... As a father of two Millennials, my whole focus for the last almost 30 years of my life has been: How can we leave this place better off than we found it? I’ve spent the bulk of my professional and personal career working on sustainability issues and environmental issues.
I last interviewed you two years ago when you ran for council in 2018. What has changed in your life since then and what have you done over the last two years to make yourself a more viable candidate?
I have become very active in the Community Emergency Response Team, which is an incredible opportunity to give back to your community. You’re basically one step removed from a first responder. I have been very active on the public works commission. The second thing on my platform is to redesign Pacific Coast Highway stretch between Topanga Canyon and the Civic Center ... shrinking in the lanes a little bit, putting in a center median with shrubbery and trees, making it aesthetically more pleasing as well as more functional from the environmental standpoint and putting bicycle lanes on each side. This is not something that’s going to be done next week. It may take 10 years. But if you don’t start that conversation now, it’ll take 20 years.
Do you think it’s realistic to put forth a proposal for a highway project when city council doesn’t have any control over the public works of Pacific Coast Highway?
Yeah. As we embark upon the new normal, we are going to have enormous financial constraints placed upon us. We already are. That’s going to place a premium on gathering resources. I’ve worked for federal government, state government, city government, counties. I know how you need to pool together to enhance your position, resource-wise. We need somebody who is not afraid to get on up to Sacramento, engage the right people and convince them that Caltrans needs to work with us ... there’s probably nobody in this list of candidates who’s got as much experience in that area as I do.
City council members do go up to Sacramento. The city employs a lobbyist. So what sets your plan apart? How would you go beyond what the city’s already doing?
In most instances ... that’s a problem which is immediate that they’re responding to. I’m trying to lay out a platform for the future ... The goals [have] to conform with measurable output. At the end of every year you can quantifiably measure whether you’re making progress on each one of ‘em. Because you got metrics. It acts as a report card on the city council and the mayor.
It’s generally acknowledged in Malibu that the Woolsey Fire and its response were mishandled. Do you agree and who do you think was responsible for mishandling the fire?
Aside from the destruction of homes, the worst thing about the Woolsey Fire was that the lesson was “if a fire comes and you want to save your house, you got to do it.” There could not be a more dangerous lesson! We only by the grace of God avoided a catastrophe on PCH because the winds didn’t blow one way. Was it mishandled? Yeah. I have offered, in my platform, the formation of a California fire reserve. We don’t have enough resources. We’ve got to train people ... And then I do think there was lax communication on the part of the city. A command and control center should’ve been here.
Do you see the fire reserve corps modeled somewhat like CERT? How many resources are they going to have? What’s the training going to look like?
You start out with 20,000 statewide and you train them to fight fires. I see it way beyond CERT. We need to increase our resources to deal with the next one ... I think the fire reserve corps is necessary. It’s not just going to be a Malibu idea.
You’re envisioning a program with more people in it than people who live in Malibu.
Yeah, but it’s a statewide program.
You’re thinking on a statewide level. Obviously, you have a lot of federal experience. Why run for Malibu City Council and not shoot for something bigger and broader at this point in your life?
I spent 22 years in DC. I worked in Sacramento for a year and half and I couldn’t get outta there fast enough. Too far from the ocean. This is where I live ... I don’t want to be anywhere else. I’m 67 years old; I have no illusions of grandeur that I’m going to start a political career. That’s what I said to people: “This is not a career move; this is a passion.”
What do you think is the No. 1 issue facing Malibu today and what will you do in your first year in office to tackle it?
Budget and finance. Your community is only as strong as the resources you put into it and you can only afford the resources that you can afford. Very tough decisions are going to need to be made. What can I do? Put my ideas on the table. See if we can structure a system that engages the public, thinks down the road.