The sign sure looked official.
It was posted on a shoulder of Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu and declared: “Official Sanctuary City ‘Cheap Nannies and Gardeners Make Malibu Great!’ (Boyle Heights Not So Much).”
The blue and white marker even carried official seals of the city and California.
On Wednesday however, city officials said the sign was nothing more than a mean prank.
“This was not an official city sign,” Malibu Councilwoman Laura Rosenthal said. “It’s down, and it’s very disheartening that anyone would put up such an ugly sign.”
The sign was first reported about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, after someone bolted it to an existing marker at the city’s northern limit. Anyone speeding past might have thought officials were simply taking pride in their recent decision to declare Malibu a haven for immigrants who may face deportation for living in the U.S. illegally — a defiant repudiation of the Trump administration’s expanded immigration enforcement priorities.
Rosenthal, who introduced the sanctuary measure to this famed beachside community several months ago, said the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is now investigating the matter.
“Whoever did this spent some time on it,” she said.
Mayor Pro Tem Skylar Peak also supported sanctuary status when it came up for a vote last month and said he didn’t know much about Boyle Heights — only that it’s a working class and mainly Latino neighborhood.
“To make a derogatory comment about that place is very childish and inappropriate. I’m embarrassed by that,” Peak said.
“We have a lot of immigrants who work in Malibu. It’s probably the majority of the employees here.”
Peak said the sign was reported to authorities by a California State Parks employee. By the time deputies arrived to investigate, it had already been removed.
Malibu’s decision to declare itself a sanctuary city was largely symbolic but won international headlines nonetheless.
Rosenthal said she had been considering how the city might show support for immigrants when actor and activist Martin Sheen, a Malibu resident, attended a City Council meeting in December and urged the city to take up such a measure.
That prompted Rosenthal to act, she said.
Last month, she and fellow council members voted 3 to 2 to declare Malibu a sanctuary city. The community joins an estimated 400 such cities, counties and other jurisdictions across the country.
With roughly 13,000 residents, Malibu is predominantly white and doesn’t have its own jail or police department. It contracts out these responsibilities to the county.
The move to label the city a sanctuary city wasn’t without its critics. At council meetings, some residents described being victims of crimes committed by people in the United States illegally.
They also called the move an empty gesture that could cost the city $46,000 in federal funding if the Trump administration followed through on its threat to withhold money from municipalities that approve sanctuary status.
Before the vote, Rosenthal read a letter from a resident who couldn’t attend; it was the only nod to a sometimes uncomfortable truth about Malibu and many places like it.
“Our city depends on a Hispanic population to support our comfortable lifestyle,” Rosenthal read. “Do we not owe them what comfort and protections that are possible in these challenging times?”
With this week’s brief appearance of the fake sanctuary city sign, it’s clear that the debate about the decision is far from over.