1. Tell us about your Malibu journey. How did everything started?
Background — Family, School, Values
I moved to Malibu 1978 while attending UCLA. Moved in with my UCLA boyfriend. Still together. : )
Graduated, Married, Commuted, Worked, had our first baby.
Bought first house 1987 — a fixer — near La Costa crosswalk.
Had another baby in 1988. Pre-school, working FT, doing AYSO, T-ball, ballet, swim lessons.
Made a huge decision the summer of 1991, quit work (for pay).
Six weeks later our daughter started at Webster school — which led to my next “career.” I had time to volunteer, got more and more involved:
Volunteered in classrooms, helped at lunchtime, chaperoned field trips, sold spirit wear, co-chaired the Jog-a-thon, was elected PTA pres, got involved with SMMUSD Ed. Foundation, worked on Prop K campaign, served on Webster Site Council, and on and on.
Bought lot and built house on Point Dume, moved in 1996
Got more involved with local schools — was a founding board member of The Shark Fund, served on MHS Site Council, PTSA executive board, SMMPTA Council executive board.
Kids played a lot of sports — softball, baseball, soccer, water polo, surfing, snowboarding, skateboarding (Papa Jack’s), Jr. lifeguards, volleyball, track. We traveled as much as possible. We were busy.
1999 husband had an idea — another baby.
Born 2000. Was PTSA pres at MHS when she was born, older kids were in 7th and 9th grades.
Back at PD school 2005–2011.
Around 2009 got involved with school district separation group, pre-AMPS
Kids went through school — PD, MHS, Berkeley, UCLA, Cambodia, Brazil, grad school Yale SOM.
Was a founding board member of AMPS around 2010. A group of us came to the unanimous conclusion that the only way Malibu students could get the best public education possible was for Malibu to have its own independent, locally controlled school district.
Was founding pres of Malibu Schools Leadership Council in 2014.
Looped around and did pretty much everything a second time with Gabby, ended up as pres of three organizations at the same time:
AMPS — school district separation
MSLC — coordination of all local school and youth organizations — the four PTA’s, the Boys & Girls Club, the city of Malibu Parks & Rec Commission, the Malibu Special Education Foundation, AMPS,
MHS PTSA — everything to do with PTSA programs for grades 6–12
2. What inspired you to run and win elections as Malibu City Council member?
Started looking at the bigger picture in Malibu — public safety, relationship of community to schools, the city’s role — joint use agreements with school district, land use issues, shortage of community gathering places, homelessness, traffic, MRCA encroachment, and on and on.
Lou La Monte and some others asked me if I’d consider running for city council. I’d seen how ugly some of the previous campaigns had been and I thought no sane person would willingly put themselves and their family through it.
In spring of 2018 was approached another time by Lou about running. That day we were both part of the student-organized Walk Against School Violence following the Parkland school shooting. Lou was terming out in 2018, same for Laura Rosenthal.
Note: Malibu city council members are elected to four year terms with a two-term limit.
I told him I’d think about it. Again, I’d seen some contemptible behavior in previous city council campaigns and could not picture getting into that kind of situation.
As much as I dreaded a campaign — the mud-slinging — the long hours, fundraising, many public appearances, candidates’ forums, etc., I decided to do it.
Two council members were terming out after two four-year terms each, so there were two spots open. Five residents filed papers to run.
The first thing I did in my campaign was try to set the tone. I figured if I had to trash other people to get elected it was not the job for me.
I already knew — and was friends with — three of my fellow candidates, most of them for decades, which must be common in a small town, and the fourth seemed like a good guy, he was just new here.
We ran a competitive, yet congenial, issue-driven campaign. The way it should be. I did not engage in personal attacks and I’d like to believe my approach had an effect on others.
The week before the election our daughter and her husband welcomed their first child into the world. Our grandson, Webb Scott Muir, was born around 8 pm Halloween night at Santa Monica Hospital. Baby and mother went home three days later.
The election was Tuesday, Nov. 6.
Election results — I was elected with 2,855 votes (31%), and Mikke Pierson was also elected with 2,460 (26%).
I really hope the approach to campaigns we took will be seen in future elections — issue-driven and thoughtful. The next election is in November 2020. Two council members are terming out: Jefferson Wagner and Skylar Peak. Rick Mullen is eligible to run again, this being his first term.
Back to my story: the night after the election, Nov. 7th, was another unfathomable mass shooting, this time right here in Thousand Oaks. It left 12 people dead at the Borderline Bar & Grill, including Alaina Housley, an 18 year-old Pepperdine freshman.
The next day, three fires broke out in California:
- the Camp Fire at 6:30 am in Butte County (240,000 acres)
_ the Hill Fire at 2:03 pm in Ventura County (4500 hundred acres)
_ the Woolsey Fire at 2:21 pm at the Santa Susanna Field Laboratory in Simi Valley, near the LA and Ventura County line (97,000 acres)
I was alerted to the Woolsey Fire at 4 pm with a phone call from our city manager.
I was not sworn in yet. Mikke and I knew we weren’t going to be sworn in until a month later.
Fearing that I would not be able to save my home in the fire, and that I would likely be in the way of someone trying to do so, I evacuated. I spent five hours getting from my home to Sunset Blvd.
My husband stayed several hours longer than I did, until probably 6 pm. On my way, I picked up a worker waiting for the bus at Paradise Cove and could not let him off at the 10 Freeway off ramp at Lincoln, had to take him all the way to Overland, the first exit open.
I was not authorized to act on behalf of the city. I spoke to my husband that night around 10 pm, he told me of the neighbors on our street who’d lost their homes, and was pretty sure ours had been spared.
I spent the next two days on the phone with friends, neighbors, checking the news, looking for as much info as possible.
I went to the first Woolsey-related meeting at Taft HS, then the first local meeting at Samohi. That was tough to see. People were outraged, mostly by the lack of response from the FD; also from the actions of the sheriff.
I returned for about five hours the Sunday after the fire with Lou. We brought cases of water, cans of gasoline, took them to Zuma Lifeguard hdqtrs. I was speechless. It looked like a war zone. We drove around and checked on houses, made notes of what had burned and what had not. You all know what it looked like when you first came back. It was hard to believe.
We stayed with relatives for two weeks, contacted people constantly to see whose home had been spared, whose had not, where they were, what they knew.
I got involved in helping to plan the Thanksgiving gathering at Pepperdine, it was really a good feeling to see everyone together, hugging, crying, laughing, or numbed by the enormity of it all.
We got word that our power had been restored late in the day on Thanksgiving, so we went home that night and got started cleaning up, replacing air duct vents, doing everything I’m sure you all have done to move forward.
I was sworn in December 10th.
With winter came some huge storms, resulting in an enormous amount of mud and rockslides, and a flash flood in February. Between the fire and the debris caused by the rains, the city now has a $10 M claim to FEMA. Those usually take several years to get reimbursed.
A lot of things happen when you’re elected — you appoint commissioners to several city commissions:
Planning, Public Safety, Public Works, Parks & Rec, Cultural Arts and Wastewater Advisory Committee.
The council members also serve on various committees. I serve on the Public Safety Sub-Committee, Library Sub-Committee, School District Separation Ad Hoc Committee, Disaster Response & Recovery Ad Hoc Committee, Policies Ad Hoc Committee.
I’m also the city’s representative to the Las Virgenes-Malibu Council of Governments (COG). The city is a member of CA Contract Cities and the CA League of Cities, both professional organizations for municipalities — elected officials and management. They work on advocacy, local control, continuing education.
I’ve made two trips to Sacramento since being sworn in — one in January, one last month. Both involved meeting with elected representatives and advocating for our priorities.
With the fire, a huge amount of the city’s time and resources and my own time has gone to response and recovery — all kinds of communication, workshops, coordination with constituents, outside agencies — federal, state, county, FD, sheriff, public works, all kinds of things related to rebuilding — debris clearance, permits, rebuilding information, landscaping, etc., mental health services, all kinds of things.
I consider it my responsibility to listen to people, to work to be well versed on the issues, to anticipate issues, and make decisions for the greater good of Malibu.
Many of them are not black and white. A few of them are, for me, and I’m thankful for that. Things are usually nuanced and the devil is in the details. I know my values, I know this city from the 40+ years I’ve lived, worked, and advocated here, I act in good faith. That’s all I can do.
3. What advice would you give to young women who aspire to follow your footsteps by becoming public servants?
My advice is to be very clear with themselves and others what their values are, be prepared to put a lot of time in to a political campaign and to the work of being a publicly-elected official. It is extremely demanding but also rewarding.
Karen Farrer was recently elected to the Malibu City Council in November 2018. She has served the Malibu community for more than 25 years. A three-time PTA president and Advocates for Malibu Public Schools (AMPS) Co-Founder, Karen has championed Malibu Public Schools as a leading voice in the effort to establish an independent Malibu School District. Karen is a graduate of UCLA and has lived in Malibu for 40 years with her husband Cameron. Karen and Cameron have three children — Bridgette, Reed, and Gabby, and have a 6 month old grandson Webb.