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Michele Willer-Allred, Freelance Reporter
1:14 pm PST December 19, 2018

A special Malibu City Council meeting held Dec. 18 dealt with various Woolsey Fire-related issues, including the formation of a local taskforce to look into issues such as disaster response, communication issues, and evacuation conduct and recovery.

The council unanimously agreed to have councilmembers Rick Mullen and Skylar Peak head up an ad-hoc fire response and recovery committee that will organize separate groups led by local residents and experts to address each specific issue.

The local groups will be in addition to a post-fire analysis taskforce group being organized by Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.  

The county group will review the response to and recovery from the fire, and identify the best practices for evacuation and repopulation procedures, including the need for a uniform mass notification system. The group will include all county departments and other agencies involved in the fire and its aftermath, including from emergency response agencies. Officials from Malibu and surrounding cities also will be involved.

“There are a lot of lessons to be learned from the disaster … things that went well and things that can be improved,” Mullen said about his idea to form a local taskforce.

Mullen said the local group would be transparent, where “nothing is swept under the rug and it’s totally open to the public to make recommendations for things that can be done quickly, but also long-term issues.”

The council also unanimously approved an ordinance adopting a county-led, government-sponsored program for state-assisted removal of fire debris from residential properties.

In Malibu, the fire destroyed or substantially damaged at least 440 residential units, resulting in potentially hazardous fire debris on properties.

On Nov. 12, the county declared a local health emergency in the City, which prohibits removal of fire debris until there is an inspection conducted by hazardous material agencies.

Residents can either opt into the government-sponsored program, or opt out and remove the debris themselves, but they still must obtain permission from the county before debris removal.

Temporary trailer fees waived, use of Conex containers approved

The council also unanimously adopted a resolution to waive certain fees related to the installation of temporary trailers on residential properties until June 30, 2019.

Each primary, single-family residence destroyed by the fire would be allowed one temporary residential trailer with waived planning department over-the counter, utility inspection and health review fees.  

The fee waiver would help residents establish temporary housing and reduce barriers for residents to return to their properties, while also encouraging the rebuilding of homes in the city.

City staff estimated that if every property owner whose home was destroyed applied for a temporary trailer permit, the total amount for associated fees would be approximately $350,000.

Also getting the green light from councilmembers was a request by Mayor Jefferson Wagner to allow repurposed shipping containers, commonly known as Conex containers, to be used as temporary housing on properties where homes were burned.

Permits for the containers would be the same as for temporary mobile homes or trailers.

In other business 

A proclamation of a local emergency in Malibu was extended by the council to help the City qualify for reimbursement of certain expenditures associated with the disaster response.

Those actions by the council followed a report by City Manager Reva Feldman about an emergency ordinance proposed by Kuehl to temporarily ban leaf blowers in unincorporated areas around Malibu. A City ordinance temporarily banning their use during post-fire cleanup efforts is already in place.

Feldman said a plan is in place to get more help at City Hall to process fire-recovery applications, and staff is meeting with California Coastal Commission officials about amendments to the coastal plan in order to aid in rebuilding efforts.

She said the City also is launching a new website called “Malibu Rebuild” that will have information regarding the fire.

Feldman said the City will be bringing the mid-year budget to the council at the end of January, which may include items that could relieve the financial burden of fire recovery for residents.

“Staff is focused on including whatever we can to address issues that have been raised about what didn’t go perfectly in the past disaster and how we can do things differently,” Feldman said.

Malibu City Attorney Christi Hogin said the City has received a couple of complaints about price gouging in Malibu, and is meeting with the district attorney to put together a taskforce to expedite prosecution of any claims that warrant them.

Under an anti-gouging law adopted by the council on Dec. 4, it is illegal to raise prices over 10 percent of the normal price for goods and services, including rental homes.

During council comments, Peak said he has talked to many people who lost everything in the fire. Peak also said he found the lack of fire trucks that responded to the fire “extremely frustrating.”

“I think that’s something that needs to be looked at,” he said. “If it means calling for a grand jury investigation of what went on, that’s probably something that we have to do.”

Councilmember Mikke Pierson said that something that should be weighed carefully is building homes in the City that are a lot more fireproof.

“This fire is going to come again, and I don’t think we should have the mental frame of mind that someone is coming to protect our house,” Pierson said.

Mullen addresses well-supported petition

At the meeting, Mullen also addressed a recent online petition, which he said was initiated by a former supporter of his, that calls for the firing of Feldman as well as Public Safety Manager Susan Duenas.

The petition has gathered 1,217 signatures as of Wednesday, Dec. 19. It states that Feldman did not follow the Emergency Operations Plan and “failed to provide timely, critical communication to residents and to adequately support residents that were left behind.”

Mullen said this individual, who has a “deep and long lasting” ire toward Feldman, has capitalized on the fire to try to carry out a long-term objective of getting the city manager fired.

Mullen said some things that happened during the fire were less than perfect but said both he and the city manager have taken responsibility for that and aim to learn and improve from the experience.

“As the person who worked the closest with the city manager every day … I, speaking for myself, as the mayor during the fire, have full confidence in the city manager, and she did a great job,” he said.