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A new chapter of Malibu politics began Monday, Dec. 10, with the swearing in of newly elected council members Karen Farrer and Mikke Pierson.
Farrer and Pierson took the council seats vacated by Laura Rosenthal and Lou La Monte, who were termed out after serving for eight years.
Jefferson Wagner took the helm as the new mayor, and Farrer was elected to be the new mayor pro tem.
Largely on the mind of elected officials, both past and present, was the Woolsey Fire, which destroyed 460 properties in Malibu.
“I envisioned tonight as a night of some celebration, but really all I feel right now is that I want to help us get through the trauma we’ve experienced,” Pierson said.
“I am honored. I am humbled, especially in this very sobering time of great need and devastation,” Farrer said.
During the meeting, both Rosenthal and La Monte received commendations for their work over the years from numerous City, County and State officials.
But they, too, turned their thoughts to the fire.
“I had eight-and-a-half years to write this speech, and a month ago this wildfire came and rewrote it for me,” La Monte said. “I was going to tell you my goal for Malibu was to leave it a better place when I first got elected, and we almost made it.”
La Monte noted some accomplishments he was proud of during his term included helping the City acquire acres of important land and getting a left turn signal at Big Rock Drive and Pacific Coast Highway. He also was largely congratulated for spearheading efforts to pass AB 3162, which reforms requirements for the issuance of licenses for residential drug and alcohol treatment facilities. California Gov. Edmund G. Brown signed the bill in October.
“Unfortunately, all those things pale in comparison to the disaster that just befell us,” La Monte said. “My friends and neighbors lost their homes; they lost everything.”
Rosenthal was praised for her environmental efforts, and her work with the library committee and schools, among other accomplishments.
“I hope and I know we’ll come out stronger, more resilient and a united and loving community as we move forward with our recovery,” said Rosenthal, holding back tears. “We must do that, and I know that we will.”
Actor and director Rob Reiner swore Wagner in as the new mayor.
“Malibu has gone through a tough time, and there’s no one more fitting to be taking over as mayor right now,” Reiner said.
Wagner said his biggest concern for the next year is helping residents rebuild homes lost in the fire, and that he didn’t want those seeking help to rebuild “to be bullied at City Hall for any reason.”
“This council is firm about working with you to get your homes replaced,” he said.
Former Mayor Rick Mullen suggested that the council put together a taskforce of people who can address the major areas of concern from the fire, analyze the actions by the City during the emergency response, and make changes “that put the City in a more durable, and proactive and well-prepared position in the future.”
Farrer and Pierson said their priority was to help residents affected by the fire.
Pierson said homes need to be built to be fire resistant, but environmentally sound, and communication from the City needs to be improved during disasters.
During public comment, Planning Commissioner John Mazza said the council needs to immediately change the permitting process to help rebuild homes. He also said short-term rentals need to be suspended in the City to free up rental spaces for locals who lost their homes.
Otherwise, he said, many longtime residents may choose to leave the City.
Mazza also said many have no place to go.
“There are literally people sleeping in their cars,” he said.
The council unanimously approved extending a proclamation of a local emergency in the city. The council initially approved the proclamation on Nov. 20, and again on Dec. 5.
Every 14 days, the City needs to renew that proclamation, which assists residents and the City in obtaining local, state and federal aid, and other assistance.