After two long nights, one before the planning commission and the last before city council, four members of the city council finally saw the light and decided to kill the ill-thought out and highly unpopular downzoning ordinance. The only holdout was Jefferson Wagner, who seemed to think his loyalty to the small group that got him elected was more significant than his obligation to the entire city. I appreciate the council for having the courage to reverse course, admit they made a mistake as several did and then vote to end this as quickly and permanently as possible.
During this process, the council made two basic mistakes. One they fixed, the other they didn’t. They dove into this ordinance to solve what they perceived as a problem, the fact that people who are building, which is rather a limited number, are building bigger houses than in the old days. In short, they saw what they perceived as the mansionization of Malibu and wanted to stop it—even though the general plan and zoning code, which had been hard fought many years ago, allowed these larger-sized homes.
The problem for some is that times have changed and they don’t like it. They don’t mind selling their old $250,000 home for $2-$3 million today; they want everything else to stay the same, other than the new value of their homes. The people buying in Malibu today are far wealthier than those who bought when I came here in 1976. It makes most of us very happy that our homes are worth several millions of dollars now and, for many of us, that’s our retirement security. These new buyers want to update and upgrade the old homes as they have every right to do—provided they meet the current codes. Some people don’t like that, particularly our current planning commission, but more about that later. The contradiction is you can’t ask new buyers to pay new prices and just be content to live in ’60s- and ’70s-style homes. They won’t do it. They’ll just go and buy someplace else.
The problem with attacks on mansionization is it’s all kind of subjective and it’s my impression, after watching this battle for the 31 years I have owned the newspaper, I’ve noticed certain mansionization rules have evolved:
1. A mansion is any house that’s bigger than yours.
2. A mansion next door to your house is not just a mansion, it’s also an environmental disaster.
3. If, per chance, you own an empty green lot, rest assured that your next-door neighbor would prefer your lot remain pristine green space and you not build on it to protect the environment, of course.
And now, we get to the major problem. Normally, planning commissions have some modicum of good sense. They understand the conflicts between neighbors when it comes to new buildings and renovations, and they try to find some sensible solutions and avoid neighborhood warfare. Also, they don’t drown it all in planning garbage verbiage so you can figure out what they are saying, and they don’t impose the kinds of requirements that demand you hire an endless number of experts and spend sometimes several hundred thousands of dollars in fees and soft costs. When they do that, it’s no longer cost effective to build a smaller house. With the planning commission silliness, the “no show” fire department requirements for water and access, and the California Coastal Commission’s push to cluster everything, and the building and renovation, costs skyrocket and no one can afford to build a 3,000-square-foot house anymore, unless you inherited the land from your great-great-grandfather.
Unfortunately, with the exception of Jeff Jennings, we still have Manny, Moe, Jack and Doofus on the planning commission. Until they are gone, you’re going to keep getting these unfair, illegal, subjective and nonsensically expensive decisions. John Mazza, Steve Uhring and Company all created this “neighborhood standard” nonsense and they will continue to use it until they are removed. They are making up law that doesn’t legally exist and the city council has to stop pretending they are just exercising discretion and get rid of these guys.
I long ago gave up on Steve Uhring and John Mazza. I was at the planning commission meeting last week and even in the face of several hundred protestors, most of whom are old-time residents who believe in a rural Malibu and spoke overwhelmingly against the ordinance, the commission didn’t budge. It’s as if they didn’t hear a thing all these people said and simply thought the entire audience was wrong, and the public was just misinformed and didn’t understand.
Lastly, we all owe a vote of thanks to Paul Grisanti and the people behind Together for Dwelling Size Fairness, who spent endless hours researching, calling, writing, gathering and disseminating property information so people understood the impact of this proposed ordinance. You don’t defeat this kind of bad government unless people organize and spend their energy together to make good things happen.