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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Council Discusses PCH ‘Junk Truck’ Issue

• Officials Say Solution to Roadside Activity Controversy Is Difficult


Improvement efforts for the strip of Pacific Coast Highway sometimes jokingly referred to as the “industrial zone” of Point Dume between Portshead and Heathercliff roads have become much more difficult to incorporate than anticipated by City Hall.
The strip is visited daily by food trucks and their commuting customers, junk trucks advertising their business, autos for sale and the discharge of septic from pump trucks into a “mother” tank truck.
The council this week informally discussed the issue, which was not on the agenda, after a Point Dume resident registered another complaint about the activities along that portion of PCH.
“The council should be ashamed of the situation between Heathercliff and Portshead. It is disgusting. I’m sick of it. It is unbelievable and it is getting progressively worse,” said Jeremy, or JD, Stevens. “Somebody is going to get killed. The junk truck is filled with trash.”
City Manager Jim Thorsen, during his report to the council, said it is a lot more difficult to control the situation on PCH than anticipated.
“The food trucks are allowed on a state highway. But we are certainly aware of it.We are reaching out to [property] owners about it,” he said.
Councilmember Joan House said part of the difficulty is the legal issues with the food trucks.
City Attorney Christi Hogin said one aspect of control of the food trucks is the amount of time they can be parked in one location.
“The controversy we hear a lot is about how they compete with local businesses,” she said.
House went on to say the junk truck owner has been sending attorney letters to the city saying they know the law and that he is simply making a living for himself and family.
“The laws of the state are very much in favor of the junk man. The city needs to write a law,” House said.
Councilmember Laura Rosenthal agreed. “The junk trucks are allowed to be there,” she said, adding there is a time limit by which they need to move on. “You can just not hire that business,” she said.
The food trucks, according to Rosenthal, are a problem generating trash, odors and a need for bathrooms.
“The food trucks cannot put out tables and chairs, otherwise they need a bathroom. They have stopped. We are also working with the Malibu Bay Company, which owns the property behind the fence. I know that it looks like nothing is being done, but we have been working on it,” Rosenthal said.
Councilmember John Sibert said the city has been looking for years for a way to regulate it.
“I have been bitching about this for some time. We could pass an ordinance, but we don’t own our main street. I’m not sure our regulations could apply to a state highway, which is owned by somebody else,” he said.
“We are all interested in getting rid of the junk trucks,” said Mayor Lou La Monte.

Councilmember Questioned on Role in MHS Lighting Campaign


Former council candidate Hamish Patterson took Councilmember Laura Rosenthal to task for what he claimed was use of her council office to influence outside agencies and other public entities involving the night lights for the football field.
Patterson read from a letter to the editor written by activist Lynn Norton, who indicated she had researched Rosenthal’s communications.
Patterson read excerpts from the letter. “Based upon public records I obtained from the high school, Councilmember Laura Rosenthal coaxed the principal of the high school to have students use their class time writing letters to the Coastal Commission about what night games would fill the need for teen’s nightlife.”
 Patterson went on to read, “When a key light supporter emailed Rosenthal that ‘reliable sources,’ including Jeff Jennings, [said] several neighbors…initially supportive of the lights are no longer feeling that way, given the [story pole]  balloon,' Rosenthal forwarded this to school officials, saying, 'Cheerleaders need to go…alumni too [to the meeting to advocate for lights].'”
“I would like Councilmember Rosenthal to comment,” said Patterson, who also asked City Attorney Christi Hogin to reply. “Is this legal? I would like you to comment,” he said. Hogin did not.
Rosenthal seemed somewhat taken aback.  “I thought we had an understanding. You came and apologized to me and we talked about how it was politics. Now you find some thing to blast me. I don't believe I have the power. It was not an editorial. It is a letter to the editor in which you can say anything. I have no power over that whole group. You can't believe everything you read in the newspaper,” Rosenthal answered.
“Four years ago I brought up telescoping lights. There are no legal telescoping lights in the United States,” she said.
Councilmember Joan House commenting on the letter and Patterson's comments said, “Half truths are the worst possible lies. There was always a group working on the lights,” she added.

City Is Still Discussing Possible Paradise Cove Traffic Solution


Malibu City Councilmember Laura Rosenthal answered critics, who contend state and local authorities are not doing enough to abate the traffic congestion problem at Pacific Coast Highway and Paradise Cove Road.
“We want to limit parking on PCH. We have been given direction by the California Coastal Commission,” she said.
Rosenthal indicated the coastal agency wants the city to do an inventory of access points in Malibu. They also want to know how much free parking is available. “We have lots of free parking here,” added Rosenthal.
According to Rosenthal,  CCC staff suggested the city work with Catrans, since the state owns the highway and any reduction of parking spaces would come from them.
“Our number one concern is safety. We are meeting with people and want to see something in place by next summer,” Rosenthal said. “I wanted to see something this summer, but government moves slowly.”
Months ago, the Malibu City Council heard from City Manager Jim Thorsen about the traffic congestion, parking, pedestrians on PCH and other problems at the intersection above Paradise Cove.
Council members at previous meetings said they got phone calls from irate citizens and were told by Thorsen the staff was aware of the problems and had talked to the property owner.
At one city council meeting, Thorsen told council members, the property owner had hired a sheriff to manage traffic on Saturdays and Sundays from 11:30 to 5:30 p.m. on efforts by the municipality to mitigate the mess at the increasingly dangerous intersection.
The city manager said that helped somewhat, but the situation, for the most part, remained unchanged.
“We have issued a letter to the property owner about it,” Thorsen said.
Overflow traffic, hundreds of walk-in visitors, who park on the narrow shoulder of Pacific Coast Highway and the closure of the road leading to the cove when the parking lot is full have created traffic jams and swarms of pedestrians at the intersection unlike those ever seen before, according to residents.
“I have received a lot of complaints about the parking,” said Councilmember Joan House.
“Near Paradise Cove on the ocean side the cars are parked near driveways and the residents cannot get out,” House added.
David Saul, a member of the Public Safety Commission, said people are upset about it since many beachgoers are walking along PCH. “It is very dangerous. It is an accident waiting to happen,” he said.
Councilmember Skylar Peak said he was also getting phone calls about it. “Maybe we should close off the parking lot,” he said.
Then Mayor Laura Rosenthal said she and then Councilmember Lou La Monte were meeting with the Secretary of Transportation and encouraged folks to send in photos or videos to the mayor's office so that other officials could see first hand the problem. “Lou and I welcome movies,” she said.
Thorsen had further explained the staff had met with the property owner.
“We talked about the parking, the cabana rentals, alcohol on the beach, and the food service on the sand,” he said.
Peak wanted to know how the septic system could handle so many visitors. “Where are we at with the water quality? How can they possibly have that many people? How are we managing that?” he asked.
Thorsen said there were two issues at Paradise Cove concerning water quality. The first is stormwater flow. “It is a slow trickle [in the summer]. There is a high bacteria count [from the creek]. It goes through treatment and it's clean. It is discharged [near the creek mouth] and within minutes it is dirty,” he said.
Thorsen said the wastewater issue is complicated by what appears to be a background of bacteria from natural sources. “There has been no study to determine [the efficacy of ] wastewater treatment. High bacteria counts appear in high use, low use, summer and winter. They do use porta-pottys when there is high use. That is OK. It may be natural bacteria sources.”

Trancas Center Items on Planning Commission Agenda Next Monday

• Public Will Have Chance to Comment on Aspects of Mall


Two Trancas Country Market shopping center agenda items are scheduled to go before the Malibu Planning Commission at its meeting on Monday, Oct. 1.
The Erewhon Natural Food Market is seeking a Conditional Use Permit to sell beer, wine and distilled spirits for offsite consumption and the request includes a beer and wine tasting area, a deli and a juice bar. The municipal staff is recommending the commission approve the request.
At the same time, the planning staff is recommending the commissioners give their OK to a request by the shopping center contractor to add more lighting than originally was requested for the shopping center parking lot and other locations at the center.
The commissioners will hear a request from Scott Rozier for increases in the previously approved lighting plan at Trancas Country Market that include the addition of 43 pole-mounted lights that vary in height from 12 to 20 feet that would be located throughout the parking lot and pedestrian areas, as well as other site lighting and building mounted lighting, according to a public notice issued by the city’s planning department.
The shopping center is currently under construction and this is the second set of changes, or amendments, to the coastal permit that have been sought.
The staff report indicates that Erewhon will be the sole occupant of the 15,580-square-foot space that was formerly occupied by HOWS market.
Similar to the previous market, Erewhon will sell prepackaged food and alcohol, in addition to groceries, paper goods, and general home supplies, according to the staff report.
“The plans for the proposed market depict the proposed sales area, prepared foods counter, butcher area, juice and tonic bar, alcohol sales area, and a seating area that accommodates 10 people, “ the staff report states.
“The purpose of the 10 seats is to provide customers with an area to consume any of the prepared foods or beverages which are sold by the market,” the staff report goes on to state.
The consumption of alcohol will not be permitted in this seating area or on the shopping center property itself, according to the city’s planners.
“The addition of the 10 seats will be provided by moving the front wall inward to provide an outdoor seating area with a produce/floral sales area. No additional square footage, or floor area, will be added to the project, as moving the front wall inward will essentially reduce the interior square footage,” according to the staff report.
The CUP is required to permit the sale of alcohol, as well as the beer and wine tasting counter area. The applicant has applied for the transfer of the HOWS Type 41 liquor license to the new market.
Currently, Malibu is included on the list of those cities that are under a alcoholic beverage sales license moratorium. Therefore, no new licenses to sell beer and wine for offsite consumption can by issued by the state to businesses within the city.
As a result, any licenses that are ‘new’ to Malibu must actually be existing licenses, which are transferred from another location. The applicant has recently submitted an application to ABC to transfer the previous liquor license that belonged to HOWS, according to the city’s staff report.
Night lighting has become an issue, especially in Malibu Park, because of lights sought by the high school for ball fields and a new proposed parking lot.
The planning commission turned down night lighting for the planned 150-car parking lot.
It is not clear what position the commissioners might take on the shopping center’s plans in light of the staff recommending the commission approve the plans.
Critics of the night lighting point out lighting can result in significant impacts to the night sky.

Exceptional Bequest Gives Boost to SMMUSD Coffers

• $4.8 Million Creates Arts Endowment


Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation Executive Director Linda Greenberg Gross announced that the foundation is the beneficiary of an estate gift of $4.8 million, the largest gift in the effort’s 30-year history. 
“The gift from the estate of the late Peggy Bergmann will be divided into two parts: $2.4 million has been designated to establish an arts endowment for the purpose of providing semi-private music instruction, as well as the purchase and maintenance of musical instruments, for economically disadvantaged students throughout the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District,” according to Greenberg Gross.
The new Peggy Bergmann Arts Endowment Fund honors her parents Lenore Bergmann and John Elmer Bergmann.
The second $2.4 million “has been designated as current-use dollars to address SMMEF's critical needs within the district,” the release states. “District Superintendent Sandra Lyon will be working with the newly-formed Superintendent’s Advisory Council, made up of district, foundation, and community leaders, to assess the district’s most critical needs in determining the best and most impactful use of these dollars.”
“We are so pleased to join with the foundation to announce this magnificent gift that will have an enormous effect on our schools today and in perpetuity,” said Lyon.
“As state funding for public education continues to decline, it’s never been more important that we seek support from our communities to ensure continued excellence in our schools. This is a tremendous step in that direction.”
“The Bergmann bequest arrives at a time when the District is moving toward a centralized fundraising model in which the education foundation broadens its focus from events and annual appeals to major and planned gifts that will create sustainability for important programs at schools throughout the district,” the release states. “Cultivation of long-term relationships, such as the one that resulted in this gift, is now a core focus of the Foundation’s centralized fundraising efforts.”
Bergmann, who lived in Pacific Palisades and did not attend SMMUSD schools or have children in the district, died on Dec. 10, 2011. She reportedly left more than $15 million to charitable causes. Nearly a third of her estate was donated to the district.
The bequest was developed through collaboration between Greenberg Gross and Bergmann’s executor and estate attorneys,  Bruce and Sonya Sultan, who are former SMMUSD parents.
“It was Ms. Bergmann's hope that this gift would encourage others to give large and small gifts to the education foundation to make program equity a reality for all children in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District,” said Sonya Sultan,  attorney for the Bergmann estate.
She added that “the fact that Ms. Bergmann’s friend and executor was familiar with the fine reputation of Linda Greenberg Gross helped solidify Ms. Bergmann's decision to benefit the education foundation.

Student Proceeds with Legal Suit over ‘Slapping’ Episode

• Complaint Filed in LA Superior Court


Dionne Evans, a 15-year-old ninth grader who alleges she was slapped by a teacher in front of her classmates when she was a student at Malibu High School, has filed a lawsuit against the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.
Evans had previously filed a $1 million claim in damages with the school district that was turned down by school officials.
Beverly Hills attorney Donald Karpel indicated he filed the legal complaint in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Sept. 17.
The complaint for damages includes battery, assault, negligence, negligent supervision, violation of civil rights, public discrimination, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, defamation, libel and slander, and corporal punishment.
The lawsuit names as defendants: SMMUSD, Malibu High School, the teacher Jennifer Gonzalez, and the former MHS principal Mark Kelly.
Evans is described as the only African-American student then in her grade at Malibu High.
The complaint alleges Gonzalez has a history of violent attacks on students and cites the alleged history.
Evans said she first told a school bus driver what happened because she did not know what to do. The bus driver called Evans’ mother to inform her of the matter.
The mother contacted Kelly and set an appointment to meet with him. The document goes on to describe several meetings, including one with Gonzalez, who apparently apologized and also sent a note saying so to the family.
The complaint alleges Evans was sent off to the library and kept out of Gonzalez’s class, but remained traumatized because of the incident and because Gonzalez was allegedly not reprimanded or disciplined after the slapping incident.
The lawsuit seeks damages for medical treatment past and future and for psychotherapy, general damages for physical and mental pain and suffering and emotional distress in a sum to be proven at the time of trial, injunctive relief, for punitive and exemplary damages, and attorney fees.

Pepperdine President’s Son Receives Two-Year State Prison Term for Parent Threats and Gun Possession by Addict


The plea deal culminating in a two-year sentence in state prison that was negotiated earlier this month for Christopher Benton, the son of Pepperdine University President Andrew Benton, was implemented by Judge Karen Nudell at a sentencing hearing last Friday in Van Nuys Superior Court
Benton, 27, had agreed to plead no contest to two felony charges of making criminal threats against his father and possession of a firearm by a narcotic addict, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
Another three counts—criminal threats against his mother, grand theft of his parents’ handgun, and possession of ammunition by an addict—were dismissed at his sentencing.
Jane Robison, press secretary for the LADA, said, “[Benton’s] father was there but he declined to address the court.”
It is unlikely Benton will serve the full sentence because of jail overcrowding, with most legal observers indicating that Benton will more likely serve from 15 to 18 months, including the time he has been incarcerated since his Aug. 23 arrest.
No specific information was available on possible substance abuse programs that might await Benton, described as a heroin and other illegal drugs abuser.
Benton has been represented in court by an alternate public defender provided because he cannot afford counsel, a county supposition based on his inability to post bail.
Benton has admitted “threatening his father at the family’s home on the Malibu campus on Aug. 22 during a family argument,” according to the DA’s office.
He returned to the campus the next day armed with a handgun that was allegedly stolen from his parents—one of the charges that was dropped in the plea deal—where he was arrested and charged with the five original counts.
Case observers posit that the plea deal may have been crafted to preclude Benton’s parents from having to testify against their son in a public trial.
A week after his son’s arrest, the senior Benton issued a statement to the Pepperdine community: “Chris will not be returning to campus for some time, probably a long time. That status will not change until the University Threat Assessment Team concludes that it is appropriate for him to do so. All parties—the Court, the District Attorney, University leaders tasked with assuring campus safety, as well as his mother and I—agree with this decision. It is not an easy thing to do, but it is appropriate.”
Benton’s serious legal problems—most are illegal drug related—date back to his early teens. He has three felony convictions for illegal substance use/sale and related charges dating from 2003 to 2009.

Preliminary Report on School District Split Suggests Mandates Would Be Met


Advocates for Malibu Public Schools, or AMPS, organizers returned to the Malibu City Council chambers this week to spread what they consider to be good news for their cause—separation of a Malibu district from the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District..
 A consultant, who was hired by AMPS, told them the preliminary report has led them to believe the split of the school districts would meet the nine criteria mandated by the state
Local school advocate Craig Foster told the council two weeks ago the preliminary results of the study to determine if the school district can split into Malibu and Santa Monica districts are back and AMPS independent consultant has indicated both districts meet the nine point criteria.
“We would be $4.6 million better off as a separate district. The full report is coming soon,” he said.
Foster noted the report is scheduled to be released for the Oct 4 board meeting, which will be held in Malibu.
AMPS organizers have planned a public meeting at the City Hall community room for Thursday, Oct. 18, at 7 p.m.
“It is a pleasing development and more investigation is to be done,” Foster added.
Mayor Lou La Monte said the preliminary report was very encouraging.

Research Reveals That Wrack Rescues Rather Than Ruins Fragile Beach Ecosystems

• Seminar at City Hall Reveals That Kelp Is Key to Maintaining and Restoring Shore Ecology


Beach ecology was in the spotlight at a special seminar at Malibu City Hall last week.
“A lot of people don’t think about beaches as ecosystems,” Karen Martin, professor of biology at Pepperdine University, told the audience. “The traditional way to think about beaches is as playgrounds and hazards. We want to start thinking about them as ecosystems.”
Martin, who 10 years ago developed the successful “Grunion Greeter” program to promote awareness and gather data on the small California fish that spawns on local beaches during spring and summer high tides, is currently involved with the non profit Beach Ecology Coalition and focused on the importance of natural, undisturbed kelp wrack in maintaining a healthy and vibrant ecosystem on Southland beaches. 
“All over the world [people are] concerned about what’s happening on beaches,” Martin said. [Beaches are] wildlife habitat. She quoted journalist John Balzar, who wrote, “Where the sand turns wet, the greatest wilderness on the planet begins.”
“There are beach wildflowers-native plants not really seen except on beaches, nowhere else in world,” Martin said, adding that beaches are also nurseries for many animals, ranging from marine mammals like sea lions, to grunion, a wide variety of invertebrates, and endangered bird species, including the least tern.
“There are also reptiles-the silver sand lizard, sea turtles. We're starting to get sea turtles more and more in Malibu, visiting, not breeding, but resting on shore. [It’s] critical habitat necessary for animals to complete their life cycle.”
Martin explained that mechanized beach maintenance, using heavy equipment to rake the beach and remove kelp, can transform key habitat into a wasteland.
“On a completely groomed beach there are no grunion eggs left.” Martin described the look as a “Zen garden.”
“When you groom like that, yes, you may have nice clean beach but you lose something that can’t be replaced,” she said.
According to Martin, the area where grunion deposit their eggs in the sand “is not as easily demarcated as some people would like, it's in between the highest tide line and mean tide line.”
Her grunion research has led to modifications in beach grooming on several Southern California beaches. “It's maintenance modification to avoid impacts to California grunion nests,” she said. “It's not a loss of grooming or an end of grooming but a change to how grooming is done.
“Here in Malibu they do modify their grooming practice. We've had really good cooperation with LA County Beaches and Harbors. “ According to Martin, county beaches are left ungroomed from the middle of March until the middle of August to accommodate the grunion.
“Kelp doesn’t help the grunion but it does have other benefits for a lot of different animals,” Martin said.
Martin also discussed “coastal squeeze,” a term for beach development or coastal armoring that leaves little room for natural sand. “Armoring of the coast is a very big issue, especially in California,” Martin said. “Sand replenishment is poorly understood and understudied. It can change biology of beach for a while. That’s a concern.
“How can we assess what is a healthy beach? Lot of things are monitored on sandy beach but nothing to look at the big picture. Beach report cards are looking mostly at bacteria that can harm humans, not the environment,” she said
The second guest speaker at the city-sponsored event was Jenifer Dugan, a professor of biology at UCSB who has studied kelp for seven years.
“[Kelp is a] food source for many species, they starve without it,” Dugan said.  “Fresh kelp is immediately colonized by a variety of organisms. Grooming or raking actually transforms beaches from vital habitat into barren stretches of sand. It’s the same way leaf litter is important to a forest.”
“We need to not only value beaches as places were humans can enjoy but as places that support wildlife that can live no where else,” Dugan said. “Beaches are becoming more and more critical as habitat for shorebirds.”
 Dugan explained that beaches are increasingly providing habitat for birds that previously depended on California’s ever shrinking wetlands.
“Beaches also function like giant sand filters,” Dugan said. “Water is pumped in twice a day into the sand lens and filtered, there are all kinds of bacteria that break down material, as it breaks down [it is] actually providing nutrients. There is connectivity between beaches an other ecosystems.”
Dugan said that California's beaches have some of the highest density of biomass and number of beach invertebrate species in the world. “You can't belittled how rich these beaches are,” she said.
Dugan discussed how macrophyte wrack—on Malibu beaches comprised primarily of giant kelp—is consumed by isopods, kelp flies and beetles, which in turn provide prey for shorebirds
“If you change what happens to the kelp, you change what happens to the animals that depend on the kelp. [There is an] important need for kelp to be there, and go through natural succession. The level of animals is drastically lower on groomed beaches. Species richness on groomed beaches is very low.”
Dugan conducted an experiment in Santa Barbara that involved removing wrack by hand on sections of beach. She found that the more wrack her team removed, the fewer invertebrates were present. “Even on a 25-meter-wide plot the shorebirds and invertebrates didn't use it, I think they moved over to the other [control] plots. Dugan said the invertebrates and shorebirds came back after the project ended.
She described groomed beaches as “plowed, transformed, really unnatural.”
“They should be dunes,” Dugan said. “At Broad Beach and Zuma the vegetation, given its druthers, actually comes way out [onto the beach]. We’ve lost a whole vegetated zone. It’s a very large impact. Underestimated, especially if you want to have sand stay on your beaches. Dunes store sand. Wrack encourages sand to collect and form mini dunes.”
Dugan also stated that coastal armoring has a serious impact on biodiversity. “With coastal armoring we lose those dry and damp upper zones as coast retreats. The high tide line is on the wall instead of on the beach. There's a huge decline in wrack accumulating, and species decline, even gulls and sea birds.
“One thing [you can be] proud of in Malibu is all of the ungroomed beaches,” Dugan said.
More information on Karen Martin's research and the Beach Ecology Coalition is available at:
Information on Jenifer Dugan's research is online at
The City of Malibu also has a section on beach ecology on its official website:

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Planning Panel Gives OK to New Chinese Restaurant


The Malibu Planning Commission had a full plate of agenda items at its meeting this week on Monday, including a request for a permit for the operation of a Chinese restaurant called Malibu Wok.
The city received an application from Sacha Fattahi and her well-known family, who operates the two Subways in Malibu, for a full service Chinese restaurant located in the Malibu Colony Plaza.
The tenant is seeking a request for the sale of beer and wine for onsite consumption. The CUP pertains to a 1834-square-foot tenant space (including a 189-square-foot front patio plus a 208-square-foot rear patio), according to city planners.
Years ago the space was occupied by the Champagne Bakery,. Six years ago, the planning commission approved the Barrel, a wine and spirits retail store and wine tasting bar with outdoor seating.
Later the commission allowed for a full liquor service for onsite consumption. In late 2009, Barrel vacated the unit.
The staff recommended the commission approve the request.
In correspondence to the city, Fattahi hinted at how they wanted to operate. “Depending on availability, our vegetable ingredients would mostly be organic. We believe we can run a high class and at the same time a competitive operation to serve Malibu residents with a healthy and delicious Chinese style food and a ‘family friendly ambience’ that they deserve,” Fattahi wrote.
Commissioners had little to say about the plans other than clarifying the location of the rear patio.
A second Chinese restaurant is also planned for Malibu. Michael Koss, who heads ownership of Malibu Country Mart, confirmed he has welcomed MR Chow to the Civic Center shopping center. “Yes, it’s true. We signed a lease,” he said.
Koss said Chow is taking up the entire space left vacant by Nobu’s departure.
Chow has opened locations in London, New York, Miami and Las Vegas. He said he shares many of the same clients as Nobu and its former site was a good fit for expanding to the Westside.
Koss agreed. “It is a high quality restaurant much like Nobu, but different food,” he said.
On another matter, the planning staff asked the commission to continue to a date uncertain a highly controversial proposal on Grayfox Street on Point Dume to demolish a notable architectural house and replace it with a Mediterranean-style dwelling that neighbors contend would block views and would invade their privacy.
The staff recommendation to continue the item “to allow the property owners more time to work with the neighbors,” was approved by the planning panel.
The power of a homeowners association was reaffirmed by the commission when it voted to concur with the HOA for a Point Dume home currently under construction, whose owners now sought a pool house.
The commission was told the condition of HOA approval was a signed agreement with the homeowner that the pool house would never become a rental.
Commissioner Jeff Jennings said that was good enough. “It is a bad idea if the city becomes the enforcers of the HOA conditions or CCRs,” he said. The commission concurred.
The planning staff added the pool house has no kitchen and therefore does not meet the definition of a second unit. To become a second unit, the building would also need a coastal permit, a planner added.
A permit sought by a Sweetwater Canyon homeowner seemed to prove being between a rock and a hard place could be costly.
The homeowner’s structure, built along a steep slope, was creeping down the hill, according to experts.
The 2005 rain triggered landslides and one in particular across the canyon blocked the canyon creek and water broke through the earthen dam created by the landslide causing more problems for the house.
The homeowner and her consultants sought an emergency permit and indicated that the owner needs $1 million in repairs to stop any further failure of the slope.
The hearing before the commission Monday night formalized what the city would allow since some of the work was done after the fact of a permit.
The tiebacks and two gabion walls to stabilize the failed slope below the house were approved.
The commission was told the homeowner has to sell the home to pay for the costs of the stabilization.

SMMC Talks Skate Park with Counsel

• City Calls Camping Compromise Suggestion ‘Non-Starter’

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy board is scheduled to go back to its attorney at a meeting scheduled for Sept. 24 during closed session after discussions with the City of Malibu over the municipality's planned skate park fell apart. The SMMC board in a previous closed session had given instructions to negotiators to talk to municipal officials.
“The Conservancy was willing to discuss reopening the discussions if we were willing to talk about camping sites,” said City Attorney Christi Hogin at that time. “That was a non-starter. I don’t see this going anywhere at the moment.”
Preparations for more discussion or possibly a showdown began months ago when the SMMC board and the Malibu City Council met separately in closed sessions to talk about potential courtroom action over the skate park plans.
Hogin announced at a recent city council meeting that members took “no reportable action,” but did meet in a closed-door session “to discuss the threat of pending litigation.”
This week’s Conservancy notice indicates the board will discuss with legal counsel regarding “consideration of initiation of litigation, Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy v. City of Malibu regarding enforcement of parking and use deed restrictions at Bluffs Park.” Conservancy officials contend they own parking and use deed restrictions at Bluffs Park where the city wants to build first a temporary skatepark and construct a new “world class” facility.
It appears inevitable that construction of even a temporary skatepark at Bluffs Park may be stalled for much longer if the two entities cannot even come to the negotiating table, reach some kind of understanding or a settlement and must proceed to court.
SMMC spokesperson Dash Stolarz confirmed the board previously met in closed session.
Quoting the board’s secretary, the conservancy spokesperson said, “The report out of that meeting was ‘instructions were given to negotiators.’”
SMMC attorney Laurie Collins had previously said the reason for the meeting was to keep the board aware of what is going on at Bluffs Park.
“When the city acquired the property, it agreed to certain uses and deed restrictions. The plans for a skatepark raises several issues for the Conservancy,” said Collins. There was no mention of talking about campsites.
Collins said because it was a closed-door matter, she could not discuss it in any further detail.
The Conservancy’s wish to talk about campsites refers to a previous lawsuit that the SMMC lost to the municipality on the appellate level and was later turned down for a hearing by the state Supreme Court, concerning the court invalidating the Conservancy’s plans to provide overnight camping in several SMMC parks in Malibu, including Bluffs Park.
The city objected to the camping portion of the Conservancy’s park plans, which besides overnight camping called for trails connecting several coastal canyons with the camping sites.
The city’s plans call for the interim skatepark to be located in an existing parking lot and the conversion of vacant land into an auxiliary temporary public parking lot, according to city officials.
The permitting process has been continued since May, when the city’s planning commissioners were told additional time was needed for the staff to work with the Conservancy to resolve issues regarding the SMMC’s deeded use of the existing parking lot.
The action comes after the city council approved a license agreement for parking to allow a temporary public parking lot on privately owned land known as the Crummer site, named after a former owner of the property.
Enthusiasts and municipal officials have pointed to Bluffs Park as the ideal for relocating the skatepark, but were initially thwarted because of a lack of adequate parking, according to city planners.
“The feasibility of relocating to this site is dependent on the use of the privately owned property adjacent to Malibu Bluffs Park to offset the loss of the parking spaces,” wrote Parks and Recreation Director Bob Stallings, in a memo to the city council.
The agreement provides the city use of the property with the understanding that the landowner has plans underway to develop the land for single-family homes. Story poles on the site have shown his tentative plans. An Environmental Impact Report scoping meeting was held recently for the proposed five-home subdivision.
The parking lot agreement, according to Stallings, contemplates a broad scope of indemnities and liabilities the city agrees to undertake. 

Broad Beach GHAD Rebuffed During Effort to Secure South Bay Sand Source

• Manhattan Beach Requests That SLC Reject Proposal


The Broad Beach Geological Hazard Abatement District, which is attempting to secure a source of sand for its beach replenishment program, got some negative press last week when it tried to secure sand offshore of Manhattan Beach.
The Manhattan Beach City Council sent a letter to the State Lands Commission, stating the city could not endorse the homeowners’ plan to dredge the sand just offshore of the South Bay city and deposit it on Malibu’s shoreline and “strongly urged” the state agency to reject the request.
What was lost in the media shuffle with such phrases as Manhattan telling Malibu to “pound sand” or how the South Bay and Malibu were engaged in a “sand fight” is that Manhattan City Manager Dave Carmany is a former city manager for Malibu.
Carmany assumed the post this year after a stint at Seal Beach as city manager. Numerous state agencies will have to sign off on the application to take the sand from the offshore waters of the coastal town, which does not actually own the mineral rights, according to media reports..
Ken Ehrlich, the attorney who represents the GHAD, was not immediately available for comment.
The proposed action stems from the overall plans proposed for Broad Beach where experts have determined there has been a significant change in the width of the beach since 1946.
Broad Beach has experienced variable, but declining beach width at a rate of about two feet per year, according to experts.
“Between 1974 and 2009 approximately 600,000 cubic yards of sand was lost at Broad Beach, a majority of which has moved east to nourish Zuma Beach. On average, the shoreline moved inland 65 feet,” a report from Moffatt and Nichol in April 2010 concluded.
“The sand rate turned negative in 1974 and the loss rate accelerated to approximately 35,000 cubic yards per year during the last five years.  Recent higher erosion rates during the 2009-2010 winter season necessitated that emergency precautions be taken to protect residential structures and onsite wastewater treatment systems located seaward of the residences,” the report went on to state.
Consequently, the homeowners obtained emergency permits for the installation of a rock revetment about five feet high and 25 feet wide, to protect the existing homes along the beach, city officials noted.
The property owners are now working on getting permits to allow a permanent buried rock revetment along with the periodic sand nourishment.
The California Coastal Commission is the permitting agency and will oversee the project.
The Broad Beach GHAD spans the entirety of Broad Beach and a portion of Victoria Point concluding with 6525 Point Lechuza.
GHADs, according to the planning staff, are a political subdivision of the state and are formed in specific geographic areas to address potential geological hazards. The purpose of a GHAD is to prevent, mitigate, control or abate defined geologic hazards through maintenance improvements or other means.
Financing of a GHAD is accomplished through an assessment of only those property owners who own real estate within the boundaries of the designated district, issuing and serving of bonds, notes or other debentures is also authorized under a GHAD. The assessment was based on an engineer’s report, which was prepared by ENGEO, Inc, according to city planners.
The assessments and associated financing of the GHAD improvements would be overseen entirely by the GHAD board.
The project has received criticism from local water quality activists who have raised questions about the impact of the proposed plan on turbidity, tidepool and nearshore habitat and the newly established State Marine Conservation Area.

More Lights Proposed for West Malibu Area

• Trancas Shopping Center Seeks More Poles and Fixtures


Another “dark” corner western  Malibu  may be lit up if the owners of the Trancas Country Market shopping center get their way.
The Malibu Planning Commission is scheduled to hear a request from Scott Rozier for changes to the previously approved lighting plan to allow the addition of 43 pole-mounted lights that vary in height from 12 to 20 feet located throughout the parking lot and pedestrian areas, as well as other site lighting and building mounted lighting, according to a public notice issued by the city’s planning department.
The commission is scheduled to hear the request on Monday, Oct 1.
The shopping center is currently under construction and this is the second set of changes, or amendments, to the coastal permit that have been requested.
A banner across the former grocery store announces that Erewhon Market will be coming to take over the space that was formerly occupied by HOWS.
Night lighting has become an issue, especially in  Malibu Park, because of lights sought by the high school for ball fields and a new proposed parking lot.
The planning commission turned down night lighting for the planned 150-car parking lot.
Even more controversial are the night lights planned for the football field at the high school at nearly the opposite end of Malibu Park.
The agenda item was not heard by the planning commission, but was approved by the city council.
Critics of the night lighting plans point out that the requested lighting, especially more so cumulatively, would result in significant impacts to the night sky that cannot be fully mitigated.
In a somewhat unusual action, the findings and resolution for the commission’s denial of lights for the 150-sapce parking lot, which would usually be formally voted upon by the commission at the subsequent meeting, have been delayed until the Oct. 1 meeting.
Some observers expect the matter may be pulled when school district officials can argue the findings.
At the same time, the school district and the city were sued for approving the lights and Mayor Lou La Monte last week let slip out there are settlement talks currently underway with some council members in attendance.

PUC Approves $12 Million Power Pole Case Settlement

• Telecom Companies Agree to Pay


The state Public Utilities Commission on Sept. 13 approved a $12 million settlement agreement with three telecommunications companies over the ignition of the 2007 Malibu Canyon fire.
The nearly 4000-acre wildfire rapidly blazed through Malibu Canyon and burned into the Malibu Civic Center area, destroying 10 homes, including the “Malibu Castle,” Malibu Presbyterian Church, several classrooms at Webster Elementary School and Our Lady of Malibu School and several businesses.
The investigation that followed pointed to three utility poles on Malibu Canyon Road that had fallen to the ground.
The settlement between the PUC's Consumer Protection and Safety Division and AT&T Mobility LLC, Sprint Telephony PCS l.P.and Verizon Wireless requires the companies to each pay $4 million.
Of that total amount, $6.9 million will go to the state's general fund and $5.1 million to an improved infrastructure and inspection fund that will be established as part of the settlement agreement.
Funding will be used for work to strengthen utility poles in Malibu Canyon and to conduct a survey of joint-use poles in Southern California Edison's service area to see if those poles meet the current standards. The remaining money will go to the state's general fund.
The settlement does not include SCE or NextG Networks of California, Inc., although the PUC's case remains open in order to resolve allegations that SCE and NextG violated various PUC rules regarding their involvement.
The PUC opened the case in 2009.

NYC Company Buys Center


The Malibu Sands shopping center located at 22333 Pacific Coast Highway was recently sold, according to several sources.
Dan Bercu, who heads an investor team that previously owned the center, confirmed the building, which  currently houses Thai Dishes and Uncle John’s Pizza was recently sold to the New York-based  LeFrak Organization.
Founded in 1901, LeFrak describes itself as maintaining one of the most extensive real estate portfolios in the United States.
The website goes on to state the organization, along with its affiliates, has built most of its portfolio.
The current property management company is Kennedy Phillips, according to a spokesperson for that company.
The Sands, originally built as a motel in 1955, has had a succession of tenants in recent years, including the China Den restaurant, Tops Gallery, a tattoo parlor, a marijuana dispensary, several beauty salons, yoga  and martial arts studios, and a variety of offices.

Publisher’s Notebook

• Legislating Wilderness •


In two weeks, the state Fish and Game Commission will decide whether it is going to put itself in the crosshairs of those who want to seal the fate of California’s lone gray wolf with a bullet and those who hope to witness the return of a vanquished wildlife species to an environment in which it once played an important role.
At their meeting in Sacramento on Oct. 3, the members of the commission are expected to act on a petition to protect gray wolves under California’s Endangered Species Act. If they approve the petition, protection of OR-7, aka Journey, the three-year-old male wolf from Oregon, and any other wolves that find their way to this state, is assured.
In addition, endangered species designation will pave the way for the state DFG to formally commence development of a strategy for the recovery of the gray wolf population statewide.
Meanwhile, OR-7, who continues to fascinate his large statewide following, undertakes his travels through the northern and northeastern parts of the state while overwrought humans debate competing wolf fantasies that run the gamut from spiritual talisman to livestock killing machine.                                        
Gray wolves are currently protected under the                                                                                                                     federal Endangered Species Act, but there is a push for delisting the species, which some think might lead to the possibility of negative repercussions for OR-7 as soon as the paperwork is finalized.
That the state DFG should be California’s vehicle for sustaining and nurturing the state’s wilderness resources is a key element in the current effort to rename the agency to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The name change proposed in Assembly Bill 2283 reflects what proponents assert is the majority of Californians’ sense of the agency’s mission: preservation, protection and enhancement of wildlife versus doing the bidding of trophy hunters.
Accompanying the official agency’s renaming would be a branding with the official nickname “Cal Wild,” which proponents say is reflective of a renewed sense of wonder and appreciation for wilderness as something to be revered and honored instead of demonized and eradicated.
AB 2283 has passed the State Assembly. The bill is suspended in the Senate Appropriations Committee where analysis is underway on the cost of implementing the name change and redirecting the spotlight away from tallies of allowable kills in the wild to appreciation of what lives and thrives there.

School Board Candidates Respond to Questions about Major District Issues

• Part Two:  Three Incumbents Focus on Needs


Six candidates are running for three seats on the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District board of education on the November ballot. The Malibu Surfside News asked the six: Seth Jacobson, Karen Farrer, Craig Foster, Ben Allen, Jose Escarce, and Maria Leon-Vazquez, to respond to questions about current district concerns.
Part One of a two-part series ran in last week’s issue of The News. This week’s article features responses from the three Santa Monica incumbents, Ben Allen, Jose Escarce, and Maria Leon-Vazquez.

José Escarce
Q: Describe your personal experience and involvement with public schools that qualifies you as a SMMUSD school board member. 
A: I have served on the school board since 2000. Throughout my years on the board, including my recent tenure as board president, I have focused on fostering academic excellence and equality of opportunity for all our students in Malibu and Santa Monica. Over the last few years, I have focused as well on steering our district through California’s budget crisis while ensuring that we continued to make strong gains in achievement. I am seeking another term on the board of education in order to provide the vision, experience, and continuity in board leadership that we need at this crucial moment for public education in California.
Q: What will be your top objectives if elected to the SMMUSD school board?
A: I am proud to say that my time on the board has been one of consistent improvement in our district. Academic achievement is rising for all student groups, and growing numbers of students are taking the rigorous courses that make them eligible for admission to four-year colleges and universities. The Malibu schools, in particular, are among the top in the state. Our music and arts programs are the envy of the state, and every year more students participate in them. Our students shine in academic, artistic, and athletic competitions. However, there is more work to do, and I remain committed to helping all children reach their potential. If re-elected, my priorities will be: improving  instruction and maintaining academic and arts programs while balancing the budget in difficult economic times; promoting  teachers’ professional development to ensure that all our students develop their creativity and critical-thinking skills; making our schools welcoming places for all students and parents; and strengthening  our honors and intervention programs.
Q: Do you have any specific changes you want to make in school district policies, finances, growth, programs, curriculum, staffing, and/or parental involvement?
A: Our board monitors and discusses annually numerous programs including intervention programs, the Advanced Placement program, mathematics instruction and achievement, and so on, with the goal of promoting continuous improvement. However, three initiatives stand out as areas that require particular attention at this time. First, it is essential that we implement district wide fund raising in a way that ensures that the new policy delivers on its potential to raise more resources and to use the resources more effectively to promote student learning in all our schools. Second, we will need to track and support the district’s efforts to implement a response to intervention approach for identifying students who are struggling academically early in their school careers. Finally, I am eager to support the superintendent’s efforts to enhance collaboration in our district as a way to improve achievement for all students.
Q: Describe the strategies you would champion to improve meaningful communication, foster successful partnerships with public school families bringing parent voices to the decision-making table.  Do you think the current board has positively achieved this? 
A: Our board and district offer numerous ways for parents to communicate meaningfully with the board and administration at all levels. At the level of the board and district administration, parents and community members play key roles in district advisory committees. Parents and community members routinely address the board during board meetings, and they have countless informal conversations with board members as well. The board ensures that parents participate in important working committees of the district (e.g., the Superintendent’s Advisory Group), and parents always take part in interview panels for school principal candidates. The recent processes for choosing new principals for Malibu High School and Juan Cabrillo Elementary School are good examples. On numerous occasions, suggestions or requests from parents have been the catalyst for review and modification of key district policies (e.g., homework policy, substance abuse policy, sexual harassment policy). At the school level, parents make their voices heard through parents’ groups and by participating on site councils. Our principals also are expected to keep their doors open to parents. A high level of parent involvement is one of the features that distinguishes our school district.
Q: SMMUSD continues to grapple with painful budget decisions, what new ideas could you implement to alleviate some of these budget shortfalls?
 A: I support both Prop 30 and Prop 38 on the November ballot. If both measures fail, our school board will have no choice but to work with staff to plan for the drastic budget cuts that will be required by an additional loss of $457 per student in operating revenues. We have already made sizable reductions in response to previous budget cuts, and I fear that additional cuts will seriously compromise the education our students receive. The main option for raising operating revenues open to school boards in California is a parcel tax. However, I will also work with community leaders to determine whether alternative approaches are feasible, and I will continue to advocate for state-level solutions.
Q: What is your opinion of the current school district policies and continued funding towards students with special needs, i.e. mainstreaming behavioral problem students, English as a second language, students who face problems of poverty, family problems, etc.?
A: The promise of public education is that it can offer all students, irrespective of their circumstances, the opportunity to learn, thrive, and achieve their potential. Many students in our public schools face barriers to learning of various types. I strongly believe that the board has the obligation to offer programs that aim to help these students overcome the barriers they face and minimize the “opportunity gaps” that so often limit their futures. Consequently, I have always supported these programs and will continue to do so. Of course, it is also the board’s responsibility to ensure that our programs are effective in achieving their goals. That’s why we review our intervention programs every year.
Q: What is your opinion of recent school board’s vote to include The Board of Education’s 385 million dollar bond on November’s ballot?
A: I support the bond. School facilities in our district need modernizing and upgrading so that our students can learn in 21st century classrooms. In addition, the bond will provide funds for improving the technology infrastructure in all our schools in Malibu and Santa Monica, promoting and the meaningful use of technology in our classrooms. It is essential to understand that bond revenues can only be used to modernize and upgrade facilities; they cannot be used to hire staff.
Q: Please add anything else you might think pertinent.
A: On representing the needs and interests of students in Malibu and Santa Monica, I have always supported, and will continue to support, policies and resource allocations to ensure that schools in both Malibu and Santa Monica receive the resources they need to provide the best possible education to their students. For example, I support having three elementary schools in Malibu, in order to provide more choices and better geographic access for Malibu parents, even though these schools are quite small. Similarly, I have always supported the allocation of additional faculty to Malibu High School so that the school, despite its small enrollment of 700 students, can offer a wide range of Advanced Placement courses and electives to its students in order to make them competitive for college admission. I am extremely proud of the fact that, as a result of our board’s focus on equal access to rigorous courses for all students, Malibu High School is consistently ranked among the top high schools in the United States.
On the creation of separate school districts for Malibu and Santa Monica, I strongly support investigating the feasibility and implications of creating separate school districts in Malibu and Santa Monica. I will not take a position on separation until all the details are known. However, I would support separation if the analyses reveal that separate districts would be able to continue to provide an excellent education to their students and if the majority of residents preferred to have their own district. In the meantime, the board must continue to ensure that all our schools have the resources to offer the best possible education to their students.

Ben Allen
Q: Describe your personal experience and involvement with public schools that qualifies you as a SMMUSD school board member. 
A: I grew up in our community and attended SMMUSD schools from kindergarten through 12th grade. My sister-in-law teaches in the district, and my niece and nephew are students in the district.  My mom and dad are both educators. I taught in a West Oakland public school while I was a law student, and also served as the student member of the University of California’s Board of Regents, where much of my work focused on K-12 to UC pipeline issues. My main research paper at law school focused on the law and politics of school finance in California, and prior to my election, I served on SMMUSD’s Financial Oversight Committee. I teach education law and policy at UCLA Law School, and have served for the past four years as a member of the school board, currently as the board’s president.
 Q: What will be your top objectives, if elected to the SMMUSD school board?
A: Looking out for all students, finding ways to improve outcomes and opportunities for students from every background. Setting high academic expectations and standards. Preserving the core programs that make our district great: from the arts and athletics to strong academic programs. Pushing for environmentally sustainable practices. Addressing the needs of both Santa Monica and Malibu. Early childhood programming. Seeking out new revenues for the district.
Q: Do you have any specific changes you want to make in school district policies, finances, growth, programs, curriculum, staffing, and/or parental involvement?
A: Obviously, parental involvement is part of what makes our district so strong, but there is certainly room for improvement at all levels, especially at the middle school level, where we often see a significant drop in parental engagement.  I’d like to see us strengthen our environmental practices, and would like to see us be a lot more strategic in the way we think about early childhood programming. I am excited about an initiative that we’ve begun with our teachers’ union to revamp our teacher evaluation program, and I am hopeful that will bring some positive change to the district as well.
Q: Describe the strategies you would champion to improve meaningful communication, foster successful partnerships with public school families bringing parent voices to the decision-making table. Do you think the current board has positively achieved this? 
A: The state’s Brown Act delineates the rules for public comment and public engagement during the school board meetings, but I’ve always felt as though it is an imperfect process, and one that often leaves participants feeling dissatisfied. I think SMMUSD’s district advisory committees oftentimes provide a more meaningful forum for discussion and conversation among parents, board members and staff, focusing on various areas of great importance to the community. In addition, site councils at the various school campuses and the PTA (both at the campus and district levels) play an important role in bringing parent voices to the decision-making table. I think that the district should invest a little more in communication, and that board members and high level staff should try their hardest to make sure to get out to community, campus, and parent events and meetings.
It is often in the conversations during and after such meetings where key concerns are raised, issues discussed, important ideas bandied about that help board members better understand the community’s concerns, feelings, and interests. I know this because I have attend numerous Malibu High School basketball and football games, MHS and Webster PTA meetings, MHS awards and commencement-related events, fundraisers, fairs, and silent auctions, have regular meetings in Malibu, and have walked MHS with neighborhood groups. These meetings and experiences have made an enormous difference in helping me to be a more knowledgeable and informed board member. But I know that we can do more, and I hope to work with parents, board members, and other leaders to think through new ways that we can improve communication and increase representation, both in Malibu and across the district.
Q: SMMUSD continues to grapple with painful budget decisions, what new ideas could you implement to alleviate some of these budget shortfalls? 
A: Obviously, passing Proposition 30 is a major priority. It will bring in vitally needed funds to our schools. On the local level, we have been able to pass Measures Y and YY in Santa Monica, which are bringing in $6 million sales and use tax monies from sales in Santa Monica that are used to help schools throughout the district. We were able to negotiate a ten-year extension to the Joint Use Agreement between the City of Santa Monica and SMMUSD, which is now bringing in $8 million annually to the district’s coffers, with cost of living increases built in. We should look at growing our cooperation with the City of Malibu along similar lines. Some of the November bond monies could be used to alleviate some of the operational costs of the district. We are asking for a much more robust fundraising operation from our Education Foundation, and we also need to figure out new ways to engage our business community in bringing in funds to support programming in the district. I continue to be interested in branding, and looking for creative market-based solutions for revenues. We have made major cuts already, including by increasing class size, and I think we really need to hold the line on class size increases. We need to bring in the money that will allow us to remain financially solvent and keep our programs strong.
Q: What is your opinion of the current school district policies and continued funding towards students with special needs, i.e. mainstreaming behavioral problem students, English as a second language, students who face the problems of poverty, family problems, etc.? 
A: There are tremendous needs that exist within our student and family population, and the public schools have been tasked by state and federal law with addressing many of those needs. I think that the district works hard to balance these students’ needs with its responsibilities to the broader student community.  But we struggle to strike this balance properly, and one of the realities of this work in public education is that there is always so much more that can and should be done to help our students. Our challenge is taking our limited resources and putting them to the best use. I haven’t always agreed with the board’s every allocation, but I think that under the difficult financial circumstances, we have struck a reasonable balance in funding and support for our English language learners, impoverished students, and those with behavioral and family challenges.
Q: What is your opinion of recent school board’s vote to include The Board of Education’s 385 million dollar bond on November’s ballot?  A: It was a difficult decision, but it was the right one at the end of the day. There are tremendous infrastructural and maintenance needs in our century-old school district, and the bond will bring in money for needed safety improvements, technology upgrades, new classrooms, and addressing deferred maintenance needs. It will also bring in monies that will help us on the operational side of the ledger as well. The world continues to change, and our community deserves a modernized school district that is safe and clean. I hope that people support it!
 Q: Please add anything else you might think pertinent. 
A: It has been an honor to serve this school system that raised me, and I am grateful to the community for giving me this opportunity. It hasn’t been easy work, but with the community’s support we have been able to get the extra support we needed to keep the school system strong. We have a lot of work to do, and with the state funding crisis, we need to be particularly vigilant. I am committed to strong, engaged, open communication, and have worked hard to reach out to the whole community.
Maria Leon-Vazquez
Q: Describe your personal experience and involvement with public schools that qualifies you as a SMMUSD school board member.
A: I have been an advocate for education since I was a student at Santa Monica College in 1974. For the last 38 years, I have been involved in many issues involving equity, high academic achievement, bridging the gap, affirmative action, bilingual education, and access for all students into higher education.
In 1989, I began my involvement in the district before my children were actually attending school. I was a room parent and involved in the bilingual program at Will Rogers from 1990-1996. I was a member of the Will Rogers School Congress from 1992-1996. I was one of the founding members of the Child Care Task Force when there were no bilingual preschool programs in the district, and my son was not serviced. I was one of three parent coordinators for the John Adams Middle School Science Magnet Program from 1996-1999.  From November 2000, I was elected to serve on the school board. 
I am and have been a member of PTA since 1990. Some of the leadership roles I have undertaken have been VP for fundraising, VP for community relations, and VP for political work. I have been involved with the passage of all the bond measures and parcel taxes by walking precincts, phone banking, and contributing monies. I was a member of the Prop ES Oversight Committee and of the Prop X Election Committee. As a PTA member, my involvement at Will Rogers Learning Community, John Adams Middle School, Santa Monica High School was in many capacities from fundraising to community affairs to mock elections; and most importantly, my passion to support the school district’s mission for academic excellence, while simultaneously bridging the gap, are just a few examples.
I also bring 40 years of community, civic, and political involvement in the city of Santa Monica to the school district. My leadership roles in community based organizations, such as Community Corporation of Santa Monica, Westside Legal Services, FAME-Santa Monica Economic Development Corporation, and Friends of Sunset Park; and my appointment to the Commission on the Status of Women serving a four-year term with two of those years as president.
Q: What will be your top objectives if elected to the SMMUSD school board?
A: Strive for academic excellence while simultaneously closing the achievement gap. Support our teachers and staff as we negotiate contracts that are favorable for all. Work collaboratively with the cities of Santa Monica and Malibu, SMC, PTA, CTA, SEIU and the SMMUSD community to find mutual points of support so that we can maintain our District fiscally sound. Modernize our school facilities to 21st century standards to meet our 21st century academic programs.
Q: Do you have any specific changes you want to make in school district policies, finances, growth, programs, curriculum, staffing, and/or parental involvement?
A: As board members, our work is to constantly review policies and make changes as circumstances change within our district. In particular, I will ask for a comprehensive review of our high school programs to make sure that SMMUSD is offering high academic programs, getting our students ready for college and keeping them competitive for admissions to college. 
Q: Describe the strategies you would champion to improve meaningful communication, foster successful partnerships with public school families bringing parent voices to the decision-making table. Do you think the current board has positively achieved this?
A; I would look into and promote the setting up of district advisory committees that were more pertinent to Malibu parents and students, make sure that meetings were equally held in both cities, i.e. board, DAC, task force, etc., and will promote some intramural games and activities between both cities for more interaction. Most board members are employed full-time and also work on the board full-time so the board has done the best it can do under the circumstances. However, there is always room for improvement.
Q: SMMUSD continues to grapple with painful budget decisions, what new ideas could you implement to alleviate some of these budget shortfalls?
A: Working collaboratively with all of the following stakeholders: students, teachers, staff, parents, institutional/government partners, community, and getting us all on the same page for districtwide fundraising and the expansion of out-of-district support. We all witnessed the SOS campaign and its success when we all were united as a district. I am personally seeking funding sources through our SMC Education Collaborative and the various grants that are available with collaborative efforts. I would support the SM/M Ed Foundation hiring of a fundraiser that will take the district’s vision and mission and raise money for the whole district.
Q: What is your opinion of the current school district policies and continued funding towards students with special needs, i.e. mainstreaming behavioral problem students, English as a second language, students who face the problems of poverty, family problems, etc.?
A: The academic needs of each student in our district must be met, whether special needs, ESL, poverty, GATE. The district mission sets the goal of high expectations for all students, and the policies and funding support the mission. 
Q: What is your opinion of the recent school board’s vote to include the board of education’s 385 million dollar bond on November’s ballot?
A: Our district infrastructure has to meet the same high level of expectation as our academic programs. The upkeep and maintenance of our old buildings was relinquished by the State of California and now it is dependent upon the district locally to upgrade, improve and keep up with the current state of the art in learning excellence. 
Q: Please add anything else you might think pertinent.
A: In the last 12 years as a board member elected by both Malibu and Santa Monica citizens, I have been transparent, accountable, and trustworthy. I have never wavered from my ethical beliefs and have always had a consistent voting record for all students in this district. I have truly represented and met the needs of all the students in this district to the best of my ability.

Son of Pepperdine President Pleads No Contest to Two Felony Charges


Christopher Benton, the son of Pepperdine University President Andrew Benton, has pleaded no contest to two felony charges of making criminal threats and possession of a firearm by a narcotic addict, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
Benton, 27, entered his plea last Friday prior to a preliminary hearing on a total of five felony charges getting underway in Van Nuys Municipal Court.
No contest, or nolo contendere, is a plea in which a defendant in a criminal prosecution accepts conviction as though a guilty plea has been entered but does not admit guilt.
Sources close to the case said the plea deal will avoid having to “put [Benton’s] parents on the stand to testify against their son” and indicates that concern about the toll of a trial on the Benton family “may have weighed in the decision.”
Benton is slated to be sentenced to two years in state prison by Judge Karen Nudell when he returns to the Van Nuys court on Sept. 21, according to Deputy District Attorney Rena Durrant.
County legal observers indicate that Benton will likely serve from 15 to 18 months because of prison overcrowding and related issues.
Benton is currently being represented by an alternate public defender. Although his family retained a high-profile criminal attorney when the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department endeavored to question him about the heroin overdose death of 25-year-old Malibu graphic designer Katie Wilkins in April, that legal arrangement was not continued for the current charges.
According to county procedure, because Benton is unable to post bail, there’s a presumption that he cannot afford counsel. Benton is not known to have income in his own right. He was last reported to have been living in the university president’s official residence on campus.
According to the District Attorney’s Office announcement, Benton admitted “threatening his father at the family’s home on the Malibu campus on Aug. 22 during a family argument.” He returned to campus the next day and was arrested and charged with the five felony counts. Of these, three counts—criminal threats against his mother, grand theft of his parents’ handgun, and possession of ammunition by an addict, are expected to be dismissed at his sentencing next week.
A two-count misdemeanor complaint of being under the influence of a controlled substance and driving without a valid driver license from October 2011 may be packaged in the arrangement.
Benton’s legal problems—most illegal drug related—date back more than a decade. He has three felony convictions for illegal substance use/sale and related charges dating from 2003 to 2009.

Third Anniversary of Mitrice Richardson’s Disappearance Coincides with New Allegations

 • Activists Pledge to Keep Public Spotlight on Investigation •


Advocates for reform in how people with behavioral and mental health issues are treated by law enforcement personnel are redirecting attention to the unsolved death of Mitrice Richardson to keep the issue in the public spotlight.
Despite record high thermometer readings, members of the group “Reach” took part in a “March for the Missing” last Saturday to mark the third anniversary of Richardson’s disappearance in the Malibu Canyon area where the then 24-year-old is believed to have been seen alive last.
Spearheading the event was Ronda Hampton. The licensed clinical psychologist—who was Richardson’s college mentor and friend—has undertaken an educational campaign to raise awareness about the public policy implications of mistreatment of people with behavioral health issues.
Richardson had been placed under citizen’s arrest at Geoffrey’s restaurant on the night of Sept. 16, 2009, after failing to pay an $89 dinner bill and was reported to have been behaving strangely. She was transported to the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station that serves the Malibu area.
Hampton said the woman’s bizarre actions—possible manifestation of a bipolar condition—should have led to her being 5150’d, or held for involuntary medical evaluation, instead of being booked and then released without access to her impounded vehicle, her cell phone or wallet in a dark industrial area with which she was not familiar just after midnight on Sept. 17, 2009.
Richardson’s nude skeletal remains were found in a remote Dark Canyon location in the Calabasas area on Aug. 9, 2010, nearly 11 months after the honors college graduate and beauty pageant competitor was escorted out the side door of the Lost Hills Station that is about seven miles away. The county coroner’s department has ruled that the official cause of death is undetermined.
Richardson family members did not take part in last weekend’s event. There are reports of internal friction with relatives disavowing non-family members’ ongoing efforts to press the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to continue to follow up leads in the baffling case.
A number of new leads have reportedly surfaced in recent weeks. Hampton told the Malibu Surfside News that Reach is monitoring these leads as a citizens activist group and its primary concern is potential public policy ramifications of verifying the cause of Richardson’s death.
Anyone with information on the Richardson case is urged to call the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500, or Crime Stoppers at 800-222-TIPS (8477). They can also visit

MARCHING FOR JUSTICE—Activists with the behavioral health advocacy group “Reach” and volunteers involved in several high profile missing person cases took part in a “March for the Missing” last Saturday to commemorate the third anniversary of the disappearance of Mitrice Richardson in the Malibu Canyon area where she is believed to have been seen alive last. Participants honored Richardson and others who have gone missing and then been found dead, or are still missing and their fate unknown. Reach and other groups continue to put pressure on the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to keep investigating the Richardson case. Among the march participants are individuals who claim to have uncovered information that might shed light on whether Richardson was alive longer than was first thought in the vicinity where her remains were found. In addition, new allegations about the perpetrators of a painted pornographic culvert wall mural a few miles from the location are circulating. There are also unconfirmed reports that the LASD might have subjected some parties of interest to polygraph testing. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Council Member Brings Up Investigation

• Peak Tells Colleagues Incident Was Not Medically Related


At Monday’s Malibu City Council meeting, Councilmember Skylar Peak said he wanted to address the incident at Point Dume Village that ostensibly lead to his blocked nomination for mayor pro tem.
As the top vote-getter in the April election, Peak was next in line for the ceremonial position of mayor pro tem. Instead, on a 3-2 vote, the council tapped Councilmember Joan House.
Some members cited the shopping center incident and subsequent sheriff’s department investigation for their refusal to support Peak for the number two post.
“I want to be truthful about the incident. I’m often in swimwear after my [exercise] workouts. I was in Speedos when the security [at the center] made a rush to judgment,” he said.
“At no point did I threaten anyone, nor would I ever,” the council member added.
Peak went on to say that the incident in no way was related to his medical condition.
He acknowledged he has been in treatment for a bipolar disorder and has been taking medications.
He thanked the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for taking him to the Del Amo hospital in Torrance for a four-day involuntary evaluation.
Peak did not indicate whether he has been apprised of the status of the LASD investigation process, which involved numerous interviews over a several month period.
Sporting a new mustache and colorful sunglasses that he wore through most of the meeting, Peak said he looks forward to serving the City of Malibu with “integrity and distinction.”
With the Circle K alcohol permit appeal hearing taken off the calendar, the city council had a pared down itinerary for its meeting this week.
A Circle K opponent urged the council to grant no more continuances and make sure the hearing is heard on Oct. 22.
Councilmember John Sibert said, “I agree. I want to get this over with.”
The council also heard from the staff on an update on public easement encroachment removals along Busch Drive.
The council was told that over 80 percent of the homeowners had removed encroachments along Busch Drive. “There are 10 or 12 areas not cleared out” said Public Works Director Bob Brager, who said in the last couple of weeks in August residents made the most of clearing out the shoulders along the roadway.
The staff wanted to know how should the rest of the encroachments should be handled.
The council agreed to have the staff send out another notice with an Oct. 1 deadline. If the encroachment is not removed, the city will take care of it and bill the homeowners.
The council then got bogged down in a discussion about  parking along the roadway and what areas should be cleared out for a pathway.
The council ultimately decided to wait, have another workshop and talk the matter over with the homeowners.
Local school district advocate and board of education candidate Craig Foster told the council the preliminary results of the study to determine if the school district can split into Malibu and Santa Monica districts are back and an independent consultant has indicated both districts meet the nine-point criteria.
“We would be $4.6 million better off as a separate district. The full report is coming soon,” Foster said.
Foster noted the report is scheduled to be released at the Oct 4 school board meeting, which will be held in Malibu.
“It is a pleasing development and more investigation is to be done,” he added.
The council, without comment from its members or the public, approved several contracts for professional services.
One contract is to extend an agreement with Compliance Biology, Inc. to serve as the primary consultant for biological consulting services and approve another contract with Rincon Consultants, Inc. to serve as the secondary consultant for biological consulting services.
Compliance is City Biologist Dave Crawford’s company, which has been working with the municipality for the last 10 years.
The council also approved an amendment to the agreement with Willdan Engineering for engineering design services for the design of the Pacific Coast Highway Bike Route Improvements Project.
The bike lane has been extended. and it will cost more for the design. The amended amount is a little over $28,824 for a total contract cost of $126,674. Most of that funding is coming from grant money.
However, another contract that neither the council nor the public commented upon will cause the city council to have to dig into their undesignated reserve for $113,000 for the design of the Broad Beach Biofiltration Project with Geosyntec Consultants for engineering design.
Most of the funding for the project is coming from existing grants, but additional biofiltration drains, part of a settlement agreement of a lawsuit, is coming from the city’s pockets unless subsequent grant money can be obtained.