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    On Being a Malibu Architect: The Vibe (Part 1)

    Lester Tobias
    May 24, '13 7:03 PM EST

    This is the first in a series devoted to the life and work as an architect in Malibu. The distinct geography and topography of Malibu, in addition to the customary governmental regulations, affect how an architect will tackle design challenges when building in Malibu. In addition, its unique citizenry that fight to keep the Malibu Way of Life intact, sometimes with opposing views on development, also impact how we build here. With this series, I will address these topics and explain the nuances involved when constructing a new home or commercial property, as well as remodeling, in Malibu.

    As a small bit of trivia, we moved to our first home in Malibu on the weekend of the O.J. Simpson murders, which occurred mere blocks from our house in Brentwood.  So that is our marker.  We left the crazy, crowded, fast lane of West Los Angeles for the open spaces and laid-back existence of Malibu on what was arguably one of the top five craziest weekends on the Westside.  Other than the occasional nostalgic drive through our old, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood, we have never had a regret.

    We moved to Malibu just a few years after the town won a protracted battle to become its own city, thereby saving itself from a large sewer project and the potential to quintuple in size.

    This bit of Malibu history, save for the heroic effort by May Rindge to keep the Pacific Coast Highway from bisecting her Rancho Malibu, is the most important event in shaping the collective psyche of our seaside hamlet.  The vibe in 1994 was decidedly no-growth.

    This battle for cityhood created an experiment in advanced civics.  A small town with a well-educated, yet laid-back citizenry had realized that in order to protect the lifestyle they had chosen, they would have to engage in self-governance, thereby giving up the disconnect with government that had been a cornerstone of the Malibu Way of Life prior to 1991.  The locals developed the original documents of cityhood.  Malibu committees wrote the General Plan, Municipal Code, and Zoning Code.  Citizen committees sprung up like the bright yellow Scotch Broom on the hillsides in the spring.

    It is important to note that at the same time Malibu became a city through tireless efforts of its established residents, it experienced a generational influx of new families, most of whom knew nothing about the recent fight for self-determination.  This infusion of new blood was due to lower land costs, open spaces and a reasonably good school system.

    This spate of newcomers planted the seed for the dynamic, the “vibe” that Malibu has today.  At one end of the civic spectrum are the pre-cityhood old-timers trying to protect their hard-fought battle to “Keep Malibu, Malibu.”  At the other pole are the progressively minded, post-cityhood arrivals that want to improve the town they now call home.  Every resident of Malibu falls somewhere on this civic spectrum, and literally every controversy in our town can be defined in these terms.

    So what does this mean for an architect?  In the words of Captain Jack Sparrow, in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, when referring to the Pirate’s Code, “Well, it ain’t so much a code, mate. They’s more like guidelines.”

    In other words, just because our zoning code says that you may definitely do something, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can do it.  It means that, as a resident Malibu architect, you keep your ear to the ground, your finger in the wind, and your thumb on the pulse of the citizenry.


    • bLAyer

      great premise. keep writing!

      May 25, 13 1:46 am  · 

      Play among yourselves. Only time I care about Malibu is when I get stuck on PCH traffic once every two years on the way to Oxnard or something, looking at 10,000 sq ft homes built on Chumash burials and chaparral killed by green grass lawns for the pleasure of Cher, nouveau riche show biz types who have taken over public beaches for free and properly say "fuck you Malibu" from my roll down car window. 

      Here is something to read:

      Let Malibu Burn: A political history of the Fire Coast, Mike Davis

      May 25, 13 11:11 am  · 

      But, besides that. Keep writing. I fell in for the obvious.

      May 25, 13 7:13 pm  · 

      Just finishing a 10,000 sf house in Malibu.  Beautiful place, that.  I'm really proud of what we have done there.  Didn't hear you as you were driving by, Orhan.  Say what?

      May 28, 13 2:21 am  · 

      Pictures please of the proud 10K McMansion.

      May 28, 13 7:21 pm  · 

      That's pretty mean :(

      Is this what this place is now about?  Alrighty then....

      May 28, 13 8:04 pm  · 

      What's mean?

      May 28, 13 10:27 pm  · 

      You've dismissed folks who live in Malibu as properly worthy of a disdainful "fuck you".  My clients are nice family people who are building a comfortable family home, which you have dismissed as a McMansion, whatever that is, without knowing a thing about it.  Mean and condescending, if you ask me.  

      May 29, 13 12:42 am  · 

      I love you, I love your clients without knowing their virtuous lives, they are nice, I love what you design, if you are Lester Tobias you are talented and understood your Gill, stylistically with few nuances, I love Malibu, I love 10,000 sq. ft. homes, I think they are called McMansions.

      I knew quite a bit about Malibu but now, mostly forgotten.. Don't fall into a trap like most people, that I might be just off the boat.., err, 747 from a faraway land.

      I used to have conversations with Chester King former city archaeologist and anthropologist whom developers coupled with city council and mayor types, all the same, finally got rid off in 2000, I believe. Five years after I moved away from Topanga Canyon neighboring him. He was even threatened by people who had the lynch mentality for anybody who would stay on their way for the development of 10,000 sq. ft. homes.. Tar and feather in 90's anyone?

      And that's just scratching the surface...

      See here I go again..., "fuck you Malibu."

      And what do you think about the Mike Davis classic I linked?

      May 29, 13 1:56 am  · 

      Btw, I was also a student of Susan Nelson who used to teach planning in Sci Arc late 70's and 80's. 

      I just put a thumbs up for this post and now following it.

      May 29, 13 2:13 am  · 

      Well this seems like it could be interesting if the blog delves into how citizenry can positively define, together, how they want their city to be, and how an architect can manage and thrive in a very regulated environment. 

      But I think the common response when one hears the name "Malibu" is of a bunch of richer-than-God entitlees who want to keep all the natural beauty for themselves and slam the door on anyone who arrives after them.  Which isn't unique to Malibu by *any* means, all of Portland basically has that same attitude, but it's a hurdle your blog will have to deal with, Lester. 

      That said, I echo Orhan in saying besides that, please keep writing.

      May 29, 13 10:50 am  · 

      Malibu, it just keeps going and going.

      Jun 6, 13 12:32 am  · 

      IMO, no ocean beachfront should be allowed to be privately owned.   Oregon's Beach Bill is a good model.

      Jun 6, 13 11:03 am  · 

      Donna these are not privately owned in Malibu either. The beach fronts in Malibu are "claimed" by the stakeholders. Stealing public property from the public. Very clever ways I should say. In most cases authorities just look the other way and there are a lot of intimidations and threats thrown at the public who dares to enter it.

      Malibu hidden public beaches. KPCC.

      Jun 6, 13 8:54 pm  · 

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A blog on architectural design, and thoughts and ideas on the process of design, from the unique perspective of a Malibu architect, who must deal with severely restrictive zoning codes.

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