Malibu Mayor Calls Out Corruption As Council member Changes Vote to Favor Developer over Skate Park
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Malibu Mayor Calls Out Corruption As Council member Changes Vote to Favor Developer over Skate Park

What is considered to be a necessity to support the youth in most communities, has taken more than a decade to accomplish thanks to the excuses and delays by local government and developers whose needs and whims supercede the interests of the residents.

The latest example of corruption involving the Malibu Skate Park Project is a perfect example.

Since the closure of Malibu’s first and only skate park, Papa Jack’s in 2011, Malibu residents have been fighting to build a permanent skate park.

Eight years later, in 2019, the first step towards the reality of a local skate park coming to life was finally realized when Malibu City Council approved and commissioned the design of a temporary skate park.

Photo byCity of Malibu

The temporary skate park opened in July, 2020, only to close 10 days later due to the pandemic. The park re-opened in September, 2020.

On November 30th, 2023, Malibu City Planning Commission approved a plan for a permanent 12,500-square-foot skatepark – only to have a luxury home developer stall the progress.

The plan was appealed by builder Scott Gillen of Unvarnished.

Gillen secured the neighboring Crummer property in 2017 for $50,000,000. Gillen is building several homes in the development called “The Case” where each home averages in the $70,000,000 range.

A $70 million dollar property in “The Case” development which is next to the Malibu Skate Park.Photo byThe Case/Unvarnished

At the Planning Commission meeting approving the permanent skatepark, Gillen stated that he would appeal the approval making emotional and baseless threats of litigation if his appeal were denied.

Without offering any explanation to back up his threat, Gillen coupled his appeal with an offer to “settle” his unsupported threat of litigation.

On February 27th, in a special city council meeting and after receiving input from the community, Malibu City Council members voted 3-2 to approve a proposed settlement which included a list of provisions.

The important part of the agreement voted on by council, was the addition of an indemnity clause as a result of the provisions the developer asked for, assigning responsibility to the developer for all costs related to the changes, and requiring a $150,000 deposit to cover any additional design and construction costs.

At the March 4th council meeting, in plain sight, Trevor Rusin and Marianne Riggins colluded in an action which could be considered borderline corruption, placing the interests of developer Scott Gillen above the residents of Malibu.

The indemnification motion voted on required Gillen to pay to defend the city against any lawsuits were brought in connection with the city’s development of the skatepark settlement agreement which included the provisions he requested.

The motion was clearly articulated with city attorney Rusin repeating the motion before the vote was taken.

During the discussion of the motion, Council member Grisanti, a real estate agent and developer sympathizer, requested council consider eliminating the indemnification from the settlement agreement, which puts the city at great risk.

Grisanti’s request was denied.

Instead of honoring the vote and negotiating the settlement agreement as directed by Council, City Attorney Rusin was unable to get Gillen, who objected to the indemnification clause, to sign off on the agreement.

At that point, Rusin, ignoring the directives given by the officials of the city he is paid to serve, made the decision to side in favor of luxury home builder Gillen and pro-development special interests.

According to Malibu mayor Steve Uhring, Rusin then contacted council member Riggins at her residence and “convinced her that she did not know what she was doing when she made and approved the motion for a strong indemnification provision in the settlement agreement” in order to change the council vote.

Riggins followed suit instructing Rusin to change the language of her motion to allow him to remove the portion of the indemnification provision from the settlement agreement. No other council members were contacted to confirm this change.

Rusin and Riggins willfully colluded to change the vote that weakened protections for the city and strengthened protections for developer Gillen.

The result of Rusin and Riggins actions have far reaching implications as Mayor Steve Uhring said in his speech at the March 11th City Council meeting:

“The action demonstrates that our City Attorney, who is paid with residents dollars, cannot be trusted to follow the will of the people as dictated by the City Council. Instead, he was willing to remove protections for the City and transfer them to developers. That worries me. It should also worry you. Noncompliance with the rules starts us on a very slippery slope. It leaves residents vulnerable to exploitation. If you have any doubt in that statement, go back and review what happened to the City of Bell. I hope we won’t see that happen again.”

Photo byCece Woods

Unfortunately, we have seen this many times in Malibu government for well over a decade.

The irony of mayor Uhring’s reference to the Bell scandal is that City Attorney Rusin is an attorney with Best, Best and Krieger, a.k.a. “BBK”, the is the law firm that represents the City of Malibu, and is also renowned as the law firm sued by the City of Bell when it claimed faulty legal advice following the “Bell 8” scandal.

Photo byBBK Law

Los Angeles Times investigation in 2010 exposed the corruption by city employees and the city manager – who was later sentenced to 12 years in prison and ordered to make restitution of $8.8 million in a corruption scheme that nearly bankrupted the city.

According to published reports, the attorney who filed the lawsuit against BBK was quoted as saying, “The lawsuit seeks to place responsibility for not protecting against those abuses of power where it belongs and obtain just compensation from those responsible.”

The law firm subsequently paid the City of Bell $2.5 million to settle the lawsuit.

For the whom the bell tolls?

March 14, 2024

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Editor in Chief, Cece Woods

Malibu Daily News Editor in Chief Cece Woods founded The Local Malibu, an activism based platform, in 2014. The publication was instrumental in the success of two ballot measures, seating three Malibu City Councilmen in 2016 and the supporting the top two vote-getters again in 2020.

During the summer of 2018, Woods exposed the law enforcement cover-up in the Malibu Creek State Park Shootings and a few short months later, provided the most comprehensive local news coverage during the Woolsey Fire attracting over 1 million hits across her social media platforms.