We just came back from a wonderful week in Aspen, C.O.—a town with a bit of magic in it, filled with music and art and lectures, young musicians and, most of all, a street life that actually doesn’t close up at 8:30 at night. I can understand why people return year after year; it’s sort of like Brigadoon. One of the things that sustains Aspen is that lots of people work to sustain it, giving money, time and energy. And, although many live most of the year someplace else, they feel Aspen is their town, also, and they participate in the town. When you return to Malibu, it is clear many in our population just sleep here and for many we are little more than a bedroom suburb with an ocean view. It’s the sad fact of our community and it keeps us from being how much more we could be.
Malibu is also a magical place, but it’s not because of anything we do. It’s because of the ocean, the beaches, the mountains, the sky and the wonderful weather. I think Malibu is in danger because we don’t protect it, we don’t keep it clean, we don’t police it, and a multitude of entities, governmental and private, have their own little solitary agendas with no coordinated overall plan. Let me give you a few examples.
The California Coastal Commission wants public access to all the beaches. They see that as their mandate. What they don’t see as their mandate is keeping the beaches clean or having public restrooms or even temporary restrooms for the summer season. They get all sorts of money from fines, which they want to use to acquire more coastal land so they can continue to grow and get more fines. How about a couple of radical ideas like, perhaps, a California Coastal Commission Janitorial Fund to keep all the accessways and beaches open and clean. Perhaps the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, which also just loves to acquire land but hates to maintain it and clean up after all the visitors come, should think just a wee bit about how to maintain these assets for future generations and just not let this generation use it all up. This is not just a Malibu problem. All over the world, locations that attract tourists are beginning to realize that every location has some finite capacity and are beginning to realize they have to set limits. I recently saw an article that said some of the world’s cities like Barcelona, Spain, which is being overrun by tourism, has something like 65 times its population in tourists each year. Well, greater Malibu (city and county Malibu) with a population of about 20,000, gets about 12,000,000 visitors each year. Do the arithmetic. (That’s about 600 times our local population.) You begin to understand why, on any nice summer weekend, Winding Way begins to look like the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. If we really are the stewards of our environment, our duty, and that also means the governmental duty, is to protect it for the future. The feds are better at recognizing this. They’ve changed the rules for Yosemite, limited the number of visitors, kept cars out to keep popularity from destroying it. We need to do the same. Malibu needs parking structures, or parking lots with shuttle services to the beaches and mountains. It just takes a little imagination and perhaps a little will. I don’t see it as great government policy to handle this by empowering more people to hand out parking tickets because there is clearly inadequate parking for a busy holiday weekend. I think our city council is kind of stuck. They spend a lot of energy worrying about someone building a house that’s 2,000 square feet larger when the world around them is changing and they all want to go back to the same old, same old when few people came here, and the west Valley and Ventura County hadn’t yet been built up, and before the 101 Freeway was a concrete parking lot on weekends. When we came to Malibu in 1976, the population of California was 21.94 million people. Today, the last count this year was about 39.75 million. The city of Malibu today has about 13,000 people, which is not very different than the population of Malibu in 1976. What’s changed is that everything around us has expanded and we’re feeling the effects—and that’s not going to change, so we have to think smarter if we want to preserve what we have.
One solution is to blame it on someone else, like immigrants, legal or illegal. In certain parts of this country, that’s a popular idea. It means it’s not our fault, it’s their fault that things have changed. It’s not the way we govern or, alternatively, it’s not because we no longer believe in each other and can’t seem to find consensus on just about anything. It turns out that this anti-immigrant movement isn’t just accidental. It’s been funded by a gigantic amount of money from the Scaife / Mellon families and one lady in particular who started out as an environmentalist and ended up as a hardened opponent to immigration. Some years back, the board of the Sierra Club, about the time that the idea of zero population growth was becoming very popular, was considering trying to stop all immigration to save the environment. They backed away because they finally realized they were going to lose a great deal of their support if they went in that direction. Well, that thinking is back. It’s not articulated quite like that in this country, where many believe the immigrants are stealing their jobs, but in a number of European counties some of the very nationalist right wing parties are now saying it’s not because we are prejudiced about immigrants, it’s because all these extra people will destroy our environment so we have to keep them out. Apparently, nothing has changed that much in the last 40 years except the size of the population.