Members of the Malibu City Council extended the city's moratorium on construction Friday with nary a grimace, tantrum or cross word.
The unanimous vote was rare for the cordiality and efficiency with which it was cast, after weeks of squabbling in which council members split 3 to 2 over two competing plans for extending the moratorium. The extension was considered an urgency measure and by law required a majority of four votes for passage.
The major feud had been between Mayor Walt Keller and Councilman Larry Wan, who took the unusual step of hiring his own consultants to put together one of the plans. Both sides blamed the other for the money and time the impasse cost the city. Last week, the moratorium was two days from expiration and desperate constituents complained to newspapers that council members were acting like fools.
Other constituents read of the dispute and scolded council members in phone calls and nasty letters, according to Keller. Councilwoman Missy Zeitsoff said that even before the calls, however, council members were embarrassed about their behavior and were determined to reach agreement. And so Friday, the council extended the moratorium--as everybody expected--politely, which nobody expected.
Keller opened the emergency meeting with an apology. "I'd like to apologize to you folks for the consternation we've given you thanks to what you have read in the newspapers," he told the audience, as several of his colleagues shifted in their chairs or stared at the ceiling.
The ordinance approved Friday is similar to an early version presented by city staff several weeks ago, before four meetings' worth of bickering. As in the original draft, it allows single-family homes with building permits to proceed while continuing for 10 months the ban on virtually all construction of subdivisions and commercial and multifamily projects.
In addition, the ordinance permits remodels and additions to single-family homes. A total of 168 projects are expected to be exempted if they pass a city health and safety inspection and do not lie in areas that public park agencies want to purchase.
Several council members said the ordinance had been hammered out that day by City Atty. Christi Hogin in a series of discussions with individual council members. Hogin had sent each member four versions of the ordinance. By Friday evening, council members said, Hogin managed to get them to agree on a final version. So at the meeting there was little discussion, and members sat somber, still and silent compared to past meetings. "We're on a roll here," Keller noted shortly before the vote. When it was over, members of the audience applauded and cheered.
"Maybe we spin our wheels and sputter at each other, but once we get all our personalities and opinions on the table we do get a good result," Zeitsoff said afterward.
But, in fact, the major sticking point for the council--what to do with other single-family homes in the construction pipeline that do not yet have building permits--had not been incorporated in the ordinance. That issue was brought up minutes after the vote, and once again council members found themselves at an impasse.
Councilman Mike Caggiano proposed an amendment to adopt Wan's plan that phases in additional exemptions for single-family homes.
Minutes after Caggiano made his proposal, the council was almost back to old form. Council members began to snap, mutter and make faces at each other. Keller has long opposed such a plan, saying it kowtows to developers and was visibly frustrated by Caggiano's move. After about an hour of debate, in which the mayor was forced to use his gavel to quiet jeers from the audience, members voted 3 to 2 to hold a public hearing on the proposed amendment at 7 p.m. May 20. As in weeks past, Keller and Carolyn Van Horn cast the dissenting votes. "Back to the good old days," Keller grumbled into the microphone.