Malibu Surfside News

Malibu Surfside News - MALIBU'S COMMUNITY FORUM INTERNET EDITION - Malibu local news and Malibu Feature Stories

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Coroner Rules Cause of Death for Mitrice Richardson Cannot Be Determined

• Sheriff’s Department Says Its Investigation Continues •

By Anne Soble

The family of Mitrice Richardson has been notified by the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner that it has closed its investigation in the case of the 24-year-old Los Angeles woman, who went missing after her booking at the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station in September 2009 and was found dead 11 months later, and ruled that a cause of death is undeterminable.

DOC Assistant Chief Ed Winter contacted Richardson’s mother, Latice Sutton, by telephone Thursday afternoon, and she remains in seclusion after learning the ruling, which also has been communicated to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

Neither the family, nor the LASD, said it has received a copy of the official written report with the DOC’s conclusions, which currently is not expected to be available until Friday. The report cannot be released to the public until the family and the LASD have obtained copies of it.

LASD spokesperson Steve Whitmore told the Malibu Surfside News late Thursday, “The case is not closed for the sheriff’s department. We still have an ongoing investigation into how her remains ended up where they did. That is ongoing and will continue. “

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Malibu Announces It Will Litigate CCC Decision to Approve Overnight Camping

• City Attorney Says Focus of Lawsuit Will Be on Use of Override Plan as Tool

BY BILL KOENEKER



Malibu City Attorney Christi Hogin announced Monday night at a city council meeting that members had voted unanimously in closed session to challenge the California Coastal Commission’s approval of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy’s park plan, which includes overnight camping.
“The public works plan is inconsistent with the Local Coastal Program,” said Hogin, who added the use of the override process of the Coastal Act will be challenged in court.
The city had first taken the SMMC to court last year over the same issue, but the judge ruled the city must go through all of the administrative procedures before making that legal challenge.
At that time, Hogin said the commission by allowing use of the override process was “making law in Malibu.”
What happened in June, 2009 was that both the city and the Conservancy were allowed to submit their plans to the Coastal Commission, which denied the city’s parks plan and approved the Conservancy’s override plan.
The override process of the Coastal Act is a little known or used policy. It has only been utilized one other time by the CCC.
It appeared to caught city officials off guard when the executive director of SMMC said it is how the Conservancy would proceed with getting its park plan approved.
The SMMC and the city had put together competing park plans, but the city’s contained no overnight camping. The plans call for a series of trails through the coastal canyons allowing hikers to travel from Ramirez Canyon to Escondido and beyond to Corral Canyon.
The city’s decision to reject the overnight camping component of the plan came after much protest from Malibu residents.
Edmiston invoked the override process, which the Coastal Commission approved.
The override process can be used, according to the SMMC and the CCC, in a situation where one municipality’s actions could adversely affect regional or statewide public sponsored public works plans or projects.
Edmiston said he had been “stung” by the city council’s previous rejection of a memo of understanding that had been agreed upon by both staffs and then came for a vote before the city council, which turned down the MOU.
Edmiston told his board after the “council’s 180 degree turnaround,” the override process would be better suited for the Conservancy anyway. In a memo to his board, he wrote, “In this way, the full range of proposals and public benefits can be submitted to the Coastal Commission without the limitations and fetters that were negotiated with Malibu, and from which Malibu subsequently benefited by limiting the project scope, yet notwithstanding such concessions still denied the Conservancy’s proposals,” he wrote.

State Controller Releases Schedule of Municipal Employee Wages

• Figures on Chiang’s Website are Supplied by Counties and Municipalities Themselves

BY BILL KOENEKER



The state Controller’s office released a compilation of reports of local government compensation for county and city employees from 2009.
Included in the posting that is on Controller John Chiang’s website at www.sco.ca.gov is Malibu’s report.
Malibu reported the municipal employee wages that were subject to Medicare (Box 5 of the W-2 form),
The report indicated the city manager’s annual paycheck is $195,715.
The assistant city manager/ administrative services director’s wages is reported at $160,501.
The information systems administrator takes home $103,630.
The city clerk’s wages is listed at $101,841.
The environmental and community development director takes down $166,076. The manager of the building department earns $120,667.
Each of the council members earn an annual stipend of $6788.

City Council Postpones Vacating Rambla Pacifica Road

• City Attorney Wants More Time to Review the Complicated Matter

BY BILL KOENEKER


Despite a staff report recommending the Malibu City Council could go forward with a vacation of Rambla Pacifico Road, the city attorney this week put the brakes on moving forward.
The Lower Rambla Pacifico Road Owners Association is trying to put in a private emergency access road to reopen Rambla Pacifico Road, but keeps running into more legal roadblocks
The staff report, prepared by the city’s senior engineer, states, in no uncertain terms, city officials have finalized the legal description and associated map and, “We are ready to vacate the road easement.”
However, Hogin said she wanted to sort out the lengthy process and called for continuing the matter.
She offered no explanation why and council members did not ask. Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich said she, too, was going to ask that it be postponed.
The ROA had pleaded with the city council at a previous meeting to not go forward with the vacation until they finished their road.
At that meeting, Hogin said nothing nor did any of the council members say anything, but City Manager Jim Thorsen insisted the hearing would go forward.
The engineer’s staff report indicated first and foremost, the city’s road easement does not give the municipality the legal right to permit construction of a private road. The city can only retain the easement or vacate it. The public road easement cannot be transferred to individual parties nor can it be sold by the city, according to Senior Civil Engineer Robert DuBoux.
The ROA told the city council if it vacates the road it could complicate legal matters for the homeowners,
The staff report recommends the city not retain the public road easement or obtain any other easements within the roadway as the street would then be subject to public road standards and the road must be accessible to the public at large.
The city might incur liability or be partially liable or perceived to be responsible for private hillside and roadway operations and maintenance, according to the report,.
The council was told by an ROA member that the road association, in the past, had always been promised by city officials that the road would not be vacated until they finished building the private access.
It appears that promise might be kept if the actions of the city attorney are any indicator.

Sheriff and Supervisor for the Area Say Yes to Temporary Substation on Malibu

• Baca Vows to Help Bring Back CHP to PCH

BY BILL KOENEKER


Both Sheriff Lee Baca and County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky are open to the idea of establishing a temporary sheriff’s substation in Malibu and promised to work together to make it happen, according to city officials.
That was the message from Councilmember Lou La Monte at this week’s city council meeting.
La Monte, who along with other council members attended a contract cities meeting where Malibu was promised some face time with the two men.
“Zev and Lee were very open at looking at a county facility for a temporary location,” agreed Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich, who initially offered up the idea. “Baca talked about using trailers. I am looking forward to getting going on this.”
La Monte, who campaigned on a promise to bring the California Highway Patrol back to Pacific Coast Highway, also announced Baca was in the middle of writing a report recommending the CHP return to Malibu.
“He said the report would also contain recommendations for structural changes on the PCH,” added La Monte, who said the report should be out soon.
La Monte said both men agreed to help the city in bringing the CHP back including helping in Sacramento if any legislation is needed for such a move.
La Monte said several months ago, a former employee at Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station, John O’Brien, had come forward to offer to lend a hand. “I had been meeting with John” he said. “We met with Baca” he added, indicating the sheriff was no stranger to the issues in Malibu.
When the council at a previous session talked about what issues to bring up at the meeting, a debate had ensued with Councilmember Laura Rosenthal, who also attended the contract cities meeting, insisting it was premature to talk about the substation. She was outvoted by the majority of the council.

Halloween Conjures Ghosts from Malibu’s Past

BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN


With Halloween days away, cheerfully macabre ghosts are materializing in the front yards of homes throughout Malibu, but some claim the area is also home to a number of more elusive apparitions.
Some say—and others vehemently refute—that the Adamson House Museum reportedly has a ghostly presence, most often encountered in the foyer or on the stairs.
One of the oldest residences on Point Dume reportedly has a helpful haunt, who closes doors and turns off lights.
Another, built during WW II as a military barracks, was reportedly haunted for years by the hesitant footsteps of a phantom serviceman.
Early Malibu residents who reported ghost lights out to sea may have been observing real life pirates, who used the remote beaches in western Malibu to smuggle alcohol, opium and other contraband.
Los Angeles County Lifeguards still receive occasional reports of unidentified lights on the water. Sometimes it’s fishing boats, or an SOS flair; sometimes the lights remain inexplicable.
Ramirez Canyon children used to like to scare each other with stories of the Hanging Tree—a massive oak located at the side of the road that reportedly once used to administer wild west justice to a gang of outlaws. When the Santa Ana winds blow, they say, one can hear the sound of the hanging rope creaking.
The Keller Oak, in Solstice Canyon, is another focal point for legends. National Park Service personnel hear stories from early morning and late evening hikers and runners about a watchful presence in the shadow of the ancient oak. It doesn't, however, reportedly do more than simply watch.
Some say the presence is that of Matthew—Don Mateo—Keller himself, the Irish-American businessman who bought the Malibu Ranchero in 1857. Others claim it is the spirit of a long forgotten vaquero, whose bones rest in the grove of trees.
Curiously, the frequency of sightings appears to have diminished following the 2007 fire that burned the grove and the nearby Keller House. Originally built in 1865, the small stone building was considered by some to be one of the oldest homesteds in Malibu.
Longtime Malibuites still call rockslides that close PCH and power outages that plunge the community into darkness “Rindge’s Revenge,” as a nod to May Knight Rindge, Malibu’s most notorious defender.
According to Malibu Lagoon Museum publications, May Knight married Fredrick Hastings Rindge in 1887. Five years later, the Rindges bought the Malibu Ranchero from Keller and moved permanently to California from Massachusetts.
Frederick Rindge's lyrical account of life on the ranch,“Happy Days in Southern California,” may have exacerbated the problems his widow would later face as she fought to keep an increasing tide of people out of the family’s private paradise.
When Fredrick Rindge died in 1905, May Rindge assumed management of the ranch. She was 41.
The media dubbed Rindge the“Queen of Malibu” during her fierce battle to keep first the Southern Pacific Railroad and then Pacific Coast Highway out of Malibu.
She successfully defeated the railroad by completing 15 miles of track for her own railroad in 1908, but lost the fight against the State of California over Pacific Coast Highway. The road was built in 1923.
Up the coast, the Hollister and Bixby ranches successfully diverted Pacific Coast Highway inland, perhaps because their owners were men.
Rindge appears to have been a larger-than-life character even before the Interstate Commerce Commission and the media began the campaign to discredit her.
A 1911 New York Times article provides a vivid account of Rindge pumping a hand car for miles across the ranchero during a wildfire to warn upcoast ranchers of the danger. Her hands, the paper reported, were badly blistered from the effort.
Rindge also lost her fortune and reputation in the fight—a proposal to name the Malibu Library for the Rindge family was dismissed last year by the city council with disparaging remarks about the pioneer, describing her as a gun-toting elitist.
However, Rindge’s determination is credited by many for saving Malibu from being paved over in the early 20th century and becoming another Marina Del Rey.
Her persistence and the lengthy legal battle meant that massive development schemes were delayed, first by the lawsuit, and then by the Depression, World War II and finally by the growing environmental movement.
It’s said that Malibu’s most indomitable spirit is also sometimes seen. A figure in a broad-brimmed hat, standing by PCH and looking out to sea late on a moonlit night, or silhouetted on a horse against the sky on the ridge line during a winter sunset is Malibu’s grande dame revisiting the terrestrial paradise she loved so fiercely in life.

Board of Education Candidates Respond to Malibu Concerns

BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN


Seven of the candidates running for four seats on the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education responded to the Malibu Surfside New’s election questionnaire, which focuses on issues that have been raised by Malibu residents.
High school teacher and Samohi alumnus Chris Bley; Malibu resident Pat Cady, who is a retired district teacher; incumbent and Samohi alumnus Oscar de la Torre; education activist and former Santa Monica city employee Laurie Lieberman; incumbent Ralph Mechur, who is an architect; education activist and small business owner Nimish Patel, and producer and district parent Jake Wachtel completed and returned their questionnaires. Their replies are presented in alphabetical order.
MSN: What are your views on the district’s tenure and teacher evaluation processes?
Chris Bley: I support some form of teacher evaluation other than tenure. The “value added” process, however, is flawed...A child who thrives in the multiplication intensive curriculum of third grade may struggle with the writing intensive curriculum of fourth grade. Because of the need to focus on writing, that child’s progress in fourth grade math may suffer. We need an evaluation that considers students’ academic progress as a whole.
Patrick Cady: The district tenure and teacher evaluation system needs to be revisited and renegotiated. Teacher evaluations should be collaboratively established and should include parent, student, peer, and administrative components. Student achievement can be a part of the evaluation. I support a longer probationary period for new hires. I support employing some of the district’s retired teacher pool for both evaluation and mentoring.
Oscar de la Torre: I took part in negotiating our current teacher evaluation system. We offer support for first year teachers and make staff development a mandatory part of the job. We attract the best teachers with competitive salaries and benefits. I believe that it’s time to reflect collaboratively with our teachers on how to best evaluate educators, including administrators, and ultimately develop an institutional culture that strives for accountability and support for educators...
Laurie Lieberman: With respect to our District’s teacher evaluations, if we want the evaluation process to be candid and productive, I believe it should be confidential. The discussion about how to best measure and affect teacher performance should be conducted in a positive, well-researched and thoughtful way, which involves teachers themselves. From the research I have seen, it appears that teacher evaluations should be based on multiple measures. The primary purpose of teacher evaluations is to help teachers become better teachers. In a minority of cases, evaluations identify teachers who can’t meet the District’s standards...
Ralph Mechur: Teacher evaluations should be used to understand the effectiveness of classroom material and instruction and lead to informative dialogue with principals and in-service assistance. Teacher evaluations should consist of a series of tools, including observations of the classroom environment, teaching technique and student success. Last-in/first-out can become moot when we have an evaluation process that works to ensure our teachers are effective.
Nimish Patel: I do not believe student test scores alone should be the sole measurement of a teacher’s effectiveness in a classroom. It is but one factor among many factors that must be evaluated over a relevant period of time. It is also important that we have teachers and parents participate in determining the factors that are used in an evaluation. A comprehensive and a fair evaluation should then be used as a basis to identify teachers that need extra development. Once an equitable system is put into place, those teachers that are consistently scoring a low evaluation should be encouraged to find employment elsewhere regardless of their seniority.
Jake Wachtel: Evaluation measures from tests are privately used at several schools in the district by principals and teachers to identify where students are having difficulty. At one elementary school, peer teachers asked a same grade educator whose students had the highest scores to share teaching techniques that can be used by others. This approach should be used district-wide. Quality teachers want to improve...The last hire, first fire policy in the district threatens to rob our schools of quality teachers. I support a system that allows public examination in troubling circumstances, but a blanket public evaluation at this stage seems invasive and counterproductive. Pressure to inflate testing scores, which does not foster true learning, may result.
MSN: What is your opinion of the district’s gift and equity fund policies?
Bley: I support the equity fund’s goal-narrowing the achievement gap. But the policy creates resentment toward the district, taking away up to 15 percent of the money groups raise. Having a director of development could eliminate the equity fund. Last year about $300,000 was redistributed; $45,000 went back to wealthier elementary schools. A DOD could raise $255,000 for intervention programs; the wealthier schools could fund their own. PTAs and booster clubs could keep all of their hard-earned money.
Cady: Equity does not mean equal resources. It means equal opportunities. Unequal treatment is sometimes required to provide equal opportunity. We know that students who don’t read or compute at grade level by third grade find it difficult to catch up. We need to channel our resources to those schools which have the greatest need. The challenge is to understand that each of us has a responsibility not only to our own local school but to all schools and specifically to those in greatest need. Perhaps the pairing of high resource schools with high needs schools might help us raise funds for both and ensure that all our students have equal opportunity...
De la Torre: I know first hand what can happen when we fail to educate students and when they in turn lose hope and direction. Achieving equity in public education is the greatest civil rights issue of our time. Our country’s competitiveness in the global economy is dependent on our ability to provide a quality education to all. For this reason I supported the implementation of the district’s equity fund but I am inspired by the Save Our Schools campaign. I do not want to deter fundraising or hinder individual school sites in strengthening services for students.
Lieberman: I support the underlying goal of the District’s Equity Fund policy, which is intended to address the disparity in fundraising capacity among our schools...However, I do not necessarily believe that our current policies offer the best means for achieving our goal.
Our current Equity Fund policy is exceedingly difficult to administer and has led to endless controversy over whether or not a particular expenditure is exempt and whether a particular school has actually paid their required share into the fund, etc. I support a comprehensive review of our current policies to assess their effectiveness in achieving our fundraising and equity goals...We must have a thorough and robust discussion about how to enhance our district’s private fundraising altogether...
Mechur: The Equity Fund contributions are distributed to all schools on a weighted-student formula. Each school’s governance team allocates the funds through their Single Plan for Achievement to intervention programs best suited for that school. The policy is important because it allows schools in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods to better address lower achieving student needs.
Patel: I support the current policy of having the individual school PTA’s contribute 15 percent into the district equity fund. It is a natural parent instinct to prefer to donate to the school where their children attend. Dramatically changing the percentage would lead to a decrease in overall contributions, which will have far worse consequences to the district as a whole.
Wachtel Our students benefit from strong schools throughout the district. When students meet in middle school and high school, excellent preparation in elementary schools district-wide is vital. For that reason, sensible sharing is necessary. The percentage should be determined year-by-year based on need.
MSN: What are your views on the charter application submitted by Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School? Is the charter approach a viable option for other district schools?
Bley: Parents at Point Dume are justifiably concerned about the future of their school. With declining enrollment and the financial crisis of our school district, it is realistic for them to plan for the future of their children’s education at this location. When you add in the financial mismanagement by our current board, and their lack of attention to basic budget matters, Point Dume parents, even without declining enrollment, have a right to wonder what is in store for them. If enrollment declines significantly, hard choices would need to be discussed and possibly made.
Cady: I have not read the charter application so any comment to its specifics is not possible at this time. I support the parents who want to be sure that their school will not be shut down and thus support the charter application if that is the only way to save the school. I personally would guarantee that no school would be closed as a cost cutting measure and I wish some sort of assurances had been in place. In general I worry that recruitment of students for the charter would be detrimental to the other elementary schools in Malibu and the addition of a sixth grade raises issues of articulation with the middle school.
Charter schools as an alternative to a separate school district might work but I don’t favor either all charter schools or a separate school district.
De la Torre: I support the concept. I met with parent leaders from Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School to discuss the charter process and I am confident that the parents and staff can continue to make this school a great success. I am very impressed with the level of passion and organization of the parents moving the charter process forward. I fully support teaching students the importance of protecting mother earth and no elementary school in our district has a stronger focus on environmental sustainability than Point Dume.
Lieberman: I am open to Point. Dume’s efforts to become a charter school. There is a well-defined state-mandated process, which delineates the legal requirements for becoming a charter school...While there are a number of important details to consider, some of which may well be negotiable (e.g., what is the impact on Malibu Middle School of Point Dume’s desire to offer K-6; what happens to the union status of current employees at Point Dume), it is my understanding that a proposal that is fiscally and academically sound would likely qualify for approval. Clearly Point Dume is a special school, which offers significant educational opportunities that we should do our best to preserve, whether as an SMMUSD school or a charter school. I am certainly empathic toward many of the concerns that have sparked this petition.
I don't know that the charter approach is a viable one for most district schools, due to the loss of local sources of funding that occurs when a school in our district, which relies heavily upon local funds to enhance state funding, becomes a charter school. But if Point Dume becomes a charter school, we will presumably obtain much greater empirical insight into the answer to that question.
Mechur: Point Dume parents are concerned that with the small size of the school that further revenue reductions by the state may lead the district to consider closing one or more schools. Consequently, the parents are looking at the option to convert Point. Dume into a charter school. The Education Code outlines 16 areas that need to be addressed. If all are adequately addressed the board must approve the application. For any charter application we need to be concerned if the same breadth and depth of progress for its students will be available and how it may affect other programs in our district.
Patel: Point Dume is an excellent elementary school, having recently received the coveted California Distinguished School Award. Unlike other public schools that convert to charter because of sub-performance, the parents of Point Dume want a charter school because they can control its destiny. With decreasing enrollment at Point Dume and the financial crisis the School district is facing, the parents are concerned about the school’s future.
I understand the parents’ anxiety of their school being closed and their children being sent elsewhere. Converting to a charter school is designed to preempt this terrible action. As a charter school, it will continue to abide by the state education standards, including testing, but it will have self-rule. Assuming there are no material adverse consequences to the students at Point Dume or to the school district as a whole, I would support Point Dume as a charter school.
I do not think at this time a charter approach is a viable option for other schools in our district. I believe the depth and breadth offered by the school district as a whole serves the interest of the public schools better than a stand alone charter school.
Wachtel: If the criteria are met in the Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School application, the charter should be approved. Having met with parents and leaders in the Malibu community, I understand the concern over school closures, which Point Dume has faced...Under the district’s current set up, SMMUSD would lose money necessary to provide excellent district-wide education with new charters.
Only one percent of oversight money would be given, with the district oversight administrative costs associated with a charter far exceeding this amount. I have discussed this issue with leaders of successful charter schools and attended the recent SMMUSD board meeting focused on charter schools for our district. If proper preparation by the SMMUSD is done to convert Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School, without excessive oversight expenditures, it could be a success for students, educators and the community.
MSN: Many Malibu residents think they are disenfranchised by the school district. The board rarely meets in Malibu. Video of the meetings that take place in Santa Monica is supposed to be posted on the Internet, but often this is not done in a timely manner. The current board and superintendent have been repeatedly described as unresponsive and even uninterested in Malibu’s concerns and issues. Repeated promises made by previous board of education members have yielded little change. Are there ways to address these concerns that are more than campaign rhetoric?
Bley: My platform calls for a minimum of two community meetings per month across the district-from Point Dume to Santa Monica. I also support the creation of a Santa Monica-Malibu District Advisory Committee that meets at alternate times in Malibu and Santa Monica in order to keep the lines of communication open at all levels. Current school board members (with limited exceptions) have not made the time nor shown the leadership to visit Malibu and address pertinent issues. This is symptomatic of a board that regularly disregards community input and generally rubber-stamps district administrators’ decisions. Projects, such as those that involve bond allocation decisions, reflect the interests of narrow stakeholder groups.
Cady: One way to combat the sense of disenfranchisement is to support and elect a Malibu resident to the school board. I have lived in Malibu for thirty-five years and taught in the school district for thirty-seven years at SMASH and Samohi. My wife, Linda Cady taught at Malibu Park Junior High before moving to John Adams and organizing the Santa Monica Science Magnet. Our daughter, Kristin, went to district schools and graduated from Santa Monica High School in 1998. I am particularly well situated to bridge the divide between the district and Malibu.
De la Torre: I can say with all honesty that the students of Malibu are not an afterthought to me personally or my colleagues who serve on the Board of Education. I see the students of our district as one. Although the physical separation of our school district does not lend itself to building a cohesive community, we always strive to be responsive. We have voted positively to invest in various capital improvement projects and most recently we voted to restore counselors and staff to Malibu High School after parents requested these put backs.
I will continue to work to ensure that our District staff is responsive to the concerns that Malibu parents and residents have expressed. I also agree that we should use technology to provide live access to meetings and work to have Malibu resident representation in all district committees. Malibu students and parents can count on my track record of voting positively for the issues that matter most.
Lieberman: These concerns are understandable. Although Santa Monica and Malibu are part of a unified school district, the vast majority of district students and voters come from Santa Monica. All current school board members are from Santa Monica, the central office is in Santa Monica and our two cities are 15 miles apart.
If I am elected, I will work hard to change the feeling that Malibu is an “afterthought” and to ensure that Malibu families are heard and feel an integral part of the District. I will meet regularly with Malibu parents and staff to listen and learn, and address the specific concerns of Malibu schools. Several schools have bi-monthly “coffee with the principal.” I would like to establish something along those lines in Malibu. I will also develop opportunities for district-wide shared educational and social experiences. The best way to build trust in our district is to work together on shared issues or projects, as parents and community members did on the SOS campaign...
Mechur: Malibu parents and residents are concerned about having information and being part of the decision-making process addressing the quality of education their children will receive, but with district offices in Santa Monica and most meetings being held in Santa Monica, it is natural to feel otherwise...
The district should make sure that all agendas and meeting videos are uploaded quickly so that all community members in both Santa Monica and Malibu can have timely access.
Additionally, board members, who do serve all our students, should have more direct conversations on a regular basis with parents and city officials to discuss key issues.
Patel: Over the past several years there has been a rift between Santa Monica and Malibu schools. Part of the rift is caused by the unique challenges, geography and demographics of each community, but also because the district has not done an effective job of reaching out to the residents of Malibu and hearing their concerns. This is also magnified by the fact that there has not been a Malibu resident on our school board since Kathy Wisnicki and with the departure of Assistant Superintendent Michael Matthews, there has been a Malibu representation void at the district wide level. I welcome Malibu representation on the school board, and at minimum the board should appoint a Malibu representative to serve on an advisory capacity. At board meetings, the representative should be given the opportunity to brief the board on Malibu issues and provide input on any pending action items. The board should also host events and town hall meetings in Malibu throughout the year so that the residents have greater access to the district officials.
Watchel: Physical distance from the district office should not constitute a reason for Malibu to be neglected. Both cities are crucial. Excellent public education is our shared aim. The Board of Education must create easy access to decision-making in our schools through better community outreach in both cities.
Technology exists for board meetings to be accessed online and on television, so the district needs to ensure that this communication happens.
Furthermore, meetings in Malibu must happen and education committees should be formed, comprised of Malibu and Santa Monica residents.
SMMUSD has an immediate need for a Public Information Official to effectively disseminate information district-wide and encourage and engage the community to participate in our schools and district decisions...As a school board member, I will work to ensure that Malibu is central to district decisions, and that residents of Malibu are informed and encouraged to participate in all school programs and decisions.
MSN: Many Malibu Park residents are expressing frustration over what they describe as an increasingly hostile relationship with the school district. Recent conflicts have involved the field lighting plan, and issues with trash, maintenance and the fire alarm system at Malibu High School. Currently, community members are attempting to oppose a Measure BB-funded plan to fence and lock down the Malibu High school campus, making it inaccessible to children who walk to the school from the neighborhood, as well as putting the open facility off limits to community members who use the campus for recreation when school is not in session and depend on it as an emergency evacuation location. Is there a way to improve relations? Do the needs of the school district outweigh the needs of the community?
Bley: It is essential in any community, school or otherwise, that those who live there have access (during non-school hours) to educational facilities. It not only provides a better relationship between the community and the school district; it also allows for better use of facilities to generate revenue and provide new income streams to augment the district's general fund.
Cady: There is no doubt in my mind that a fence is absolutely necessary to the safety of our children during school hours—our world, even Malibu—is not as safe as we would like it to be. Access to the school and grounds after school and on weekends needs to worked out as part of the joint access agreement with the City of Malibu. District staff has responded to concern expressed by parents concerning student access through the fence before and after school.
De la Torre: I support schools as community centers. Students in Malibu need space to play and learn. We should not fence up Malibu High and I have always been an advocate to listening and responding to resident complaints. I think that we need to be good neighbors and work to be at peace with our natural surroundings and neighbors.
Lieberman: I reject the underlying premise that the needs of the School District and the community are necessarily in conflict. In fact, our schools are a vital part of our community, and community support for our schools is essential. When conflicts arise between the School District and other segments of our community, we need to make every effort to reach for solutions that balance the various interests involved. This requires ongoing dialogue and collaborative relationships between the various community players, including our school leaders.
While I am not familiar with all of the details involved in the fencing controversy, there are legitimate safety and security concerns that need to be addressed. Surely, the safety and security of students is a genuine concern for both the School District and the community. At the same time, the District should look for solutions that take into consideration other community concerns as well. Fencing issues of this kind exist throughout the District, though those at Malibu High appear to be more complex.
With respect to school site issues that have an impact on the surrounding community, whether in Malibu or in Santa Monica, issues and concerns should be discussed openly before decisions are made. Consensus or compromise decisions are obviously more desirable, but in the end, if consensus or compromise is not possible, a decision is better made when all sides have had an opportunity to present their views and all information has been made available.
Mechur: Malibu High School serves students and the community. It makes sense for it to be a multi-user facility that provides access for the neighbors and groups to use when the school is not in session. Certainly the district is responsible for maintaining a clean, safe and functioning facility. Decisions regarding fencing and access should always be evaluated on impact on the ability to provide educational services and service to the community. The District and the Malibu Park residents should have good communication about the issues and attempt to develop plans all can accept.
Patel: Public schools belong to the community that they serve. We should always strive to seek community input on how our schools are maintained; keeping in mind that student safety is one of the paramount goals during school hours. I believe that schools grounds should be available to the community during non school hours. Children need a place to play, exercise and enjoy the outdoors. Public schools make a strong community and a community makes strong public schools.
Wachtel The needs of the district should include the needs of the community. I understand the desire and importance of Malibu residents to have their voices heard. I empathize with those who have not been heard. My position is that they should and will be heard in the future, that the SMMUSD is stronger than either city’s individual district would be if they separated. But both cities must be full participants in decision making in the unified district. Shortsightedness accounts for the failure to recognize this fact. There must be wider community outreach to Malibu. With improved leadership in place and wiser district-wide decisions, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District will be more beneficial to Malibu. I am a strong leader and listener. I am committed to communicating and helping others communicate. I want our joint venture in education to be of real and permanent benefit to Malibu as well as Santa Monica.
Most of the candidates used the final question as an opportunity to campaign, but two addressed the following question:
MSN: Is there an issue or concern that has not yet been raised that you would like to discuss?
Bley: School supporters need to rethink the unspoken rule in the community not to criticize the school district. I believe this rule came into being once the schools started to depend on parcel taxes, which need a 66 2/3 percent majority to pass. The problem with this no-criticism rule: How can improvements happen if nobody acknowledges problems? I don't like to be negative, but right now, the board and administrators' management of the budget need to be changed.
People who care can't pretend nothing is wrong. Criticism is a positive force if it is accompanied by constructive change. That's what I am trying to bring about.
Lieberman: The questionnaire does not touch upon one of the most crucial issues facing our district, which is how to address the achievement gap between various groups of students. In my opinion, excellence and equity are compatible goals and need to be pursued simultaneously.
Note: Some answers were edited for space. Deletions are indicated with an ellipse.

Family Members of Mitrice Richardson Prod Coroner for Final Report

• Scheduling Conflicts and Case’s Complexity Delay Timetable for Wrap-Up of Investigation

BY ANNE SOBLE


Latice Sutton, the mother of Mitrice Richardson, says the wait for the results of the investigation into her daughter’s death by the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner is “emotionally draining” to her and other family members. She says they are frustrated because not having information on the cause of her death has brought their efforts to a standstill.
Richardson, a 24-year-old Los Angeles 4.0 GPA honors college graduate and beauty pageant finalist was taken into custody on Sept. 16, 2009, and booked at Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station for nonpayment of a Malibu restaurant tab. Her uncharacteristically bizarre behavior is being attributed to the onset of a previously undiagnosed bipolar disorder.
The slight African-American woman was listed as missing for almost 11 months until skeletal remains and the clothing she was wearing when she disappeared were found in rugged Malibu Canyon backcountry on Aug. 9.
The remains are reported to be primarily skeletal with some mummification of part of the body.
Although family members question the length of time the DOC is taking, there have been other high-profile cases that were investigated for six months or more before a final determination was issued. Although this has not been publicly stated, the media scrutiny of Richardson’s disappearance and the many search efforts, as well as litigation already filed against the county and sheriff’s department, may put extra pressure on the DOC to not release information until it has been repeatedly cross-checked.
Two weeks ago, DOC Assistant Chief Ed Winter told the Malibu Surfside News that Richardson’s toxicology and other tests had been completed, but he emphasized, “There is a security hold on all information,” and he declined to comment on any of the specifics of the investigation.
At that time, Winter indicated that he, the Chief Medical Examiner Coroner Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran, the department pathologist and a contract forensic anthropologist were going to meet last week to determine whether the draft report requires additional work, but scheduling issues prevented that meeting, described as the next critical step in the process, from taking place.
The meeting is now expected to occur sometime this week. Winter has said that the mother and other family members should not be concerned about being left out of the information loop, as the final report will be given to the family before it is distributed to the media and the public.
Sutton believes the circumstances of the case cry out for a homicide ruling as the cause of the death of her daughter who disappeared after being released Sept. 17, 2009, from the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station’s remote location, alone, on foot, without her wallet, cell phone or a jacket, just after midnight on a cold night.
Sutton has stated that if the coroner’s office rules that the cause of death is undeterminable, she is prepared to bring in independent forensic expertise and “will exhume [her] daughter’s body” because she is convinced that Richardson was murdered.
RESIDENT CONCERNS
Of particular interest to many following the Richardson case is whether the DOC report can in any way address statements made by some residents in the Calabasas neighborhood where the woman was last seen alive and near where her remains were found.
These residents reported hearing a woman talking to herself at several locations in the area for two days after Richardson was released from Lost Hills. Residents then reported that they heard cries, or screams, for help the night of Sept. 21, 2009, which some of them now think might have been when she was killed.
The residents, whose identity currently is not being disclosed, say they heard a cry for help, then the start of a second cry that was stopped midway as if the person crying out was being muffled or choked. One of them thought it sounded like a baby, another thought neighbors were having a domestic dispute, but no one reported the incident at the time because they assumed there was a benign explanation for the sounds.
When they did contact the sheriff’s department shortly thereafter, the residents said homicide detectives appeared disinterested in their reports and never indicated that they followed up on them. Residents noted that sheriff’s personnel seemed predisposed toward theories that Richardson wanted to get away from her family and decided to run away, a notion that her mother repeatedly tried to dispel.
In addition to the longstanding cries-for-help hypothesis, a number of residents in this area are now reporting strange goings-on, including recent residential break-ins, verified evidence of computer tampering, and surveillance from parked cars with tinted windows that they think might be related to illegal marijuana cultivation taking place in the vicinity and might have a direct or an indirect connection to Richardson’s death.
Because some of these residents have questioned the thoroughness of sheriff's department searches conducted in their area right after Sutton reported her daughter as missing, they say they are reluctant to discuss their new concerns with any Lost Hills deputies because they do not know which of them have been named in the litigation filed by Richardson family members.
As concerns for their personal safety increase, four residents said they tried to set up a meeting with the Lost Hills Station commander, Capt. Joe Stephen. They were told that they couldn’t meet with him until they filed a report with the front desk, which they say. creates a catch-22 for them.
The News has been unable to corroborate whether this procedure is required and, if it is, whether it might be related to a gag order on Lost Hills personnel because of the litigation, or reflects less of an open-door policy than has been traditional for the station.

Last Two Corral Fire Defendants Sentenced

• Pair Deemed Less Culpable


The two remaining defendants in the 2007 Corral wildfire were sentenced last week to probation and community service for their role in the devastating conflagration.
Eric Matthew Ullman, 21, and Dean Allen Lavorante, 22, pleaded no contest to recklessly first starting the fire but were perceived as less culpable than the other three defendants who allowed the fire to go out of control and have already been given more stringent sentences.
Superior Court Judge Susan Speer sentenced the pair to five years probation and ordered them to do 500 hours of fire-related community service.
Their lesser culpability is based on Ullman and Lavorante having left the cave atop Corral Canyon where they had built a campfire that was taken over by the other three men who built up the flames until powerful Santa Ana winds sent them into the chaparral.
Speer ruled that Ullman and Lavorante were not liable for the estimated $25 million in restitution and damages caused by the fire, although she ordered them to pay a $1000 fine to the state restitution fund.
The other defendants: Brian Alan Anderson, 25; William Thomas Coppock, 26; and Brian David Franks, 30, had previously pleaded no contest. Anderson and Coppock were sentenced to a year in jail and placed on probation with community service. Franks, who testified against Anderson and Coppock, was sentenced to five years probation and 300 hours of community service.
Anderson and Coppock are scheduled to appear in court on Dec. 1 for a restitution hearing. They have already been ordered to pay $7.7 million in restitution for firefighting costs. Restitution to homeowners is about $17 million.
While it appears unlikely these obligations can be met, a major legal precedent has been established for wildfire responsibility.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Coastal Commission Approves Modified Camping and Trail Plan

• Ramirez Canyon Representatives Offer Only Opposition During Public Comment at the Meeting

BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN


At its Oct. 13 meeting in Oceanside, the California Coastal Commission voted unanimously to approve and certify a revised version of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority Malibu Parks Public Access Enhancement Plan-Public Works Plan.
According to the staff report, the final plan, which incorporates SMMC/MRCA’s Malibu properties in Ramirez, Escondido, Latigo and Corral canyons and the conservancy-owned portion of Bluffs Park, features 17.5 miles of new or improved recreational trails, including seven new miles of the Coastal Slope Trail, which will connect four of the conservancy properties to each other and to National Park Service properties in Trancas, Zuma and Solstice canyons.
The plan also incorporates the first new camping facilities in the Santa Monica Mountains in over 50 years: 54 campsites, including 43 regular and 11 Americans with Disabilities Act compliant sites, that will serve a maximum of 280 visitors.
A variety of new parking and restroom facilities, 12 new day use areas and two new trailheads, are also included in the project.
The plan approved last week includes a number of modifications that address many of the fire hazard, environmental impact and access concerns raised during the public input phases of the EIR process for the original proposal.
Changes included the elimination of all proposed campsites in Escondido and Latigo Canyons, which will now have trail improvements and day use facilities only. Camping in Ramirez Canyon was reduced to two ADA-compliant sites.
In Corral Canyon, the campground will now be situated closer to Pacific Coast Highway, and clustered together, in an attempt to address fire safety and supervision concerns expressed during a series of public workshops.
The modified plan for the Bluffs Park campground added a number of campsites to compensate for removal of campsites at Escondido and Latigo canyons, but also relocated some sites to the western end and clustered the camping locations to reduce view impact and address fire safety concerns expressed by Malibu Road residents, the staff report states.
“[This plan] makes accessible the huge public investment in the Santa Monica Mountains zone,” SMMC executive director Joe Edmiston told the Coastal Commission.
Edmiston stated that in the real estate market, premiums are paid for bluewater views. “Under this proposal, anybody with 10 or 15 bucks in their pocket and willing to put up with cold camping can have the same view as the wealthiest in the state,” Edmiston said.
“The point of all this is we need public camping,” Edmiston continued. “[There are] almost 11 million people in Ventura and L.A. County that need to be served, parks that need to be connected, and protected.”
That has been lacking in Malibu. We have acquired these properties. Nearly every single one was supposed to be a major development. We took that off the table. We need to make sure the public can use it.”
“You haven't seen a proposal like this, certainly in Southern California and many never in California, in terms of one fell swoop changing the entire pattern of public access and public use,” Edmiston said.
The revised plan appeared to meet with nearly universal approval. A number of homeowners and homeowner groups who initially opposed the plan, were on record endorsing the revised version.
There was no organized opposition at the meeting, and while numerous speakers applauded the plan, only a few were there to oppose it.
Joyce Parker-Bozylinski, planning manager for the City of Malibu, thanked the conservancy for making modifications.
Melanie Beck, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area’s official representative described the plan as “contiguous, safe, protective.” She conveyed the NPS’s support for the proposal.
“The public requested completion of Coastal Slope Trail and camping,” Beck said. “The camps proposed offer a unique blend of coastal and backcountry camping and hiking opportunities.
“I feel like I’m a bit outnumbered here, like Horatio at the bridge,” Ramirez resident Rick Mullen said. “Because no one is here doesn’t mean that there isn’t opposition to the inappropriate and dangerous aspects of this plan and we will opposes it,” Mullen said. “We welcome visitors. We welcome the trail plan. We just have some problems with some of the aspects.”
“The residents of Ramirez do not oppose camping, disabled camping on the Ramirez property,” said Steve Amerikaner, the attorney for Ramirez Canyon Preservation Fund. “They don’t oppose educational programs for children, trail, day use. None of those do we take issue with. The only thing we take issue with is the [SMMC’s] offices.
“This will bring so much public access: trails and camping, and really tie together what is missing in the Santa Monica Mountains,” Commissioner and Malibu resident Sara Wan said.
“I know there are beaches people can go to for the day, but to really go to and experience the Santa Monica Mountains, to go and stay there, to hike there to have access to it, that’s what the National Recreation Area should be and that’s what [this plan] does, Wan said.
The commission voted to approve the revised plan, making a couple of small changes of their own.
Proposed fire shelters were deemed unlikely to provide practical, real world protection during wildfire, and propane stoves were reconsidered, on the basis that there had never been a documented incident of wildfire in California connected with them, and that plug-in electric stoves were not practical or even widely available.
“The people of California who purchased these parklands have won a major victory,” said Edmiston, after the meeting.
“This superb plan is the culmination of an effort that goes back 17 years. It owes to the resolution of the board members from both agencies, our public agency partners, and most of all from the outpouring of support from the public.”
PARK PLAN—A map of the proposed Public Works Plan released on Oct. 13 shows the location of existing trails and the sites of proposed trails, restrooms, picnic areas, parking areas and campsites on the network of Conservancy-owned properties in Malibu. SMMC

City Officials Invite Resident Discussion on Busch Drive Trail

•Road Encroachment Issue Leads to Dialogue on Potential for Horse and Footpath Option

BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN


Approximately two-dozen Malibu Park residents met with city officials last Wednesday for an informal discussion about road encroachments along Busch Drive and whether an equestrian/pedestrian path would be feasible.
Residents say the road, one of three entry points to Malibu Park, and a popular route for pedestrians and equestrians as well as vehicular traffic, has become overgrown with out of control landscaping. The audience was told that the overgrown right-of-way is also a liability for the city of Malibu.
An informal poll taken by city public works director Bob Brager at the meeting indicated that the majority of residents present favored some sort of trail, preferable one that separated pedestrians and equestrians from traffic without negatively impacting existing residences or lead to illegal parking on the trail easement.
One new arrival to the Malibu Park neighborhood voiced concern that a trail could lower property values. “I moved here four years ago,” he said. “What kind of can of worms are we opening? Here we are talking about extending pavement to people who don’t even live here. They have a 25-foot road to walk on.”
Many residents expressed concern about what they perceive as unsafe speeds on the steep and winding road. Others indicated that, while they favor a trail of some sort, they would prefer it to be harmonious with the rural character of the neighborhood and did not want it to look like the sidewalks installed on Point Dume, which was criticized for their zig-zagging appearance.
Malibu Park resident John Wall, who said he favored a path for horses and pedestrians, recounted spending a day at a Caltrans traffic workshop when he chaired the City of Malibu's traffic safety commission a number of years earlier. He suggested narrowing the lanes and repainting faded fog lines. “If you mark the center and fog lines clearly, people will slow down,” Wall said. “Put the fog lines at the 10-foot mark,” he suggested. “Maybe Caltrans didn’t know what they were taking about [when they explained that narrower lanes could result in slower traffic] but they spent a day on it.”
Don Schmitz, who sits on the city’s trails commission, explained that the city already has the right-of-way for a trail to connect PCH with the National Park Service trailhead at the top of Busch Drive. “This is a priority trail,” Schmitz said. The law is crystal clear. The city has an unequivocal right-in a sensitive way-to clear the trail.”
Trancas Riders and Ropers president Jeff Routledge expressed enthusiasm for a Busch trail, and asked that something other than asphalt be used, to make it easier for horses to use. Routledge also stated that there are other Malibu Park hazards for equestrians and pedestrians, including unsafe conditions on Merritt, where the city’s equestrian center is located, and illegal off-road vehicles on the equestrian center trails.
“The equestrian center is so dangerous right now,” another speaker agreed. “It’s really bad. Off-leash dogs, dirt bikes, trucks. It’s an off-road park right now. I want a buffer between cars [and the proposed Busch trail] she said.
Malibu activist Ryan Embree suggested white split-rail fencing as an option that would protect foot traffic but retain the rural character of the area and keep cars off the trail, while others discussed whether decomposed granite would work on the steep portion of the road, and whether mailboxes could remain in place.
City officials cautioned that the meeting was the first of many, and that any final proposal would be subject to a length process comprised of public and engineering review.
“We want to work with you folks,” public works superintendent Richard Calvin said. “We could go in with a dozer and, zip, clear it all out. I want to make it clear that our job is to take care of all of you. Let us know what you want.”

Malibu Lagoon Restoration Approved by California Coastal Commission

• Wetlands Defense Fund Head Threatens Litigation

BY BILL KOENEKER



When the dust settled on the California Coastal Commission’s unanimous decision to approve a permit for the Department of Parks and Recreation’s plans to restore Malibu Lagoon, it was not a controversial issue dividing environmentalists but rather one sole group and its supporters fighting an uphill battle.
Wetlands Defense Fund, which is headed up by Marcia Hanscom had objected to the plans, which even proponents called “aggressive” for bulldozing the lagoon. The group which notably pulled supporters from other environmental organizations and homeowners from the Colony were unable to persuade other groups and the commission there was a viable feasible alternative to restore the small estuary which is plagued by poor water quality.
Hanscom said the group is weighing its options, but might decide to take legal action against the elimination of a public trail. “We think we have a pretty good case,” she said.
Hanscom noted the commission is supposed to offer maximum public access and should not have approved the elimination of the trail that goes over the bridges for an existing trail that skirts the perimeter of the site.
A film featuring Wetlands Defense Fund biologist Roy van de Hoek, was played at the hearing, and kept flashing the message as it depicted bulldozers in a lagoon, “Follow the money, follow the money.”
The second half of the film was footage of Van de Hoek talking about how another feasible approach could be used instead by doing everything by hand. The film’s money references may have been to the many governmental agencies and groups who endorsed the plan and had most insisted on the majority approach after having promised hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money.
“We had wondered why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service changed their decision on when the project could begin after they had originally stated the project could not go on in the summer time when the tidewater goby breeds. Then we found out they had also contributed $1 million to the project,” Hanscom said, changing their recommendation to summer, the timeline the project’s sponsors..
While there was a brief discussion in the beginning of the hearing about whether such agency’s could testify on behalf of a program they had already had funded, the legal experts said there was no conflict of interest because they were non-profit groups and would not profit from any particular decision.
“All of them will be getting monitoring dollars. But all we are saying is they have to comply with the Coastal Act,” Hanscom added.
A good portion of the deliberations, though, was actually taken up by the commissioners, who seemed more focused on a wall proposed by the State Parks that would be placed on state land between the lagoon site and Colony property owners.
Homeowners represented by Don Schmitz sought to build gates or doors through the wall to keep their access they currently enjoy to the lagoon property.
However, not all commissioners saw it as a matter of denying the Colony residents access to parkland, but rather a “private access” issue beyond the scope of the commission.
After much discussion and debate the commission decided 3 to 7 to not allow the homeowners to have a gate or door.
When it came time for the main motion, it was Commissioner Sara Wan from Malibu, who lead the charge for the State Parks plan.
“Overall it is a very good project. It’s long term benefits will outweigh the short term disruptions. Overall the lagoon is degraded and not functioning as it should. Maybe it won’t take care of all the problems but it will go a long way in helping.
They can’t do that by pulling plants by hand or using hand tools,” Wan said.
Hanscom said the commission never really discussed any other alternative project or plan.
“We submitted an alternative. The commission never considered it,” Hanscom added, saving the law requires the commission to consider an alternative.

City Council Asked to Weigh In on Remodeling Loophole in Zoning

• Builders Have Been Able to Construct Replacement Housing

BY BILL KOENEKER



Municipal planners are asking the Malibu City Council next week to enter the debate about how to correct a loophole for builders who seek a remodeling permit, but end up with nearly a replacement structure because of how the current zoning laws read.
The matter has been batted back and forth by a city council subcommittee, which sought advice from the Architects and Engineers Technical Advisory Committee which moved the discussion into an entirely different direction by recommending the city use a carrot approach rather than a stick and offer builders incentives and presumably make allowances if they built more green.
However, planners contend they have been presented with several projects that are described by applicants as remodels when in fact the projects have resulted in significant demolition, and construction activities that exceed the Local Coastal Program’s definition of a remodel.
Planers say that what has happened is that during actual construction when additional exterior walls are removed and replaced the new walls are never counted against the 50 percent threshold.
“Even though, the demolition plans approved for the project demonstrated compliance with the 50 percent threshold the approved project scope changed during actual construction beyond code allowances,” the staff report states.
Since the LCP does not say how to count the 50 percent threshold, it has become problematic on several levels, according to the planning department.
The city ends up with a replacement structure that may no longer meet code and also becomes non-conforming
It then can require hours and hours of extra staff time for further review and the matter when brought to the attention of the staff can result in a permit violation which require further additional time of staff.

City Council is Being Asked to Reconsider Whether to Vacate Rambla Pacifico

• Staff Recommending No Rights to Street

BY BILL KOENEKER


“Please do not vacate Rambla Pacifico Road,” was heard from the Lower Rambla Pacifico Road Owners Association at the last meeting of the Malibu City Council.
However, the homeowners heard little from the city at the meeting other than to learn the city was going forward with the vacation hearing and the reasons for it would be learned later.
LRPROA is trying to put in a private emergency access road to reopen Rambla Pacifico Road, nut keeps stumbling upon more and more legal roadblocks
The staff report released this week for the council’s meeting next Monday night indicates the city’s rationale for its decision to vacate the road now.
The report states, in no uncertain terms, city officials have finalized the legal description and associated map and, “We are ready to vacate the road easement.”
First and foremost, the city’s road easement does not give the municipality the legal right to permit construction of a private road. The city can only retain the easement or vacate it. The public road easement cannot be transferred to individual parties nor can it be sold by the city, according to the city’s senior civil engineer, Robert DuBoux.
The ROA told the city council if it vacates the road it could complicate legal matters for the homeowners,
“If they vacate the road, because of a small but determined intense opposition, it will cause us so many problems. We bought the underlying road rights,” said Scott Dittrich, who heads up LRPROA.
However, the staff report recommends the city not retain the public road easement or obtain any other easements within the roadway as the street would then be subject to public road standards and the road must be accessible to the public at large.
Mincing no words, the report goes on to state further reasons to vacate the road.
The city might incur liability or be partially liable or perceived to be responsible for private hillside and roadway operation and maintenance.
The council was told by an ROA member that the road association had been promised by city officials that the road would not be vacated until they finished building the private access.
The city’s planning commission granted a permit for the project and a previous city council gave thousands of dollars in the form of forgiven permit fees to the homeowners to assist in completing the private road.
Council members, in contrast to past city councils, were nearly mum on the issue and turned to City Manager Jim Thorsen to represent the city..
Thorsen said, “The road association always portrayed they owned all of the road easements.”
Several homeowners below the slide mass have expressed concern about what might happen to the already bull-dozed hillside if heavy rains should come and the project is still delayed in some kind of legal limbo.

Publisher’s Notebook

• Can You Hear Them Now? •

BY ANNE SOBLE


Next week, the California Highway Patrol will repeat the Zero Tolerance Distracted Driving campaign in Los Angeles County that is aimed at demonstrating, that while there is a place for multi-tasking in today’s fast paced world, that place is not on the road. The CHP, with the support of other agencies in the county, wants to remind drivers of that quaint notion from driver’s ed that has likely been long forgotten—both hands on the steering wheel and eyes on the road.
ZTDD is a zero-tolerance approach to not adhering to the state's hands-free mobile laws. One cannot text while driving, or hold a cell phone to one’s ear. “The days of targeted enforcement are intended to educate through visual presence and enforcement of the laws,” said CHP Chief Steve Beeuwsaert. “The message is simple: No call, text or any other distraction is worth someone losing their life.”
State statistics indicate that inattention played a role in as many as 30,000 collisions in California in 2008. More than 1000 of those cases involved a driver who admitted a cell phone was being used at the time the accident occurred. It’s likely that there were many other drivers who didn’t fess up. Distracted driving was cited as a factor in 5500 deaths and 448,000 injuries on the nation’s roadways last year.
Not only texting or using a hand-held phone will merit a citation, so will eating, shaving, applying make-up, and anything else that is a distraction. Studies affirm that the distracted driver might be more dangerous than a driver under the influence of a controlled substance. Being under the influence, as in engrossed, can apply to a conversation, music, or a sports event, because the driver could lose focus during the split second it takes an accident to occur.
Tests show that even such mundane tasks as changing the radio station or adjusting climate controls can lead to losing control of a vehicle. If a driver is changing the radio station, veers off the roadway and comes back on, this counts as a moving violation, and if cited, puts a point on the driver’s record.
To illustrate the effect of driving while distracted, the stopping distance for a car going 65-mph in good conditions is 345 feet. If the driver takes their eyes off the road for two seconds while reaching for something, putting on make-up, reading, anything that takes attention away from the road, that adds 190 feet to the 345 feet, and the total stopping distance is 535 feet, almost two football fields in length.
One doesn’t have to be in a car to be exposed to the dangers of roadway distraction. Bicyclists not only talk to each other while navigating in traffic, they can be seen talking into hands-free headsets. Pedestrians cross PCH while on their cell phones. If a runaway truck catapults down Kanan, and someone in the crosswalk is so distracted that they don’t hear it coming, one more statistic might be added to the total.

MHS Forum Focuses on Issues That Face Malibu Schools

• Lack of Publicity Outside the High School Community Results in Disappointing Audience for Only Malibu Debate

BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN


All eight candidates for four seats on the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School district were in Malibu last Wednesday for a forum at Malibu High School.
Asked how they would address “feelings that Malibu is neglected,” The candidates agreed that the district could do better communicating with Malibu.
Nimish Patel, a district parent and small business owner who has been active in the district’s Financial Oversight Committee, advocated town hall meetings and suggested that the superintendent could do outreach.
Patrick Cady, a longtime Malibu resident who is a retired district teacher and continues to coach at Santa Monica High School, described a policy of isolation. “We have more common meetings, more shared ideas,” he said.
District education activist Laurie Lieberman indicated that board members could spend more time in Malibu “I want to bring parents and teachers together to work on common concerns,” she said.
Santa Monica High School alumnus Chris Bley, who is currently a high school teacher in a neighboring school district, suggested the creation of a Santa Monica-Malibu District advisory committee with a board liaison as a way to solve problems “before they happen.”
The incumbents: board president Ralph Mechur, Barry Snell and Oscar de la Torre concurred that the board could do better. Mechur suggested additional electronic communication. De la Torre advocated listening to residents’ concerns. Snell indicated that he made it a point to attend Malibu school events on a regular basis.
Asked about the Point Dume Elementary charter petition, Snell and Mechur and Bley all stated that, if the petition meets the criteria, it should be approved. De la Torre exhibited slightly more enthusiasm, indicating that he supported local control.
Lieberman said she supports the petition but questions the impact the change may have on Malibu Middle School, since the charter petition proposes returning to the school’s pre-1980 closure K-6 range, instead of K-5.
Jake Watchel, a producer whose daughter is a district student, was supportive of the effort and indicated that the district needs to increase revenues to remove the threat of school closures.
Patel appeared the most supportive, stating that he has read the charter petition, and called it thorough and “very impressive.”
Cady said that he didn’t want to see the school close and supported the charter petition if it meant the school would stay open, but expressed concerns that it could become an “elitist” school that could negatively impact the other schools in the district by attracting transfers.
The budget was also a key topic of concern.
Asked how the district can create equity, Bley and Watchel both said they support hiring a commission-based director of development.
Patel suggested finding ways to reach the 80 percent of district residents who he said do not have children in school. Mechur, Snell and Lieberman advocated district-wide fundraising efforts, with Lieberman also recommended finding new ways to encourage joint use agreements and recruiting volunteers.
De la Torre stated he supported the creation of an equity fund, but indicated that it was important not to destroy site-based initiatives.
Cady recommended creating sister schools within the district, to promote sharing of resources.
Later in the forum, Patel suggested technology and licensing as a potential way to create revenue. He indicated that the district had an idea deficit as well as a budget deficit, and suggested that merchandise with Malibu High School on it could potentially share the success of items with the City of Beverly Hills brand.
Bley blasted the current board for allowing a 4.5 percent increase in general administration, while 58 teachers and programs were cut. He also criticized the district’s data processing budget, stating that the SMMUSD spends about $800,000 on data processing, versus $89,000 for the Las Virgenes District, which he indicated was comparable in size.
Although the forum was the only one in Malibu for the school board candidates this election, the auditorium was almost empty. One observer described the turnout as “pathetic.”
At the end of the event, PTA president Wendy Sidley stated she was embarrassed by the low turnout, but that she hoped those who did attend the event would share what they learned.

Sheriff’s ‘Authorization’ to Take Mitrice Richardson’s Skull to Lost Hills Station Still an Issue of Contention

• LASD Spokesperson Adds ‘Communication’ Issues to the Mix

BY ANNE SOBLE


Steve Whitmore, media spokesperson for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, said the LASD “did not commit a crime” when it moved some of Mitrice Richardson’s skeletal remains without the authorization of the ranking Department of Coroner personnel at the location where they were found, but he acknowledged there is “a difference of opinion” on the issue between the agencies.
Richardson, a 24-year-old Los Angeles African-American honors college graduate, was taken into custody for nonpayment of a Malibu restaurant tab. She was described by restaurant guests and personnel “as acting as if she is crazy,” and subsequent review indicated she might have been experiencing the onset of a previously undiagnosed bipolar disorder. She was missing for almost 11 months until skeletal remains found in rugged Malibu Canyon backcountry on Aug. 9 were publicly identified as Richardson on Aug. 12.
On the issue of moving skeletal remains, Whitmore said, “When all the facts are out, it will be clear that there was no internal misconduct,” but this week he added another component to the discussion of the dispute that began in the Malibu Surfside News last week. The LASD media liaison said, “There may have been issues related to miscommunication [and] there are radio [communication] problems and the system could be more effective.”
Whitmore said the lead homicide detective on the Richardson case, Lt. Mike Rosson, received authorization from a DOC “captain” to remove the skull from the site, but Whitmore said, “I do not remember his name.”
The News emailed Rosson to ask whether he knows the name of the person who gave him authorization, but the detective did not respond before the newspaper went to press and the online edition was posted.
The News has verified that the ranking DOC officer at the find location was Assistant Chief Ed Winter who, according to the sheriff’s spokesperson, was not the person who provided authorization, which raises the question, if there was a dispute about moving remains, might action have been taken in contravention of the ranking official’s determination? State law says the coroner is the only party to move dead bodies, or remains, unless it grants express authorization otherwise.
Whitmore said Richardson’s skull was taken from the site and transported to the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station, which was the command post for handling the remains. The sequence of moving the rest of the remains and subsequent returns to the site for bones missed previously has not been made public.
In addition, Whitmore acknowledged that there was confusion about the exact location where state park rangers, checking on an abandoned marijuana grove, stumbled upon Richardson’s remains.
The LASD spokesperson said media statements that the remains were found 30 miles from Lost Hills, rather than six-to-seven miles away and a mile or so from where Richardson was last seen alive, were “not intentional.” Whitmore said, “I’m not good at estimating distances, and the numbers were corrected as soon as accurate information was available.”
Whitmore emphasized that there are three separate official reports that will address any issues of inconsistency of information and inter-agency disputes: the sheriff’s department’s own report, for which he had no timetable; the coroner’s report, which will be the subject of a high level DOC meeting this week and expected soon thereafter; and a report by the Office of Independent Review, which is supposed to provide oversight on the LASD and so far has said it did everything by the book.
Assistant Chief Winter said he would not comment on the specifics of any dispute, but alluded to the existence of one when he said, “We are continuing with an internal investigation. We are gathering facts that will resolve any communication issues.”
FAMILY REACTION
After reading the Oct. 14 article in The News, Mitrice Richardson’s mother, Latice Sutton, responded, “If this is true, what motive would the sheriff’s department have to disregard the coroner’s orders? And if [the sheriff’s department] did, what does that say about the family’s fears of a cover-up?”
Sutton said there have been “emails from LASD officials that say they followed the law and protocols on moving remains, but why would the coroner’s office dispute this, if serious problems weren’t involved?”
Dr. Ronda Hampton, Mitrice Richardson’s college mentor and a member of the mother’s close-knit inner circle, sent an email this week to the five members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors asking them to “provide some intervention regarding the revelation that the LASD removed Ms. Richardson’s body against the coroner’s direct order.”
Hampton asked the board members, “As there is an obvious disagreement between the coroner’s office and the sheriff’s department regarding what happened to Ms. Richardson’s remains, are any, or all, of you prepared to not let this interfere with the investigation of this murder [and] are any of you willing to do anything at all to assist in this situation?”
Richardson’s biological father, Michael Richardson, made a generic request for assistance from the supervisors several weeks ago. The dead woman’s parents, who never married, have a contentious relationship.
Although the father engages in ongoing fundraising in his daughter’s name, Sutton emphasizes that he plays no part in and does not contribute financially to her efforts to monitor the progress of the investigation and provide input while she is starting to engage independent professional expertise “should there be an attempt to cover up Mitrice’s murder and not bring the perpetrator(s) to justice.”
CONFERENCE—Assistant Chief Ed Winter of the county Department of Coroner (top right) briefs family members of Mitrice Richardson at the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station after human skeletal remains were found in a rugged area off Malibu Canyon. Meanwhile, a jurisdictional dispute about the remains was ostensibly being waged in the background.
VICTIM—Family members of Mitrice Richardson say they will be satisfied with nothing less than a homicide ruling in the death of the 4.0 GPA college graduate and beauty pageant finalist who disappeared after being released alone and on foot, without her wallet or cell phone, from the Lost Hills Sheriff’sStation just after midnight on Sept. 17, 2009.
PROTOCOL—Lt. Mike Rosson, the lead LASD homicide detective on the Richardson case, said he was given the OK to move skeletal remains by a coroner’s captain who has not been identified by name.

Friday, October 15, 2010

UPDATE: Sources Allege that Sheriff's Department Did Not Have Coroner's Authorization to Move Mitrice Richardson's Remains

—LASD Says It Had the Permission of an Unnamed Coroner's Investigator—

• Such Illegal Action Might Have Compromised the Coroner's Investigation into the Cause of Death in the High-Profile Case of the Los Angeles African-American Woman Who Was Missing for 11 Months after Being Booked at Lost Hills Sheriff's Station for Nonpayment of a Malibu Restaurant Tab and Was Then Released Alone, On Foot, and without Her Purse and Cell Phone in the Remote Area •

BY ANNE SOBLE

The Malibu Surfside News has learned from sources close to the Lost Hills Sheriff's Station and the Mitrice Richardson case that members of the Lost Hills Search and Rescue team, at what may have been the direction of a Los Angeles Sheriff's Department homicide detective, allegedly removed the remains of Mitrice Richardson from their original location on Aug. 9, 2010, prior to any authorization from the Los Angeles Department of Coroner.
This would be a violation of California Government Code 27491.2(b), which states that a dead body "shall not be disturbed or moved from the position or place of death without permission of the coroner or the coroner's appointed deputy. Any violation of this subdivision is a misdemeanor."
The county coroner's office is on record as stating that law enforcement personnel cannot move a body or remains without the express authorization of the coroner's office.
The News also learned that the decision to move the remains was allegedly made by the lead LASD homicide detective on the Richardson case, Michael Rosson. Rosson has not responded to an email from the newspaper requesting a response to the allegation.
These allegations were brought to The News' attention because of purported concern that they will ultimately become public, and when they do, they could provide ammunition for those who contend that Lost Hills personnel were involved in Richardson's death.
Department of Coroner Assistant Chief Ed Winter would not comment on the allegations this week, except to confirm that if such action occurred, it would be illegal, and could raise serious issues in terms of the investigation of a case. He said the reason that is the law is because such action could seriously compromise evidence and preclude thorough analysis.
Winter also declined to respond to information that when the remains were allegedly illegally moved, not all of the bones were collected at the crime scene, and coroner crews had to return to the site several times, and at each of these times found additional bones, which may have been overlooked or dropped by LASD during its handling of the remains.
Winter did discuss that the county coroner's personnel are specialists in skeletal recovery, and they are engaged in training other jurisdictions.
He said this specialized expertise is critical in the collection of evidence as it relates to cause of death. He added that it is thought that 99 percent of Richardson's skeletal remains have been collected.
Winter said Richardson's toxicology and other test results are now in, and the department's official final report is expected to be complete within the next two weeks. "Until then," he said, "there is a security hold on all information."
Winter stressed that the coroner's department is "independent of the sheriff's department," and added that "the final report will pull no punches" in addressing any problems with procedure or process.
Winter indicated that he, the Chief Medical Examiner Coroner Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran, the department pathologist and a contract forensic anthropologist will meet next week to determine whether the draft report requires additional work. The final conclusions will first be given to the family, and then they will be released to the public.
LASD RESPONSE
Steve Whitmore, the spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, acknowledged on Thursday that LASD Search and Rescue crews handled and removed Richardson's skeletal remains at the find site prior to access by the Coroner's Department, but said that action was required by "the inaccessibility of the terrain" to anyone without special backcountry training.
Whitmore said the S/R crews had the permission of the "coroner's supervisor" on the scene, but the spokesperson indicated that he did "not have" the name of that person.
The News has determined that Assistant Chief Winter was the highest ranking DOC investigator at the location. Winter told The News he could not comment on whether he gave authorization because he said, "That issue is a matter of ongoing investigation."
Whitmore also acknowledged that repeat visits to the site located bones that were previously overlooked. He noted in particular the finding of finger bones.
Whitmore stressed that the sheriff's department "has nothing to hide." He added, "If we're wrong, we're wrong, and we will open an immediate inquiry into the matter."
The spokesperson said the Office of Independent Review, which has so far determined that the LASD has done everything by the book in the Richardson case, "is already aware of [the allegations]" and will look into them.
Regarding the lack of response by LASD personnel to The News' inquiries about the allegations, Whitmore said, "They are all under orders not to comment on the case because of the litigation filed against the county, [but they] should respond to inquiries and say that they cannot comment."
FAMILY CONCERNS
Family members of Richardson, a 24-year-old African-American college graduate and beauty pageant finalist who may have been experiencing the onset of a previously undiagnosed bipolar condition when she was taken into custody, are anxiously awaiting the coroner's official report.
Richardson's mother, Latice Sutton, has repeatedly expressed concern that the official results may indicate an undetermined cause of death. Sutton maintains that her "daughter was murdered, and that there is a killer, or killers, on the loose who may be emboldened to strike again."
Sutton agrees with contentions voiced by a number of residents in the unincorporated area of Malibu Canyon, where Richardson's remains were found and where she was last seen alive, that individuals involved in the pornography industry and marijuana farms in that area might have information about Richardson's death.
The mother frequently refers to the pornographic and misogynistic mural that was painted on a culvert wall not far from where the remains were found. Most observers agree that at least two people with different art styles undertook that project, and it might contain clues to what happened to her daughter.
Sutton said that if the coroner's office rules that the cause of death is undeterminable, she is prepared to "engage independent forensic expertise and will exhume Richardson's body, if there is no other alternative to getting at the facts."
Sutton stressed that she and others in her close-knit circle of family and friends "are going to continue to ask questions until we get answers. This is an issue of justice for my daughter and concern for the safety of others in the community."