About a dozen Malibu residents requested Santa Monicans Mechur and Snell recuse themselves from a committee that will decide the fate of district separation

Malibu representatives feel hopeful they may come to a deal with Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) leadership on the formation of an independent Malibu district.

On Wednesday, Malibu’s legal representative on the district negotiation team, Christine Wood, spoke before the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization — a committee that falls under LACOE, the Los Angeles County Office of Education — requesting a hearing set for March be pushed back a month to allow more time for negotiation.

Wood said she was making the request together with SMMUSD legal representative David Soldani.

“David [Soldani] and I would like to ask for no more than a one-month delay for the County’s consideration of the District’s petition. The City and the District have a mediation scheduled in the month of March and to give that an opportunity to happen and potentially have the parties reach an agreement,” Wood said. “You know, the City is very eager to have their petition heard, since there’s already been a considerable delay, but we want to give the mediation an opportunity to work. So, in that vein, we’d like to ask the county committee to delay for no more than one month its consideration of the City’s petition.”

For his part, Soldani said the District was not making the request “together” with Malibu; rather, the SMMUSD would not stand in the way of the requested extension.

“The City did approach us requesting an opportunity to mediate, which we have agreed with. But to be clear, the school district’s not asking for a continuance because it’s not our petition to continue. It’s really the City’s ask,” Soldani said. “We certainly do not oppose that request. As we have indicated, we will sit down with a third party mediator to have a discussion with the petitioners to see if there’s any common ground we can reach. But I want to be clear that that request is not coming from the school district side of things.”

The committee, made up of Chairperson Frank Ogaz, Vice Chairperson John Quintanilla, and members John Nunez, Estefany Castaneda, Charles Davis, Ralph Mechur, Barry A. Snell, Donald LaPlante, Martha Deutsch, Cherise Moore and Suzan T. Solomon, granted the one-month extension, meaning the hearing that was set to take place on March 2, 2022, was moved to the April 6, 2022 meeting.

Committee members noted there was no opposition to the request from the 14 members of the public who spoke at the meeting.

Those members of the public included many residents and teachers from Malibu who continued to make their case for District separation, citing what they called unequal school programs and resources and the physical distance between the communities of Malibu and Santa Monica.

SMMUSD Board Member Jon Kean called in saying he disagreed with many of the comments but he did not wish to “engage in any back-and-forth” at the meeting.

“Comments from members of the public today have provided misinformation, disinformation [and] blatant distortions. But I simply want to say that the dearth of comments from the District side today is not from lack of interest or lack of passion,” Kean said. “We believe we have made our case; we believe the city of Malibu has made its case. We await the response from this committee and are not viewing today as a re-litigation of the case or a chance to further the distortions that have been placed on the committee.”

Some members of the public echoed requests that committee members Ralph Mechur and Barry Snell recuse themselves from the hearing. Mechur, a former longtime SMMUSD Board Member and Santa Monica resident, and Snell, a current Santa Monica College Board Member and fellow Santa Monica resident, did not respond to the requests.

Other committee members said the 30-day delay might allow “more time for [the] county committee to work out the conflict of business issue that still is waiting to be determined.”

emily@smdp.com