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A Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department deputy speaks to a homeless man before he was escorted off The Park at Cross Creek property Wednesday morning. Scott Steepleton/Surfside News
Scott Steepleton, Editor
4:45 pm PST March 3, 2021

If there’s a “solution” to homelessness in Malibu, the City Council wants to hear ideas from the community.

After four hours of discussion on the topic, including requests from more than 30 members of the public to speak, the council directed city staff to among other things come up with a community outreach plan to gain more input on “homelessness strategies.”

The Feb. 25 special meeting via Zoom began with council member Steve Uhring asking Mayor Mikke Pierson exactly what his goals were.

“I think we need to take steps forward,” Pierson replied, “but that’s a council decision. The council could literally decide to do nothing.”

“You’ve got no major objective in mind?” Uhring pressed.

“It’s a very complicated subject with a huge amount of opinions,” Pierson said.

It’s only fair, the mayor added, to hear everyone’s opinion.

The city’s public safety manager Susan Dueñas was first to make a presentation, saying homelessness is increasing across the Los Angeles region “and Malibu is feeling the effects.”

Since 2018, Dueñas said, Malibu’s three-person homeless outreach team has moved 138 people off the streets.

“However, in spite of the really significant success, the numbers of homeless people are relatively static and the impact on our residents, on our neighborhoods, our parks and our open space have persisted,” Dueñas said.

To Dueñas, the purpose of the meeting was to “move the needle on this problem.”

Rachel Simon, Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s homeless deputy, said the drivers of homelessness in the county include a lack of affordable housing, low wages and systemic racism — and “inflow” into homelessness has outpaced “exits.”

Tiffany Stewart, outreach worker with the People Concern, one of the county’s largest social services agencies, told the council that the homeless in Malibu “are just as diverse in character as you and I. They come from a wide variety of backgrounds, from every state of the union. They’re black, white, brown. Some of them have college degrees, some are fleeing from domestic violence. Some of them are orphaned and abandoned by the system. Some are residents of Malibu that have been displaced in one way or another.”

Agency workers are in contact with about 70 people in need in the city.

“Because they’re so diverse, the solution and services which are needed can be just as varied,” Stewart said. Missing in the local mix of services, she continued, are transitional housing and mental health services.

When later asked by Uhring to quantify the number homeless Malibu residents, Stewart had trouble doing so.

“I can’t really accurately answer that question,” she said. “I have encountered some people who told me they were from Malibu, and grew up there.”

“We do know that we have housed a couple people that lost their home in the fire,” she added. “But I can’t give an exact number, no.”

Law enforcement’s challenges in dealing with the homeless was discussed by Lt. Jim Braden of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

“Police officers have to protect the constitutional rights of the public,” he said. “Everything we do has to respect that. Any ordinance we create has to repeat that.”

The problem has been going on for 40 years, he noted. “Beach communities are conducive with people wanting to come.”

Camping along Pacific Coast Highway has been a longtime problem, Braden said. But a recent decision by the California Coastal Commission pertaining to signs restricting overnight parking of oversize vehicles along the roadway could help reduce camping throughout Malibu.

It sends a signal to “campers, motorhomes, whatever they are that it’s not free camping along PCH,” Braden said.

Braden pointed out that within the 19.5 square miles that make up the city, there is plenty of undeveloped land that is quite attractive to people looking to build encampments; and with encampments come fires, which can get out of control and cause devastation.

“There needs to be an ordinance … for raw pieces of property without houses on them and that ordinance should read that those people that own those properties … need to provide for security for those properties,” he said.

“There’s no way for it to be patrolled by deputy sheriffs, all these properties,” Braden continued. “Those owners somehow have to be accountable for policing their piece of property. That could keep these encampments from building up.”

Among the public speakers was Scott Dittrich, who told the council the $30 billion paid to criminals by the state Employment Development Department in the wake of the pandemic would have gone a long way to help the homeless.

“What a waste of resources that could have been used to build mental health facilities,” he said. “Just another reason to recall the governor.”

The reality, Dittrich continued, is that unless they’re forced to do so, many on the street with mental health issues or addicted to drugs won’t seek help.

“Why would anyone living near the beach in the best climate in the world want to change?” he asked. “They can panhandle or steal enough money to buy meth, trade it for sex in tents and the government enables them with food and tents. Hallelujah.”

Kay Gabbard told the council that a so-called alternative sleeping location in Malibu could go a long way in helping enforcement of regulations pertaining to the homeless.

“I believe there are people out there who desperately need our help. I think there are people out there who are taking advantage of our city for obvious reasons,” she said. “I think it’s up to us to discern the difference between the two and act appropriately and compassionately.”

But Lori Patterson took a dim view of the alternative sleeping location idea. Since 2017, she said, there has been a downward trend in the homeless in Malibu.

“If you separate the truly unhoused from the opportunistic RV dwellers, and we are consistently able to help individuals off the street and into temporary or permanent housing and we have jumped through the necessary hoops to implement parking ordinances to drastically reduce illegal and opportunistic camping, why at this point is there still a push to establish alternative sleeping and safe parking lots?”

 She pushed for adoption of an amended no camping ordinance proposed by council members Uhring and Bruce Silverstein.

John Cotti, the interim city attorney, will be working with Silverstein on refining the proposed camping ordinance.

What Silverstein hopes to avoid is Malibu doing what a number of cities in Orange County along with that county itself have done: entered into a judicial consent decree with homeless advocates overseen by U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter that allows them to build shelters under judicial supervision, thus avoiding future litigation.

Malibu, Silverstein said, would be better served having its own well thought-out laws pertaining to the homeless.

“People are worried about the state coming in? Sure, let’s instead make a pact with the federal government so that they’re in control and if they decide that we’re not doing something that’s satisfactory down the line, a single member of the federal judiciary who’s appointed for life can make decisions that change how Malibu has to operate,” Silverstein said.

“That’s insanity.”