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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Publisher’s Notebook

• Eating Cake at Malibu City Hall •

BY ANNE SOBLE

An interesting facet of local public opinion that emerged during the recent city council campaign is what appears to be widespread citizen criticism of the public space allocation in Malibu’s new city hall.
It may be that perception trumps reality for many of the Malibuites who think that city hall is not resident-friendly and creates physical barriers between the staff and the public that only serve to fuel the growing distrust most citizens have of government officials and bureaucrats, but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored.
At Monday night’s SRO city council meeting, those who protested the removal of seats from the council chambers were vindicated by the large number of people who had to stand for hours through the lengthy session. There will be other major issues and large crowds that confirm that the seating reduction was a mistake.
But the greatest irritant cited at candidate forums and coffees is the space allocated at city hall for public use. Instead of a bright and airy upstairs location with access to the kitchen for everything from seniors’ dances to awards programs to brainstorming sessions, the public gets to use the Multipurpose and the Zuma rooms.
People alternate calling one or both of them the cellar, the basement, the dungeon, the crypt and a few other epithets best not included in a family newspaper.
A few months ago, when I attended a crowded meeting of the Public Safety Commission that was held in the Multipurpose Room, I had to acknowledge its relatively stark nature. The sterile furniture, the harsh lighting, and the view of a concrete wall that one almost expects to be topped with three strands of barbed wire, project the aesthetics of a police interrogation room.
All that is missing is a two-way mirror so that members of the staff can covertly monitor public behavior, but that probably turned out to be unnecessary because staffers are in the meeting room at all times with absolute veto power over agendas and actions.
Something as minimal as large containers of decorative plants outside the glass, or a colorful mural on the wall, would be an improvement, but the real solution is to reconfigure space for the public on the second floor, where there is natural light, outdoors is visible through windows, and there isn’t the sense of apartheid that exists when one is isolated in the rear of the building on the bottom floor.
I took my first tour—really a brief walkabout—of the upstairs staff quarters with the assistance of someone who shall remain anonymous in case it turns out that my name is on an official no-entry list. The decor may be a bit parvenu pastiche, but even if it’s not to one’s liking, it makes the first floor space look even more oubliettish.
It’s unlikely that the public’s frustration with its quarters will escalate into the fury that claimed King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. City staffers needn’t fear having to ride in a tumbrel to the guillotine. But a storming of the “Bastille” might be in the making, if the powers at Malibu City Hall don’t appreciate the merits of creating an upstairs location for public meetings and consider turning less inviting ground floor areas into storage space.

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