The Malibu Daily News obtained a detailed letter provided by former chair of the Fair Political Practices Commission and attorney Ann Ravel, who was contacted to investigate the actions of Planning Commissioners Skylar Peak and Dennis Smith who have previously refused to recuse themselves from voting on building projects they can financially benefit from.
In fact, there is virtually no project that comes in front of the Malibu Planning Commission that Peak and Smith – or any other planning commissioner who has developer, building contractor, realtor ties – could not financially benefit from in some form.
The letter dated August 16, 2023, from Ann Ravel to Malibu City Attorney Trevor Rusin and City Manager Steve McClary, demands Malibu Planning Commissioners Peak and Smith either resign or be dismissed immediately from their positions due to “disqualifying financial interests in virtually all development applications that come before them, because it is reasonably foreseeable that their voting on them will have a material effect on one or more of their own financial interests.”
Ravel’s 14 page letter provides in-depth information on Peak and Smith’s activities and interests that disqualify them from their positions as Planning Commissioners under the Fair Political Practices Commission.
The Fair Political Practices Commission is a five-member independent, non-partisan commission that has primary responsibility for the impartial and effective administration of the Political Reform Act. The Act regulates campaign financing, conflicts of interest, lobbying, and governmental ethics. The Commission’s objectives are to ensure that public officials act in a fair and unbiased manner in the governmental decision-making process, to promote transparency in government, and to foster public trust in the political system.
The Act and the FPPC were created in 1974 when California voters approved Proposition 9. In the wake of the Watergate scandal, Californians wanted to reign in the potential corruptive influence of special interests by creating an agency to enforce the most rigorous restrictions on fundraising and lobbying in the country. And since the adoption of the Act, the Commission has been responsible for shining light on some of the most egregious violations of campaign and governmental ethics.
Council Member Paul Grisanti, a realtor, appointed Dennis Smith, a building and grading contractor, to the commission in January, 2021. Newly elected council member Marianne Riggins appointed former controversial council member Skylar Peak, an electrical contractor, in January, 2023, despite his obvious conflict of interest and scandalous personal and political history reported by local and national media outlets casting an embarrassing light on the City of Malibu.
Peak has and continues to work with renowned architect Doug Burdge whose project on 6701 Portshead was denied approval by the Planning Commission. Burdge and expeditor Don Schmitz appealed to City Council on January 10th, 2018, of which Peak voted to overturn the Planning Commission’s decision.
Peak filed for electrical permits for 6701 Portshead on January 14th, 2022 and subsequently worked on the project.
This is just one example of many that Peak has voted in favor of and has financially benefitted from.
Ravel’s letter stated the following:
“Both of these Commissioners are licensed to conduct business within the jurisdiction of the City of Malibu Planning Commission. Both Commissioners have routinely voted on development applications before the body, even though the California Code of Regulations §18701 specifies that such circumstances mandate recusal. As explained herein, both Commissioners must immediately cease to vote on any and all development applications in which they might have any opportunity to bid on a contract for work associated with the application, or with any future applications designed or presented by any of the same development professionals before the body for the current project. Further, because a substantial portion of the Commission’s agenda is foreseeably comprised of deliberating and voting on development applications, the Council members who appointed those Commissioners must appoint new, non-conflicted commissioners in their place.”
In addition to the citations to the California Code of Regulations, Government Code, and Political Reform Act of 1974, helpful sources regarding public officials’ conduct include: the League of California Cities, A Guide for Local Agency Counsel: Providing Conflict of Interest Advice (2016); the website of the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC); and Avoiding Financial Conflicts of Interest, Should I Participate in the Decision?, produced by the law firm, Best Best & Krieger, LLP.”
The Malibu Daily News confirmed yesterday that Ravel has not received a direct response to her letter regarding the action the City plans to take in this matter and as a result, plans to immediately file a complaint against Council Members Grisanti and Riggins for their failure to comply with FPPC practices and act upon the formal request for recusal of their appointments who are and have been, consistently in violation.
Ravel gave this exclusive quote to The Malibu Daily News:
“The rationale for conflict of interest laws is that the people are entitled to public officials who work for the people and not in their financial self interest. ‘Work for the people and make decisions on behalf of the City” and not in their financial self interest’.”
The FFPC complaint will finally put a microscope on the City of Malibu and their decades long, on-going, open participation in political corruption and failure to abide by the law, which will likely open a Pandora’s Box of potential local, state and criminal investigations similar to the California Department of Justice’s active investigation involving former Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.
Additionally, council member Doug Stewart is in the process of picking a new appointment for Planning Commissioner as longtime commissioner Jeff Jennings, recently resigned. So far, according to the City of Malibu there have been two applicants for the position. Malibu resident Jo Drummond who owns a market research company, and developer, realtor and licensed contractor, Drew Leonard, who counts former council member Karen Farrer as one of his closest, longtime friends and was, according to the City of Malibu, the first Malibu resident to receive his rebuild permit after the Woolsey Fire.
In light of this development, it would be wise for Council to carefully consider their appointments as their potential conflict of interest and monetary gain from the candidates who are chosen for these powerful positions are finally about to be scrutinized very closely by lawmakers in Sacramento.
This is a developing story.