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Malibu's Mayor Makes Waves 

Jefferson (Zuma Jay) Wagner's ripple effect

Thursday, Jun 10 2010
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As the surf shop bearing his name closes for the day, owner Zuma Jay orders his young workers to complete their tasks, sweep, bring in the boards, wash the wet suits and turn them for drying.  Outside, traffic roars past on PCH as the cool canyon types make their way home.

Zuma Jay has enjoyed a rich life, surfing and living in Malibu, working side jobs as actor, Ralph Lauren model and Marlboro Man. He also occasionally works as a Pentagon explosives expert, a job he loves. "I get to ride around in a Humvee, setting off bombs and wearing a helmet," he says.

It's a job description that he could just as well apply to the newest of his gigs. Zuma Jay, whose given name is Jefferson Wagner, is now making noise as mayor of Malibu.

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The city has spent more than $2 million defending ongoing lawsuits brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Heal the Bay, Santa Monica Baykeeper, and the Surfrider Foundation to clean up the community's dirty discharge into the Pacific.

Last November, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board said the problem is the septic systems, which should be banned in Malibu. But many Malibu denizens and public officials say they can't afford the cost of a sewer system.

Mayor Wagner says they can.

"I believe some of the people are hypocrites," Wagner says. "Most people in Malibu can afford to go from septic to sewer. I think nine out of 10 have the money to go from septic to sewer."

Residents would pay up to $500 a month to hook up, businesses could be levied as much as $200,000 annually. The ban is scheduled for final approval by the water quality board this summer.

Wagner is convinced that Malibu has had it too easy and let growth get out of hand. "Density in Malibu is at maximum capacity," he says. "The city's mission statement is to remain rural. We can't build anymore."

Wagner opposes a plan by a member of one of the world's most popular bands, U2's David Evans (aka The Edge), to build five environmentally sensitive mega-homes atop pastoral Sweetwater Mesa, right around the corner from Wagner's surf shop. Evans is asking the California Coastal Commission for approval.

"The scope is too vast," Wagner says. "Claims have been made that he's not building on the ridgelines, but the housing sites are right on the ridgelines. I appreciate Edge as an artist, not as an environmentalist."

Wagner is also at odds with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy over its bid to allow 61 overnight campsites in five of Malibu's sacred canyons. The plan recently approved by the Coastal Commission includes Latigo Canyon, where Wagner bought a seven-acre rustic spread 20 years ago and built a "modest" 4,000-square-foot home.

Wagner says he is prepared to take Conservancy Executive Director Joe Edmiston to court. "He's not going to ram overnight camping down Malibu's throat. No campsites should be allowed in these tinderbox canyons. They are going to end up with burnt campers. It's a clear issue of public safety."

The truth is, the rich little beach town would like to be left alone to do what it wants, build what it wants and shed its rich-little-town image. Indeed, many of Malibu's residents are middle-class.

But the rich-boy image is hard to shake for a city that in the last two years has bought and developed more real estate than any other city its size in the county, according to Wagner.

At a time when the state and many cities are cash poor, Malibu has $9 million in reserve. It is redeveloping its library, building a civic center/mixed-use commercial complex and constructing three new parks. It purchased the Malibu Performing Arts Center for a new city hall, with a swanky design-cost estimate of $5 million. Malibu also owns commercial real estate sites and the Malibu Lumber Yard shopping center.

Wagner has lived in Malibu for 37 years in what can only be described as a charmed life.  He is Clint Eastwood's only stand-in for movies, a published book author and special-effects coordinator, in addition to his other side jobs. As concessionaire of the Malibu Pier, he gets a cut from every business owner who leases on it.

All this from a guy who was discovered while coaching Pepperdine's surf team and entered a Gong Show search for a Clint Eastwood look-alike. Wagner has more hair and is taller than Eastwood, but Eastwood beat him to the mayoral gig, in Carmel, by a couple of decades.

At closing time back at the surf shop, the new mayor says he's happy inside those walls, unless the surf is shoulder- to head-high. Then you might look for him at Little Dume. On a real good day, he prefers Super Tubes, for the short-board wave. 

His favorite thing to do is give a lesson and "hide out" in the water for an extra hour or two. "I make lunch and gas money and get paid to surf. That's fun. I am a simple guy. Not complex with my needs. I have roll-up windows. I very rarely use a cell phone. I don't know how to text, Twitter or tweet. I read my e-mails.

"It may seem arcane, but that's how I chose to live. I like eye contact."

He probably will get a lot of it in the months ahead.

 

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