KBUU News Tues Sept 26 PART ONE – Uhring Moves In As Mayor, As Mystery Bay Area Lawyer Demands Two Planning Commissioners Be Fired

Written by on September 26, 2023


The Malibu City Council rotated its officers last night … as scheduled and without drama: Steve Uhrong was acclaimed mayor, and Doug Stewart was unanimously selected as the Mayor Pro Tem … to act if Uhring is absent.

It was a harmonious meeting on the surface … with ugly political battles just underneath.

Backers of two city council members … who routinely lose 3 to 2 votes … apparently want two political opponents removed from the powerful city Planning Commission. 

The targets on the city Planning Commission: Skylar Peak, an electrical contractor, and Dennis Smith, an earthmoving contractor.

And they vote on every building variance or Coastal Development Permit that comes up.  That is an unforgivable conflict of interest, charge some critics who also are supporters of council members Bruce Silverstein and Steve Uhring.

Someone has brought in an accomplished lawyer from the Bay Area.  The attorney, Ann Ravel, claims that state law requires commissioners to “immediately cease to vote on any and all development applications in which they might have any opportunity to bid on a contract for work in the future.”

Ravel demands that the City Council members who appointed those Commissioners must appoint new, non-conflicted commissioners in their place …

And she is apparently threatening to file a complaint before the California Fair Political Practices Commission 

Newly-seated mayor Steve Uhring brought up the letter at Monday’s city council meeting.  


STEVE UHRNG:  “I got an email from our attorney today suggesting that maybe her comments are not that on point. 

TREVOR RUSIN: “Councilman, Mayor Uhring, just a caution regarding privileged attorney-client communications.”

UHRING: “And I understand that. What I would like to do is maybe make a motion to have this come back to the city Council. 

“I think we should discuss this thing before we send any letters out. Look this is going to make the LA Times.”

That shuffling noise you heard was interim City Attorney Trevor Rusin … rushing for his microphone switch.

The city attorney last night said the letter was a public record … but the city as of this midday has not publicly released it.

Ravel, an attorney from Los Gatos in the Bay Area, is a former appointee to the State Fair Political Practices Committee and, later, the Federal Elections Commission.  She now practices as an attorney in the Bay Area.

During the meeting … she was only referred to as an expert by Uhring.  Whether she was hired by someone in Malibu … if she is advocating on behalf of some parties in Malibu … was not disclosed by Uhring or anyone else. 

Both Skylar Peak and Dennis Smith consistently vote with Jeff Jennings in 3-2 majorities on the Planning Commission.  They have been targeted by political backers of Silverstein and Uhring … with claims of conflict of interest.

Those claims center on a house on Portshead Road… where Skyler Peak’s electrical firm worked on a major renovation. Critics have seized on that as evidence of a conflict of interest – because Peak voted in favor of that house in 2018 when he sat on the city council.

Peak pointed out that the house had … in the intervening years after his vote … been sold to a different owner. And that means he had no expectation of economic gain, no attributable economic interest in the house, when he voted on it years ago.

Silverstein has in the past said construction people should not sit on the Planning Commission.  And Monday night … Uhring said even the appearance of impropriety is enough to cause them to leave.

The city attorney wasn’t saying much last night … but Uhring said that the city’s lawyers did not think the claims were worth anything.  Silverstein last night scoffed at that … and said he ran for office on a platform of challenging the then-city attorney. 

Skylar Peak was appointed by council member Marianne Riggins. … and Riggins last night said the conflict of interest claim was bogus.


“I’m just stating that we haven’t been presented with any evidence of any wrongdoing. “So we’re having this theoretical discussion without being presented with any evidence whatsoever of any council member or commissioner wrongdoing..”

The other city councilman … Paul Grisanti .. had appointed Dennis Smith to the Planning Commissioner.

The letter also claims he is ineligible to vote on the Planning Commission.

Paul Grisanti last night:


“They were proposing that we live in a society where you are considered guilty until proven innocent.  And I’m not comfortable with that.  I am much more comfortable with the America that we have now.”

That’s was not enough for Uhring … who says there is an appearance of wrongdoing … and that is enough to have the planning commissioners removed.

No actual complaint has been filed with the state FPPC … the Fair Political Practices Committee … as of today

The Interim city attorney told the city council that he might … or might not … send a reply to the attorney.  But there is no requirement that he do so, and anyone is allowed to claim anything they want in a claim to the state FPPC.

There is a broad section of state law on the issue.  In a summary, the state FPPC says an official is disqualified from governmental decision “if the financial impact or effect is foreseeable, and if the financial impact or effect is significant enough to be considered material.”

“Generally, a financial impact or effect is presumed to be both foreseeable and material if the financial interest is ‘explicitly’ or directly involved in the decision,” the state guidelines state.   Nothing like that has ever been alleged against Peak or Smith. But there are dozens of further distinctions in case law.

Back in Malibu Monday night … the minority faction … council members Silverstein and Uhring … were left to say they wanted to review any letter sent by the city attorney before it goes out.

Rusin said there may not even be a letter, and if there is, the council may not be allowed to meet in executive session to review it.  Although threatened legal action against the city itself is grounds for an executive session, the state open meetings law does not include threats of complaints against individual council members..

If a complaint is filed against Grisanti and Riggins, they may be responsible for paying for lawyers to defend themselves. 

Bare knuckle politics .. delivered politely and with smiles … as backers of Silverstein and Uhring try to kneecap two political opponents from the Planning Commission.

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