Thursday, October 23, 2014

Measure R

Depending on who you talk to, Malibu's Measure R is either a sign that the universe does eventually bend toward justice, or a dire portent that the sky is going to fall. Image @ 2014 S. Guldimann

"I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice."

 —Theodore Parker, 1850

“It’s like trying to decorate a cake before you’ve baked it.” That was a comment from one of the participants at the recent Malibu Civic Center Design Standards open house event at Malibu City Hall. The 10-member design standards task force, chosen last week by the city council, will be working with an urban planning consultant firm and architect to develop an aesthetic for future Civic Center development. 

I liked the cake analogy, but it made me think, why cake at all? Why are the current commercial developers so determined to have their cake and to force us to eat it? And why do we have to put up with bloated, super-sized, over-sweetened development deals, and the attitude that everything will be fine if we just cover the whole thing in an aesthetically pleasing layer of fondant? 

Measure R seeks to give voters a voice in any future commercial development in excess of 20,000 square feet anywhere in the city, and limits chain stores to 30 percent. It's on the November ballot because of overwhelming concern over the rapid mall-ification of the Civic Center, but also from the fear that rampant commercialization will spread throughout the community. This photo shows how close the Civic Center, which sits in the Malibu Creek floodplain, is to the ocean and the fragile Malibu Lagoon. Everything is interconnected. 

The Let Them Eat Cake attitude is a large part of why Measure R is on the ballot, and while the opponents of the measure can threaten that the world will end if it passes, it might be helpful if they kept in mind that the tide of anger and frustration that generated the Measure R movement is continuing to gather steam. 

Very few Malibuites want to see the current exponential growth in Civic Center area gridlock get worse. Turning the center of Malibu into a shopping destination may delight landlords but does remarkably little for the people of Malibu or the 10 million beachgoers who endured the travails of PCH this summer for a day on the beach—more than six million of them headed past the Civic Center to Zuma, according to Los Angeles County Lifeguard statistics.

More than 10 million visitors braved Pacific Coast Highway this summer to spend a day at the beach, presumably in the hope of finding not dozens of boring, generic chain stores and glorified strip malls, but peace and beauty and an unspoiled vista of sea and sky. Photo © 2014 S. Guldimann

And the opponents of Measure R? Although the mailers continue to state  that they are paid for with "major funding from Whole Foods and the Park, LLC-retail shopping center," Whole Foods has disavowed any connection to the political campaign. According to the most recent official campaign finance report, the sole financial contributor to the No on R campaign is commercial real estate developer Steve Soboroff, who has donated $50,000 to defeat the initiative.

Measure R would enable Malibu voters to weigh in on every commercial development in excess of 20,000 square feet. It also caps new formula retail—chain stores—at 30 percent per shopping center. Soboroff owns a key parcel of commercial real estate in the Civic Center. If Measure R passes, Soboroff’s six-acre "Whole Foods in the Park" shopping center project will require voter approval because it exceeds 20,000 square feet.

Soboroff is no stranger to development campaigns. A recent Hollywood Reporter article on the Measure R issue describes him as “a local powerhouse who developed Montana Avenue and bailed out Staples/L.A. Live and Playa Vista projects...”

Playa Vista, Measure R opponent Steve Soboroff's most ambitious development project, rises out of the Ballona Wetlands. There's reportedly a Whole Foods going in there too, Whole Foods in the Wetland. Photo: Downtowngal via Wikimedia Commons

And even in Playa Vista, that brand new coastal city rising out of the Ballona Wetlands and on the bones of over 1000 dead Tongva Indians whose remains were discovered after construction on the controversial project began (they were reinterred on a nearby hill), the issue of commercial development is a problem. 

A 2012 article reporting on how the development of the new city’s commercial center, The Village, a 111-acre development that will feature 2,600 new homes and 3.2 million square feet of office and retail space space, was posed to proceed after eight years of litigation, includes this quote:

"No one wanted the retail to be so large and such a draw that it would become its own mall-like destination," said Con Howe, former planning director for the City of Los Angeles. "Retail will clearly attract some people from the larger area... but it won't become a big shopping mall."

Sound familiar?

In the case of the Playa Vista Village, “an appellate court found deficiencies in environmental review,  [and] Playa Vista was forced to revise its analysis and seek a new round of city land-use approvals,” according to a 2010 Daily Breeze article. 

The No on R campaign has cast a lot of aspersions on Measure R proponent Rob Reiner and the other entertainment industry professionals who have contributed to R. “They don’t live here,” the NO camp argues. Never mind that neither does the leader of the opposition. Perhaps if he did, he would know that those celebrities have always supported the local community, shopping at locally owned business (remember when we still had lots of those?), hiring local kids to babysit and run errands, and volunteering time and money to local causes. 

Dozens of Malibu entertainment industry professionals campaigned to save the historic Colony Coffee Shop, torn down by developers to make way for the Ralph's Market shopping center. Celebrities have campaigned for cityhood; for Malibu urgent care, Malibu's schools; the California Wildlife Center; saving the Point Dume Headlands from, yeah, you guessed it, developers; even passing the coastal act. Can you think of the last time an out-of-town commercial developer did anything lasting and meaningful that wasn't part of a settlement agreement or a Coastal Commission condition? I can't. Photo unattributed.

And never mind that Reiner has had a house in Malibu for decades and is an active member of the community.

In a way, it all boils down to the difference between doing good and doing well. Rob Reiner, the spokesperson for Measure R, is attempting to do good, while the architect and apparent sole financier of the No on R campaign, seeks to do well. 

Remember when you could actually buy lumber at the Malibu Lumberyard?

Today the old hardware store is "an oasis of style," and in the view of many Malibuites, when the city obtained the property and became a commercial landlord, making the decision to transform the lumberyard into an "oasis of style," the paradigm shifted from the need to do good to the need to do well. How can an entity that is now a major player remain entirely neutral, they argue.

There’s nothing wrong with doing well. Having your cake and eating it too is a cornerstone of capitalism, but it often doesn’t end well when you attempt to force other people to eat that cake. 

The projects already in the pipeline for the immediate future of the Civic Center—Soboroff’s Whole Foods shopping center, the 132,000-square-foot La Paz development next to it, the Santa Monica College satellite campus, and the commercial development planned for the lot that is currently used for the Chili Cook Off, already threaten to increase traffic and parking past the tipping point, and those projects are just a fraction of the development planned for the area—more than 1.5 million square feet, if one includes Pepperdine’s new 5000-person stadium, which the city has absolutely no control over; the proposed hotel/condominium/timeshare complex recently transformed into a proposal for a 45,000-plus corpse cemetery opposite Pepperdine; the six-house subdivision at Bluffs Park; and the sports complex the city hopes to build in its newly acquired Bluffs Park Open Space.

Measure R proponents point to the perpetual weekend traffic jam at Paradise Cove as an example of how even just one business' change in density can have a cascade effect on traffic and quality of life. At Paradise Cove, that change involved allowing patrons to bring alcohol to the beach, and the installation of private cabanas and other on-the-sand day-use amenities.

It is admirable that the city is seeking to develop an aesthetic for future development in the Civic Center area, but the design standards can’t limit the scope of that development and won’t help if the transformation from community necessities to international shopping destination continues at the current pace, because the Civic Center area traffic, already at critical mass on weekends, will make Malibu unlivable. That traffic also impedes visitors’ access to the beach. And that's just in the Civic Center area. 

Turning the Malibu Civic Center into a "shopping destination" is rapidly transforming Pacific Coast Highway into a year-round weekend parking lot. This photo was taken on a summer Friday afternoon. On weekends, it can take half an hour to snail down the hill and over the Malibu Creek Bridge, while northbound traffic backs up all the way Las Flores Canyon.

It would be nice if the opposition had the moral fiber to say, “we want to develop our interests in Malibu and we oppose this measure because we view it as too restrictive.” However, it was laughable at a recent Malibu Democratic Club forum on the measure when an opponent of the measure, who is on record for decades as pro development, warned that massive development (and the sky falling) will take place if R passes. Reiner replied, “if that’s the case, why aren’t you supporting it?” 

For months now, the sign on the door of this international boutique chain store has read: "Please call for an appointment."

Here's another sign no one wanted to see. The loss of Diesel Bookstore was especially poignant for me, because the space it vacated was the same space where my family had their gallery for nearly 20 years. Malibu was rocked this week by the news that the Malibu Country Kitchen at the corner of Las Flores and PCH for more than 40 years, just lost its lease. The owner of the building died recently and her heirs sold to an out of area developer who reportedly plans to bring in a Northern California burger chain to fill the location, according to a report in the Malibu Times.

A wide cross section of the community is supporting Measure R because Malibu residents want to have a say in the future of Malibu. Not a token say, not what my dad used to call wheel spinning—events where you fill out questionnaires and write suggestions on Post-It Notes—but an opportunity to directly weigh in and be heard. 

Malibu is the only municipality located entirely within the boundaries of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area—a national park with all the same protections and significance of larger and more famous parks like Yosemite. This community has a real responsibility to protect and preserve our environment. Traffic congestion, air pollution, wastewater, buildings and hardscaping have a direct, measurable negative impact on wildlife like this mixed flock of elegant and foresters terns—California Species of Special Concern. This issue is about far more than aesthetics or human livability.

Measure R won’t stop development and it can’t cause a major increase in development (or the sky to fall). What it is intended to do is to make developers stop and think about the needs of the community. If a proposed project is something the majority of Malibu residents think the community needs, it will pass the process. Essential services, including urgent care and grocery stores, are exempt from the chain restrictions and if the developers don’t seek variances and floor area ratio increases in excess of 20,000 square feet their projects won’t trigger a vote.

If Measure R passes I'm willing to bet it won't cause the sky to fall. If we're lucky it will simple encourage developers to mitigate the impact of their plans on the community and maybe find a way to scale things down. 

The Malibu Vision and Mission statement begins:  

Malibu is a unique land and marine environment and residential community whose citizens have historically evidenced a commitment to sacrifice urban and suburban conveniences in order to protect that environment and lifestyle, and to preserve unaltered natural resources and rural characteristics. The people of Malibu are a responsible custodian of the area’s natural resources for present and future generations.

It ends: 

Malibu will provide passive, coastal-dependent and resource-dependent visitor-serving recreational opportunities (at proper times, places and manners) that remain subordinate to their natural, cultural and rural setting, and which are consistent with the fragility of the natural resources of the area, the proximity of the access to residential uses, the need to protect the privacy of property owners, the aesthetic values of the area, and the capacity of the area to sustain particular levels of use.

And the commercial real estate interests funding the No on Measure R campaign? They have their own vision and mission for Malibu, one that involves doing well, not necessarily doing good. It would be nice if, in the end, we could all work together to do well by doing good. I guess we can always hope.

Suzanne Guldimann
22 October 2014

It's the beauty and majesty of nature, not a shopping destination, that draws all of us—residents and visitors—to Malibu. Most of us would like to keep it that way.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Building Bridges

This is P32, one of the most recent Malibu mountain lion kittens. It's a visual reminder of what is at stake if the Liberty Canyon wildlife overpass isn't built. Photo: National Park Service
On Monday, October 13, Malibu City Council unanimously voted to pass a resolution support the plan to build a wildlife crossing over the 101 freeway at Liberty Canyon. Malibu, which was the first municipality in the Santa Monica Mountains area to pass a resolution opposing the use of rodenticides, is now the first community to officially endorse the project.

Although the resolution is a symbolic gesture it sends an important message that the community is in favor of the project. Other cities, including Agoura Hills and Calabasas, where the proposed overpass will actually be built, are expected to pass resolutions soon.

Malibu City Council members Lou La Monte and Laura Rosenthal participated in the September 18 rally at Liberty Canyon. La Monte immediately brought the resolution proposal to the council and asked that it be placed on the agenda. Politics in Malibu can be extremely fierce and contentious, but this was one issue that appears to have universal support.

This post is for everyone who asked about the mountain lion rally at Liberty Canyon. My official account is in the September 22 Malibu Surfside News, so this is a sort of back stage look at the event, which attracted more than 300 wildlife crossing supporters and the attention of some major national media outsets, including the Wall Street Journal.

The rally took place on the north side of the 101 on property owned by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy that is adjacent to the freeway. In order to reach the location, 300-plus activists, reporters, school children, politicians and officials had to cross under the freeway, getting a firsthand taste of what  mountain lions and other wildlife have to go through. I know I didn't enjoy the experience, and at least we human animals understand about looking both ways for oncoming traffic.

Walking under the freeway on the way to the rendezvous was distinctly unnerving. It's dark and the overpass rumbles and thunders, the sound is magnified and echoes off the walls. I didn't enjoy negotiating my way past the freeway ramps. The onramp isn't bad, but cars come flying down the offramp at 70 mph.

It was easy to find the meeting site: the news vans were already gathering there. A major part of any press event is standing around and waiting for something to happen. This time, there were lots of interesting people to talk to, and everyone was there to support the wildlife over crossing, so the mood was positive. We're on the north side of the freeway, on a piece of property acquired by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. That little line of trail on the mountain to the right of the NBC news van is the open space on the south side of the freeway that represents safety and access to the Santa Monica Mountains for any animal that successfully crosses the barrier of the freeway.

At last, the press tour gets underway. This is Beth Pratt, the National Wildlife Federation's California director, one of the overpass project's most passionate advocates. She began the event by showing off her tattoo of P22, the Griffith Park mountain lion that is her inspiration.

A large flock of reporters, project proponents and activists follow National Park Service ecologist Seth Riley on a tour of the obstacles currently faced by wildlife attempting to cross the 101. Even in a group it was scary crossing the offramp and walking under the overpass.

National Park Service wildlife ecologist Seth Riley guides the press under the freeway, pointing out all of the hazards.

Riley led the entire troop of press, activists and officials across the offramp and down the side of a steep embankment that is part of Caltrans right of way.

Riley explains that while the effort to gather support and funds for a permanent overpass gathers steam, Caltrans, working with the NPS and private property owners, will remove barriers like this chain link fence to create a safer passage for animals. The temporary plans include proposals to help prevent animals from wandering onto the freeway, including moving fencing up to the edge of the road to eliminate pockets of land like this one that give the illusion of safety, and electrified mats to dissuade animals from traveling up the ramps.

The press tour participants got to experience the feeling of being trapped between the freeway and the fence. That's state Senator Fran Pavley and Malibu City Councilmember Lou La Monte in the center, discussing the barrier. They both prudently wore walking shoes. You never know where you're going to end up on a press event. 

Like the Brave Old Duke of York's 10,000 men in the nursery rhyme, everyone marched up the hill and back down the hill again. We had someone to direct traffic this time. A luxury the mountain lions don't get to enjoy. Not yet.

Malibu resident and former California Coastal Commissioner Sara Wan addresses the crowd on behave of her wildlife advocacy organization the Western Alliance for Nature. The organization is joining with the National Wildlife Federation to raise funds for the project. Wan told me that she's optimistic that we can make this plan a reality. She points to numerous other successful wildlife road crossings in the US, Canada and all over the world.

That's Poison Free Malibu founder Kian Schulman with the owl poster, reminding everyone that rodenticide is also a deadly threat to wildlife like mountain lions. Members of PFM were also at the Malibu City Council meeting on October 13 to support the city's resolution.

Local school children gather with National Wildlife Federation mascot Ranger Rick for a group photo. These kids raised the first $200 donation for the project, which they presented to NWF President and CEO Collin O'Mara at the rally.

Everyone, even reporters, had an opportunity to take a photo with a life-sized P-22 against the backdrop of the freeway.

As we left the rally we had a good view of the acres of open space that were once destined to be a housing development and are now parkland and critical wildlife habitat. This is habitat that has been fragmented by extensive human development, but can still be reconnected, allowing mountain lions and other wildlife to once again travel from one mountain range to  another, but also into a future where there is still room for them in an ever shrinking world.

On my way home I stopped to look at the vista of the Santa Monica Mountains with the San Gabriel Mountains in the distance, faint and delicate as a Japanese brush painting. Humans have turned the mountains into islands on the land but its not too late to build bridges, to reconnect the land and make sure we leave enough room for mountain lions, and bob cats, coyotes, badgers, deer, owls and all of the wild animals that still make this their home.

Liberty Canyon wildlife crossing project proponents are hoping to have the funding, plans and permits in place to break ground in 2018, but they can't do it without our help. In order to succeed, this project needs all the public support it can get. More information on the campaign to build the bridge is available at

Suzanne Guldimann
18 October 2014

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Hunting of the Snark

Shadows or sharks? During autumn in Malibu there's a good chance it's sharks. All photos @ 2014 S. Guldimann

"We have sailed many months, we have sailed many weeks,
   (Four weeks to the month you may mark),
But never as yet ('tis your Captain who speaks)
   Have we caught the least glimpse of a Snark!

"We have sailed many weeks, we have sailed many days,
   (Seven days to the week I allow),
But a Snark, on the which we might lovingly gaze,
   We have never beheld till now!

—Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark

I was looking for sharks, not Snarks, and pursuing them with cameras and snorkels, but my high-tech hunting aids were of no more use to me than thimbles and forks were to Carroll's unlucky Bellman and his Snark hunting crew.

One morning a little more than a week ago, the shallow water at Point Dume was full of leopard sharks, sleek, swift, dappled shadows, weaving amongst the swimmers' ankles. They were joined by their smaller cousins the smooth-hound sharks and by the aptly, if inelegantly, named shovel-nosed guitar fish, and there were dozens of them. 

It's a sure sign that autumn has arrived when the small sharks and rays begin to aggregate in the shallow warm water, but you only get a good look at them when conditions are calm and the water is clear. Conditions were perfect last week, as clear as glass and as warm as bathwater.

 I wrote about the phenomenon for the Malibu Surfside News, but the sharks proved elusive and, while I prowled the shallows every day for a week, GoPro camera in hand, I couldn't get a good photo for the article. The sharks remained as elusive as, well, Snarks.

"Just the place for a Snark!" the Bellman cries repeatedly in Carroll's Hunting of the Snark. It was, too. For sharks, if not Snarks. Or it would have been if there were any sharks to see. Leopard sharks congregate in warm, shallow water like this Point Dume cove in autumn, where they give birth to their young and feast on sand crabs. Although leopard sharks looks every inch a shark and can grow to more than five feet in length, they are harmless to humans, and eat primarily crabs, worms, clams and small fish like anchovies and grunion. 

I started my search in the shallow water near the reefs, traveling along the sandbars and around the new trenches of rocks revealed by the recent series of big waves. Those waves have removed large amounts of sand and completely changed the underwater landscape, but the big outcroppings of volcanic breccia—a tough, erosion-resistant stone, form fairly permanent landmarks. Between these reefs are areas that can shift swiftly between sand and cobble, depending on conditions.

 I saw plenty of sculpin, despite the fact that the sculpin's goal in life is not to be seen. This is a tiny tidepool sculpin, Oligocottus maculosus.

I also saw sea anemones, which have already begun to colonize the barren stretches of rocks and cobbles revealed by the recent wave action.

Here's a small secretive shrimp, hiding in the spiral skeleton of a sea shell. But still no sign of leopard sharks.

Like the Bellman and his crew, I hunted early and late. A little too late on this occasion. Once the sun moves behind the cliffs the water suddenly turns dark and mysterious. It's like swimming in ink. There could be all kinds of things down there, and you would never see them until it was too late...

A shark! Is that a shark?

It's not a shark. It's a California corbina, Menticirrhus undulatus—a large surf fish that belongs to the croaker family. Just like the leopard sharks, corbina like to eat sand crabs. They often congregate among the sharks and seem entirely unconcerned by their presence. They appeared to have the sand crabs all to themselves on this particular day. There wasn't a shark in sight...

A shark! (or at least the tail of a shark). 

And then a couple of sleek, spotted leopard sharks, slithy as Carroll's celebrated slithy toves, slide swiftly by. Alas, that was about as close as I got to documenting the quarry of my Snark hunt...

"There is Thingumbob shouting!" the Bellman said,
   "He is shouting like mad, only hark!
He is waving his hands, he is wagging his head,
   He has certainly found a Snark!"

They gazed in delight, while the Butcher exclaimed
   "He was always a desperate wag!"
They beheld him—their Baker—their hero unnamed—
   On the top of a neighbouring crag,

Erect and sublime, for one moment of time,
   In the next, that wild figure they saw
(As if stung by a spasm) plunge into a chasm,
   While they waited and listened in awe.

"It's a Snark!" was the sound that first came to their ears,
   And seemed almost too good to be true.
Then followed a torrent of laughter and cheers:
   Then the ominous words "It's a Boo—"

Then, silence. Some fancied they heard in the air
   A weary and wandering sigh
That sounded like "-jum!" but the others declare
   It was only a breeze that went by.

They hunted till darkness came on, but they found
   Not a button, or feather, or mark,
By which they could tell that they stood on the ground
   Where the Baker had met with the Snark.

In the midst of the word he was trying to say,
   In the midst of his laughter and glee,
He had softly and suddenly vanished away—
   For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.

Suzanne Guldimann
9 October 2014

It was a Boojum...