No one expected Malibu’s political honeymoon to last long--and it didn’t.
Some say it was as predictable as a bad TV sitcom.
After two years the script reads this way: Voters reject Los Angeles County rule, approve cityhood and elect a five-member City Council. Malibu’s leaders pledge unity to fight the county’s big sewer plan. Malibu’s leaders chop up the county’s sewer plan. Malibu’s leaders chop up each other.
Now, with the county no longer around as a convenient punching bag, voters will go to the polls April 14 in an election many observers view as a referendum on who will be the victor in a long-simmering internecine conflict.
Will it be the City Council’s majority faction, which consists of Mayor Larry Wan and council members Mike Caggiano and Missy Zeitsoff?
Or how about the minority faction of council members Walt Keller and Carolyn Van Horn?
Or is the answer none of the above?
Twenty candidates, including incumbents Caggiano, Van Horn and Zeitsoff, are seeking three seats up for grabs, and the four-year terms that go with them, in an election that promises to help shape Malibu’s future for years to come.
With the fledgling city having only begun to draft a general plan to serve as a blueprint for development, whoever sits on the City Council during the next couple of years will have an extraordinary opportunity to change--or retain--the face of Malibu into the next century.
While the 1990 election, in which 84% of voters approved cityhood, was a referendum on whether Malibu should govern itself, this time the balloting will decide how Malibu is to be governed.
Malibu’s warring political factions, whose disagreements are rooted in petty rivalries, each have pitched the election as a plebiscite on development.
The minority and their supporters insist that the majority has sold out to development interests, something the majority vigorously denies. Meanwhile, the majority accuses the other side of wanting to turn back the clock completely on development, which the minority disputes.
The result has been a sharply divided City Council that critics from each side say has been ineffectual, leaving Malibu severely polarized barely a year after it officially became a city.
The division has intensified in recent weeks, as the war between competing political action committees has heated up.
The Malibu Grassroots Movement, or MGM, which derives much of its financial support from a group of entertainment industry executives who live in Malibu, has endorsed Councilwoman Van Horn and contenders Joan House and Jeff Kramer.
MGM aims to unseat Caggiano and Zeitsoff--whom it calls members of the “Wan political machine"--and elect a new council majority that it says will protect Malibu’s semi-rural environment and put the city’s financial house in order.
MGM’s detractors, meanwhile, have labeled it and an allied group, Malibu Citizens for Community Involvement, “the Keller political machine” and have called on voters to reject it.
However, unlike their opponents, Citizens United are neither as well-financed nor as well organized as MGM and MCI.
The Citizens United group was formed last month, largely to countervail MGM’s efforts. Its organizer, Joy Ellis, is a political consultant with ties to Wan, and some of its key supporters were backers of either Caggiano, Zeitsoff or both.
This week, Citizens United announced its endorsement of three candidates, and, to the chagrin of some of the groups own leaders, neither incumbent made the list.
Instead, co-chairman Ron Bloomfield said the group was recommending Jeff Jennings, Paul Grisanti and Frank Basso. Basso and Jennings had earlier sought the endorsement of MGM.
Bloomfield said that the group made its choices after a recent poll it commissioned showed that “the mood in town is for a clean sweep of the incumbents.”
But he was quick to add that, while he believed each of the three candidates was pleased with the group’s backing, none of them sought the endorsement.
Meanwhile, at least two of the group’s six-member steering committee said they were not consulted about the endorsements, and one, attorney Mari Morsell, angrily resigned.
“I’ve been had,” Morsell said, adding that she supports Zeitsoff and Caggiano.
The group’s co-chairwoman, Susan Reynolds, said she also was not consulted, and announced that she would support Jennings, Caggiano and perhaps another candidate.
“I understand that they came up with a strategy based on a poll that showed (the Keller faction) could end up with four seats (on the council) unless they did a dump on all the incumbents,” Reynolds said.
“I’m in no way attacking the group’s decision. I’m merely adding my own corollary,” she added.
Bloomfield acknowledged that, after the controversy over MGM’s endorsement of Van Horn, Kramer and House, neither Citizens United nor any of the six candidates it considered backing expressed eagerness for an endorsement.
Indeed, as concerns have risen that infighting between the rival factions and their supporters may have turned voters off, an increasing number of candidates have taken to stressing their “independence” in campaign speeches.
“The hope is,” said one observer, “that if neither side dominates, someone reasonable will be elected as the swing vote.”
Candidates for Malibu City Council QUESTION: What is the most important issue facing Malibu?
Background: Geophysicist for Unocal Corp. Serves on Budget Advisory Board for Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.
I would seek to quickly develop the General Plan, which would encourage low-density development. I would terminate the existing moratorium on single-family residences, which has been very disruptive to the lives of owner-builders and their families. Building permit fees should be set at the cost of providing inspections and reviews.
Background: Pharmacist. Co-chaired Malibu’s Transportation Study Group. President of Point Dume Homeowners and Residents Assn. Past president of Malibu Township Council.
I will do everything possible to protect the environment (and) the rural character of Malibu. We must have fiscal responsibility. We must stop the infighting between the people on the board. I can bring the different factions together so that Malibu can be a jewel in California among little cities.
Background: Attorney. Ran for City Council in 1990 as a write-in candidate.
To realize the potential the opportunity of cityhood has given us. To develop consistent with the past and present rural coastal village character, while honoring the trust we have inherited to protect the environment. To govern with fiscal responsibility, in a democratic fashion, to avoid the political infighting which paralyzes progress.
Background: Incumbent councilman. Public-policy analyst and former consultant at the RAND Corp. Collected third-highest vote total in 1990 council race behind Walt Keller and Larry Wan.
The most important issue facing Malibu is electing a rational City Council that will listen to and represent the diversity of Malibu. Together, we will find creative ways to preserve Malibu’s environment and rural character while maintaining constitutional rights and preventing budget-busting lawsuits.
Background: Real-estate broker. Ran for City Council in 1990 while opposing cityhood. Has advocated dissolving city and returning Malibu to county control.
Malibu goes bankrupt July 1! No way can this small town get by on $7 million income. Our expenses are $9 million when you add the legal costs. I’m your man! You’re going bankrupt! I’ve been bankrupt! You need my expertise!
Background: Co-founder and on-air personality for nonprofit KBU-TV, Malibu’s cable television channel.
Council members should be individuals not linked to any one mentality who live and care about Malibu enough to unselfishly give of their time to nurture a city we can all be proud of . . . Malibu! Let’s bring back the spirit, unity, courage and determination which brought Malibu to a cityhood victory!
Background: Real-estate broker. Ran for council in 1990. Served on Malibu’s General Plan Task Force.
Integrity and independence are the two major issues in the Malibu City Council race. It’s important that a candidate be willing to look you in the eye and tell you the truth whether or not it’s what you want to hear. I’m independent and willing to listen to all sides and then make a decision on what is best for Malibu as a whole.
Background: Business consultant. Past president of Malibu Township Council and charter member of Malibu Committee for Incorporation. Serves on several civic boards.
After 32 years of involvement I understand the diversity of the community and will arrive at a consensus to implement a General Plan; be fiscally responsible; develop criteria for sewage systems and decide how public parks and easements will be managed by the city.
Background: Administrator of her husband’s medical practice. Served as vice chairwoman of the General Plan Task Force. Chairwoman of Malibu’s cityhood celebration.
Malibu’s fiscal house must be put in order. Deferred expenditures are not a responsible way to begin a new city with inherent problems. The Malibu General Plan and wastewater management are critical issues. A City Council that conducts business and which governs and does not rule.
Background: Attorney. Served on Malibu’s General Plan Task Force. Chaired advisory committee that helped establish Malibu High School.
Nothing will do more to destroy (Malibu) than mean-spirited efforts to obliterate the rights of others. “No Growth” is a chimera; it will consume us if we pursue it. With sensible growth-management policies and strict environmental controls, Malibu can be preserved without violating others’ rights, or our own collective conscience.
C. J. Kraft
Background: Self-described community activist.
To halt all sewers; to strictly limit and impose tough seismic, environmental and structural standards on new construction and to operate a “bare bones” city government using volunteer experts and professionals. I have commitments from attorneys, geologists and waste-management specialists willing to donate their time and expertise.
Background: Attorney. Former co-counsel for Malibu Committee for Incorporation in the legal battle against Los Angeles County to achieve cityhood. Served on city’s General Plan Task Force.
Development and city finances are the most important issues. Can the city control its growth and regulate the structures that are built so that our scenic beauty and neighborhood characters are preserved? Can we control expenditures and enhance revenues to lessen pressures for undesirable commercial development?
Background: Building contractor. Ran for City Council in 1990.
I pledge to improve the quality of life, allow the fulfilling of dreams, regulate fairly and equitably, protect property rights and civil liberties, and to create a government where, for once in our lifetimes, we see civil servants work for the benefit of citizens.
Charles (Chip) Post
Background: Attorney. Former city attorney of Hermosa Beach and several other communities, and a former deputy district attorney in Los Angeles County.
I believe overdevelopment is the single biggest threat to Malibu over the next five to 10 years. I want to put my experience to work in creating and implementing the General Plan. If the General Plan fades into the background, decisions are made on an ad-hoc basis and overdevelopment results.
I hope we will replace the inept and dishonest incumbents with non-politicians who will keep promises; refrain from pursuit of private agendas; terminate the moratorium on single-family homes on existing legal lots; keep Malibu small and fiscally responsible, and guarantee our individual privacy and property rights.
Background: Management consultant. President of Big Rock Improvement Committee, a residents group. Ran for City Council in 1990.
The most important issue in Malibu is financial irresponsibility and the impending demise of the city due to lack of funding. I’m the only qualified financial expert who can heal this city.
Background: Talent agent. President of Escondido Beach Assn, a residents group.
My main issue is to eliminate the building moratorium on single-family residences and private lots in Malibu. The individual property owner has lost his constitutional rights. I believe that the term for every council person should be limited to two years. The Malibu City Council needs to learn fiscal responsibility.
Carolyn Van Horn
Background: Incumbent councilwoman. Retired teacher. Finished fourth among 30 candidates to win seat in 1990. Formerly co-chaired, with Walt Keller, the Malibu Committee for Incorporation.
Development in Malibu is the central issue. The question is not whether to develop, it is rather how to achieve a blend of economic opportunity and environmental concern that will retain the beauty and uniqueness of Malibu. The fate of Malibu’s environment hangs in the balance with this City Council election.
Jefferson (Zuma Jay) Wagner
Background: Owner of two surf shops, fashion model, movie stuntman and former stand-in for actor Clint Eastwood.
I really hope to see more than 3,500 voters cast ballots on Election Day. Our city needs to hear from all of you to find the direction you want it to go. Don’t fall for the “slick operators” who are attempting to polarize your opinions. Think independent. Vote independent.
Background: Incumbent councilwoman. Retired teacher. Won seat on council in 1990 by finishing fifth among 30 candidates. Formerly an official of the Malibu Township Council.
May peace prevail on earth and on the Malibu City Council. May the city budget stay black with the help of Ray Taylor. May Missy Zeitsoff continue to lead Malibu toward accomplishments in environmental protections, land-use policy, social concerns, and programs for Malibu people’s enjoyment and safety.