MALIBU, CA — “Malibu is a way of life,” said Mayor Mikke Pierson, who was sworn in Monday as the city’s new mayor. “You become kindred spirits with people who like living outside the hustle and bustle of town and dealing with issues both good and bad. I’ve traveled all over the world, and a lot of us talk about this, you come home and you say wow, for all the issues, this is so amazing.”
Pierson, who has lived all over Malibu – from the Colony to Encinal Bluffs to Rambla Vista – for most of his life, is preparing to lead his native city during a time of unprecedented challenges, from fires to pandemics to chronic homelessness.
Yet he remains philosophical about the challenges before him, saying that perhaps a “genetic defect” makes him want to take on challenging, and difficult issues.
“It is what it is,” said Pierson, who was first elected to the City Council in November 2018, and has also served on the city’s Planning and Public Works commissions. “We’re elected at a time where we’re in emergency mode, that’s what we’ve got, what we’re used to, and here we are, and just move forward.”
Pierson named COVID-19, helping the city’s businesses, fire preparation, PCH safety and parking, and tackling homelessness as some of his top priorities. In terms of the actual pandemic, Pierson conceded that there isn’t much that the city can do, since it doesn’t even have its own health department. As a result, the city cannot open up testing facilities, though Pierson said that he is eager to work with nonprofits and doctors to help facilitating more testing. In April, the city worked with the Malibu Medical Center and the nonprofit Community Organized Relief Effort to offer free, drive-thru coronavirus testing to its residents and employees at City Hall, but there is no word if that will be able to occur again.
Pierson also said that he plans to agendize a resolution to begin offering fines for residents not wearing masks in public, as some nearby cities have done. Pierson said that he is looking at other similar ordinances, but does not know how it will be received in the Council.
He also conceded that enforcement will be difficult at the city’s many beaches, which can draw throngs of visitors each weekend. He said that while he hopes proper social distancing will reduce the need for masks at the beach, beach rules and enforcement are ultimately out of the city’s control, and “the science will dictate where we end up.”
Yet the city does have power to help its small businesses, many of which have been decimated by the pandemic. Pierson, who owned and founded ZJ Boarding House, a sports retail and wholesale business in Santa Monica, and currently helps small and medium-sized businesses as a certified business coach, says that issue is his “heart and soul.”
So far, the council has worked to help restaurants offer temporary outdoor dining on sidewalks and public ways. Pierson said that they have also worked with the Change Reaction, a nonprofit that offers interest-free loans, lease restructuring, and business coaching to qualifying small businesses. The city also adopted the county’s eviction moratorium, which currently extends to Sept. 30, though Pierson expects it to last longer.
Moving forward, Pierson said that he wants to organize events to spur local businesses, like a citywide restaurant takeout night, or a drive-in movie.
Pierson also said that he wants to help the city rebuild from the Woolsey Fire and help be better prepared for the next big fire. The Council recently extended the deadline for permit fee waivers to December 30. As of June, the city has lost over $2.2 million on the waiver fees, and Pierson has predicted that it may spend over $5 million in the long-term. The city has also enacted the Brush Clearance Program, which imposes fines of up to $648 on residents who have not completed a number of actions to clear their homes of brush and dead vegetation, and has provided free fire safety assessments from fire safety liaison and former Ventura County Fire Captain Jerry Vandermeulen to residents’ homes. The city has also worked to upgrade its alert and evacuation protocols.
Pierson said that the city also needs to find a way to tackle complex, long-burning issues, like homelessness, PCH safety, and the question of what to do about short-term rentals, which are especially difficult to address when meetings must be conducted over Zoom.
“A lot of population doesn’t gravitate towards Zoom, but we will have to move forward,” he said. “We’re trying to navigate uncertain waters.”
Pierson has served as Mayor Pro Tem since September 2019, and fills in for Karen Farrer. Councilmember Skylar Peak is now Mayor Pro Tem.