FPPC Files Complaint Against Two Malibu Council Members, Opens 14-Day Probe Into Planning Commission

Written by on October 3, 2023

The California Fair Political Practices Commission has followed through on threats from some community activists, and today notified city council members Paul Grisanti and Marianne Riggins that they had opened an investigation based on a complaint filed by a Bay Area attorney. 

The Commission’s investigation chief said it opening an investigation based on complaints by former FPPC member Ann Ravel, who entered the Malibu political scene last week with a complaint that Planning Commissioners Skylar Peak and Dennis Smith have conflicts of interest: they vote on land use issues that could conceivably benefit them in future years,

The witnesses against them are listed as council members Bruce Silverstein and Steve Uhring, and their two appointees to the Planning Commission: Kraig Hill and John Mazza. 

Grisanti and Riggins have refused demands from Malibu Township Council president Jo Drummond, and other MTC activists, that Skylar Peak and Dennis Smith cease voting on any land use matters that come before the Planning Commission.

They accuse Peak and Smith of having conflicts of interest, because of their work as contractors who might benefit financially from projects that they vote yes on.   

The vice president of the Malibu Township Council is John Mazza.  Recently-defeated city council candidates Ryan Embree and Bill Sampson also sit on the MTC board of directors. 

The interim city attorney has said that Peak and Smith do not have conflicts of interest merely because of their jobs.


Election 2024 in Malibu began last night at the Malibu Planning Commission.

Politics … charges of skulduggery and lying.

Directors of the Malibu Township Council apparently supporting  conflict of interestcharges against two city council members and their planning commissioners.

Planning commissioners fire back with angry defenses … and charges of lying.

At issue …attorney Ann Ravel from the Bay Area who has suddenly appeared on the Malibu scene … alleging that two city planning commissioners cannot vote on development projects because they work in construction industry.. 

The Malibu city attorney calls those charges flimsy.

And the question remains … who called Anne Ravel in??? She won’t say.

Jo Drummond … apparently speaking for the Malibu Township Council … says it wasn’t her.


“I have no idea how she was consulted on this matter… But we resident should be grateful for her help. I also personally submitted several cases as evidence to you, the planning commission, where are you, Chesapeake, wel a city Council member voted for projects where you had a foreseeable financial gain, qwhioch you did eventually substantially profit from, for 6701 Portshead.”

That particular house was approved by a 3-2 vote … including Skylar Peak … when he was on the city council years ago.

 Several years later … after Peak left office and after the house was sold … Peak’s electrical firm won the job and pulled the permits to help build it.

Planning Commissioner Kraig Hill has long held that construction company owners cannot sit on the Planning Commission because of a perceived conflict of interest.

And he said the Bay Area attorney … Ann Ravel .,.,. is a recognized expert on conflict of interest and her opinion should be respected.

NEWSCART A74548 HILL 1111 

“In recent years, she’s been involved in similar issues in cities, including Hermosa Beach  and Ojai among others. 

So, she she looks at Malibu and looks and sees that we’re having development decisions being made by people who is livelihoods are depending on development.

“And it turns out that’s problematical under the political reform act.”

Problematical?  What does the city attorney say???

On Monday night … Interim City Attorney Trevor Rusin told the city council that Ravel’s letter did not present a credible argument.

Last night … assistant city attorney Patrick Donegan repeated that.

Not a conflict of interest …


“It’s my opinion, but sure, anyone can sue the city kind of for any reason they want.  We cannot prohibit them. 

“I have course has always been in contact with chair, peek and conditioner. Smith.

“In my opinion they are fully free to participate if they want to vote on a specific project, that is their right and duty as commissioners.”

Commissioner  Jeff Jennings called this election year politics.

And he pointed out that Ravel’s letter contained a surprising omission.


“I’ve been practicing law for over 50 years and I don’t think I have ever written a letter that did not include a statement saying I am so and so representing so and so and representing them on such and such.

“There was no statement indicating who her client was.”

Ravel herself … in a KBUU News interview … refused to disclose who retained her … if anyone. 

She points out correctly that the state bar rules of legal ethics do not allow her to reveal who brought her in… unless that client wants to reveal them self.

Maybe there is no client.  Ravel  did not say.  The client – if any – apparently wants to stay secret.

And Jennings said the state conflict of interest law is not as broad … as concluded by Ravel. 


“If I am an insurance man and I sit up here on the planning commission, if that house gets built, it’s gonna need insurance. It opens up another possibility for me. 

“If I’m a doctor or a veterinarian people are going to move into that house and they might have a dog or a kid that gets sick.”

Last night, Kraig Hill admitted that the state law is confusing … he said there is no one on the planning commission equipped to understand it.

So he pulled out a guide to the law from the League of California Cities.,

NEWSCART A74547 HILL 2222 

“The guidance explains that for a conflict to be present, there is no requirement that misconduct has occurred as we tend to think of it. There is no need for quid pro quo. 

“So the concept of innocent until proven guilty as invoked by several city council members is irrelevant..”

Well … it’s not irrelevant to them.

It’s virtually unheard of. … in most cities … for one planning commissioner to challenge another planning commissioner like this.  These people are supposed to work together to rule on building proposals … to exam one projects to see if they meet city rules and policies.

Last night … the two commissioners who are being attacked defended themselves ….  Dennis Smith:


“I mean I know who I am.  I would never bid on work and try to get work and … too small a town.  

“The honor of sitting Up here and being chosen is way over me trying to go get some work.”

And Skylar Peak … 


“I really do wish, Kraig and Jo, that you guys would say who is driving these arguments. 

“And you all sit there with your heads like swinging there like you don’t know.who this is.

“And I feel that you are lying to my face and I think that is so dishonest.

“And it also seems dishonest to this community.

“But in any event, I will continue to serve on this.

“I have obviously consulted with the city attorney and others on this. I don’t see the conflict that you are alleging at all.

“I will never make a decision, and have not ever made a decision on any project if somebody came to me and asked me to bid on them.“

Last night … Drummond did say the group of which she is president …  the Malibu Township Council … wants the two city council members to recuse themselves on all land decisions.

He accused both contractors of having extensive business dealings with Malibu architect Doug Burdge … and said their votes in favor of projects that Burdge had worked on are all products of a conflict of interest.

That would include the Malibu Inn Hotel … where there Planning Commission voted 3 to 2 to approve plans for a hotel on PCH across the PCH from Malibu Pier. 

The Malibu Township Council … of which Jo Drummond is president … is sort of an old shadow government of sorts.  

It’s left over from 30 years ago … from before Malibu was a city.  Back then … it acted as sort of a representative to the county Board of Supervisors … when there was no city.

Potential members have to apply for membership.

The board of directors … some of them are one-time city council candidates:  Ryan Embree. Bill Sampson.  And Mazza, a three-time candidate who now sits as vice chair of the Malibu Township Council … 

Last night … Jennings compared this tempest to the 2021 Wagner Affidavit … a last-day-in-office revelation by council member Jefferson Wagner.  The affidavit prepared by then-candidate Bruce Silverstein … which alleged corruption at Malibu City Hall.

The Wagner Affidavit turned out to be a big nothing.   An independent investigation found “the Wagner Affidavit allegations were “not substantiated … and / or conclusively refuted, by available evidence.”

Jennings last night:

NEWSCART A74538 JENN this time so

“We are starting the election season and I get that. This one, the subtitle should be if you thought that the Jefferson Wagner affidavit was a joke. Wait to see what we got for you this time.”

CORRECTION: this article had misspelled Ravel’s last name due to a voice transcription failure that was replicated and not caught.



The water agency over the hill is getting ready to build a recycling plant to convert sewage into 100 percent purified water.

Customers in the Malibu Hills … and along the 101 freeway cities … will be drinking water from the Pure water Project by the end of the decade.

Construction is scheduled to start in late 2025  at a piece of land south of Agoura Road … between Reyes Adobe and Lindero Canyon roads.

Soem of the treated sewage that was intentionally released to support fish in upper Malibu Creek will be diverted to the new plant.

The treatment of reclaimed wastewater to drinking water standards will eventually supply up to 30% of drinking water for Las Virgenes Municipal Water District and Triunfo Water and Sanitation District customers.

Those districts do not have access to water from the Colorado or Owens rivers … and they are at the mercy of the Sacramento River delta … where droughts have severely curtailed water supplies.

This year .. is the exception after seven years of cutbacks.

The new water plant will take recycled supplies from the Tapia Water Reclamation Facility near Malibu and pipe it to the Agoura plant.

The water undergo multiple new purification processes: membrane filtration, reverse osmosis and ultraviolet light disinfection with advanced oxidation. 

From the sewer effluent comes pure, clean water.

As we reported last week … Las Virgenes is also applying to put underwater desalination plants in deep ocean water off the Malibu coast … 

Those subsea tubes would use water pressure at very deep depths … to force ocean water through membranes that remove the salt.

The salt gets dissolved in low concentrations … avoiding salt buildup.



In news from down the coast …  Santa Monica may junk electric scooters.

The Santa Monica Daily Press reports at least two city council members want to get rid of the scooters.

Council man Phil Brock says residents still talk to him, every week, about scooters blocking sidewalks or scooters on the bike path.

Brock said he’d be willing to remove the devices entirely and see if they were missed.

He says “I almost would rather see a couple of months of peace and quiet on our streets to see if residents came back and said ‘hey, we need those scooters.’”

Something like 800,000 to a million trips on e-scooters and e-bikes every year in Santa Monica and approximately one third of those are undertaken by residents. If one third of those 800,000 rides were turned into car rides, we would have 275,000 additional car trips on our street every year.


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