Patterico's Pontifications


Mike Davis – The Malibu Fire Prophet

Filed under: Books,Current Events,Environment,Public Policy — Justin Levine @ 3:23 pm

[guest post by Justin Levine] 

In terms of radical leftwing academics, I can think of very few who are both good writers and have ideas that should be taken seriously.

However, one such person that comes to mind is Mike Davis, a Southern California historian and author of the bestselling book The Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster.

One provocative chapter in that book is entitled “Let Malibu Burn: A political history of the Fire Coast.”

An excerpt of that chapter can be found here. [Recommended reading in light of the fires we’ve had in the area the past few days.]

Naturally, you can challenge Davis on a number of levels, but one of his underlying points seems to be beyond debate at this juncture – wildfires in Malibu are a naturally reoccurring phenomenon that are guaranteed to return to haunt us every few years. So unless we radically rethink how that area is to be zoned and constructed, people will be indirectly subsidizing the Hollywood limousine-liberal millionaires of the area who use a disproportionate amount of state firefighting resources and disaster relief in order to keep rebuilding the area the same way and maintain their lifestyle.

Davis’s own take –

A perverse law of Pyne’s new fire regime was that fire stimulates development as well as upward social succession. By declaring Malibu a federal disaster area and offering blaze victims tax relief as well as preferential low-interest loans, the Eisenhower administration established the precedent for the public subsidization of firebelt suburbs. Each conflagration, moreover, was punctually followed by rebuilding on a larger and more exclusive scale as land-use regulations and sometimes even the fire code were relaxed to accommodate fire “victims.” As a result, renters and modest homeowners were displaced from areas like Broad Beach, Paradise Cove and Point Dume by wealthy pyrophiles encouraged by cheap fire insurance, socialized disaster relief and an expansive public commitment to “defend Malibu.”

Food for thought.

Taking a page from (Malibu resident) Rob Reiner’s own playbook, I would propose a new California proposition amending the state constitution to increase real estate taxes on Malibu homeowners with such funds being dedicated to firefighting resources in L.A. County. We need to do it for the children you understand….

30 Responses to “Mike Davis – The Malibu Fire Prophet”

  1. Every time we have brush fires like these, I think of this chapeter, and how he contrasted the firefighting resources devoted to wealthy Malibu against those sent to disasters in low-income, urban locations. He has a firm grasp of the climate and vegetation of SoCal, a fact that’s lost on most, if not all commentators opining about our fires today. It burns because it’s supposed to burn, and those who choose to live within reach of burning chaparral should also be burdened the cost of public resources regularly devoted to protecting their properties when the eventual conflagration.

    Brian (ec0cf2)

  2. Justin, exactly. Well put.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  3. Great to see Mike Davis being brought up here. He desribed it all years ago, and he remains frighteningly correct.

    David Ehrenstein (b743cb)

  4. This is not a unique subsidy of the have-a-lots by the rest of us. Joe Six Pack in Peoria underwrites barrier beach development in the Outer Banks and elsewhere. No catastrophe insurance should be subsidized.

    chuckR (357649)

  5. Yah, there is chapprall all up and down the So-Cal coast. Orange County too. It was developers who made a killing on all those properties that all those hollywood types bought, and developers who would be screaming about all the lefty, socialist, enviroweenie bunny huggers interfereing with commerce if anyone tried to zone them out of places they can still build on.

    EdWood (3d76d2)

  6. “No catastrophe insurance should be subsidized.”

    That is the key. It’s a retarded policy that encourages people to build in dangerous, uneconomic areas… and others’ subsidize their views and lifestyle. Crazy.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  7. The Feds pulled the plug on subsidizing insurance in the flood zones of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers after the floods there 10-some years ago; entire towns were forced to relocate to higher ground to qualify for private insurance. It is time for Sam to cancel all subsidized insurance in disaster-prone zones nationwide.

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  8. Um…

    Any one have any idea where you’d like to locate the entire population of So. Cal if you’re going to outlaw development in so-called “disaster prone zones”?

    And certainly, we’ll have to empty San Francisco, too.

    Darleen (187edc)

  9. Come to Texas, Darleen!

    DRJ (35ac59)

  10. Darleen – I don’t think the rest of the country would object if you seceeded.

    daleyrocks (906622)

  11. daley

    But where would you get your RDA of fruit and nutz?


    Darleen (187edc)

  12. Darleen, from the same place we get them today, a foreign country!


    You could ask where we would source our next outbreak of E-Colie in our packaged spinach or lettuce from a field in CA.

    Ya know the fires have got to not be a good thing for anybody. For sure it is not a good feeling to watch your home consumed by an element that is totally uncontrollable. I can but imagine how many folks in NO felt when the levies that had held back the waters for a generation plus saw them give in to the pressures of a single storm. Had to suck!

    If my home burned down tonight, I would hope that the insurance I paid for would pay to rebuild it. I’d bet that all these home owners in CA as well have fire insurance. But then again the ins co atty’s will probably say the wind caused the damage that caused the fires to start and therefore it’s a wind/tornado problem, GAWD caused, ya know.

    I can only really think, (and I do not know), that the fed aid is aimed at the infrastructure and not so much the private structures. As there will be much needed to be rebuilt and or improved in the areas to hopefully mitigate the NEXT time this happens.

    But of course the privates will be standing in line for the handout, such should be turned down 100% of the time! They won’t, but should. They were covered, if not, then tough. They can now sell the burned off land and buy a beach front bungalow. The empty foundation will be an added benefit to the new owners that will be insured!

    I do feel for their losses, both in CA and LA, but in reality have a rather short pity fuse for the foolish.

    TC (1cf350)

  13. Any one have any idea where you’d like to locate the entire population of So. Cal if you’re going to outlaw development in so-called “disaster prone zones”?

    And certainly, we’ll have to empty San Francisco, too.

    I don’t think anyone said outlaw the development. Instead, simply don’t use tax dollars to subsidize it, nor to insure it against the natural disasters that we know are going to occur. In other words, put the risk on the people taking the risk – the people who build and live in a disaster prone area.

    Great Banana (aa0c92)

  14. Once a region has been identified as a hazard zone (flood plain, etc), Federal disaster insurance should not cover any construction thereafter. I.e., if you rebuild, you’re not covered. New construction isn’t covered.

    This will encourage people to move somewhere safer.

    LarryD (feb78b)

  15. Great Banana

    I agree that people should insure themselves. All I’m saying is that there are few places in the US that are not prone to one kind of disaster or another.

    So. Cal burns fairly regularly. I’ve lived here all my life and ever few years the winds blow in Oct and some section burns… if not “naturally” then because the arsonists come out — The Santiago fire in Orange Cty was arson, in 2003 the Old Fire was arson and the Cedar fire was set by a brainless hunter who was lost.

    Other parts of the country are hit by floods, tornados, hurricanes, blizzards, and fires, too.

    Then we also have to deal with things like environmentalists who have interferred for years in the Lake Arrowhead area with the removal of DEAD trees … indeed the bark beetle infestation is partially due to the treehuggers because healthy tree ratios in the Big Bear area should be about 12-20 trees per acre and it’s been running as high as 200 trees per acre there for decades. Cut a tree even on your own property and find yourself in court.

    Darleen (187edc)

  16. i grinned at “hollywood limousine-liberal millionaires” buy hey, you have to acknowledge that these fires are bipartisan, they’re also consuming the homes of bush supporters in orange and san diego counties. will these rugged individualists remain true to their stand on your own two feet/disdain government handouts ideals?

    assistant devil's advocate (890180)

  17. You do realize he had to retract much of his commentary in Ecology of Fear; and made some elementary mistakes in his other book on L.A.
    Dystopia; City of Quartz (ie; painting Abramson
    as Jewsih whe he was actually born again)A good
    part of his book concerned tornadoes in Hollywood
    right out of DAy after Tomorrow. His intermediate
    publication was a L.A. dystopian vision where “car
    bombs would be going off on Rodeo Drive” something
    out of the cult sci fi noir series of the times
    “Wild Palms” Oh and he wasn’t being prophetic about AQ; he figured Latin and/or Black unrest would be the catalyst. If he was to update it today he’s add IED’s and RPGS

    narciso (c36902)

  18. For the debunking of Mike Davis’s claims by Brady Westwater:*.For the Car bomb on Rodeo Drive:* To see where this image is being used
    as curriculum materials on college campuses;

    Correction;It’s Ahmanson not Abramson

    narciso (c36902)

  19. Justin brings up a good point. Maybe taxes should be increased for residents living through out California. However, in addition to that maybe all of the federal money that we’ve given to the government shouldn’t be used to occupy other countries. In that way, billions of dollars could be contributed to proactively fighting natural disasters since anthropological global warming is causing them to be more intense. It goes BOTH ways.

    Da Bombz Diggity (18ffc1)

  20. Hey, we’re all in this together. Don’t resent the money you’re spending on rich self-supporting peoples’ flood and fire relief. You saved it a hundred times over from not having to pay for police, courts and prisons.

    nk (da3e6b)

  21. narciso – It is well known that Brady Westwater is a Malibu developer, so of course he is going to attack Davis’s claims on Malibu. To say that he had to retract “much of” Ecology of Fear is pure baloney. I don’t subscribe to much of it myself since I’m not a socialist/Marxist (as Davis admits to being). But that is neither here nor there. I am only vouching for his claim that I point out in the post – that Malibu wildfires are a naturally reoccurring phenomena, no changes to our fire codes are going to prevent them, so if you continue to develop that area the way it has been, we will continue to go through this farce every 4 to 5 years or so. Once again, that particular point that Davis makes seems beyond debate to me. But feel free to continue tilting at those windmills if it makes you happy.

    Assistant Devil’s Advocate – of course fires are bipartisan. But you seemed to have missed the point of my post (and the particular point of Davis’s that I bring up). Malibu is a section of coastline that has ALWAYS had regular naturally reoccurring brushfirwes, and always will into the future. No other area of Southern California has been developed the way Malibu has and also has the same level of incidence regarding fires that we know will occur again in the future – regardless of precautions individual homeowners in the area might take. So in that respect, it is fair to single out that community. It is completely irrelevent to the point to say that fires have affected other areas that heavily Republican. It is not about the political orientation of lives there. That was just a sidebar that I through in post that you mistakenly fixated on. It is about the geography and the way it has been developed.

    nk – You too seemed to have missed the point. It is not about rich people or what benefits they deserve. It is about letting people continue to develop an area that we know for an absolute fact will be burned down to the ground numerous times in the future. That seems to me to be a silly proposition, regardless of the economic status of the people that reside there. I want state and social services to benefit rich and poor alike. I also have no problem in providing help to areas that we know will probably be hit by disaster sometime in the future. Hell, we all know that a major earthquake of 8.0+ will eventually hit L.A. I would still expect to get relief if that happens in my lifetime. But with the Malibu fire stiuation, we are talking about a level of very extreme frequency (at leat 3 or 4 times alone since I have lived in Southern California), in an area that has disproportionately high costs to fight such disasters and rebuild. So with this particular enclave/situation, it worth at least thinking a second time about in terms of costs/benefits.

    Justin Levine (ab0a31)

  22. God Bless Them

    They all made it.

    dave (0606c0)

  23. Oh, hat tip to Mayor Sam for the above photo.

    dave (0606c0)

  24. Justin, I think that we should compare the costs and benefits, however you are fixated on Malibu. In the news, today there are many other places that have been affected by this recent fire disaster. Realistically speaking, as the effects of anthropological global warming becomes more and more evident, more and more areas of California will be haunted by these natural disasters. You can’t move everyone out of the region between LA and San Diego, so we need to spend less money on war and more money on building our other national defenses for catastrophies that continue to haunt us. This is more than democrat or republican, everyone is affected. These are the real issues that we all must confront. United we stand, divided we fall. Bush has been extremely polarizing and has done very little to unite us. I think that the governator has done a good job of confronting the issues and uniting us. I agree with John Edwards, collectively we should all play a role in confronting our national disasters. Let’s fix our homeland!

    Da Bombz Diggity (ae1ae4)

  25. @ narciso: “A good
    part of his book concerned tornadoes in Hollywood
    right out of DAy after Tomorrow.”

    First off, “Day After Tomorrow” was made years after Ecology of Fear was published.

    Second, and most important, is that tornadoes in Southern California do exist. Trust me–I remember well one that tore off a roof of a supermarket in Long Beach. Davis’ point is that these tornadoes, which while not common do occur with some regularity, are treated as “abnormal” and therefore downplayed.

    Evan (591f08)

  26. It’s time to put an end to publicly subsidized insurance in disaster prone areas like Malibu and the barrier beaches of the East Coast.

    Once this is done, you’ll be able to buy land for $100 an acre in places like Malibu, build a fireproof house, and get private insurance.

    There was a wildfire years ago in which it was determined that homes with tile roofs didn’t burn, and nearby homes with asphalt or wood shingle roofs did burn. Did anyone learn from that? Doesn’t seem like it.

    John (537ff2)

  27. Da Bombz –

    I fixate on Malibu since (1) that area has a far greater incidence of fires than the other areas currently burning, (2) Malibu has more concentrated wealth than most (if not all) of the other areas currently burning and (3)that was the area that Mike Davis wrote about, WHICH HAPPENED TO BE THE ENTIRE POINT OF MY POST. Maybe you missed that. I suggest you read it again. There is a reason why Davis writes about Malibu and not San Diego county. Read his article, re-read my post, then get back to me.

    Your attempted tie-in of global warming is just plain silly. Even if you buy into the man-made global warming religion, and somehow found the ‘cure’ for it, Malibu would still have the exact same problems we are talking about here (again, Davis convincingly shows this – further evidence that I doubt you even bothered to read him). Global warming is a complete red-herrring in this discussion. Take your religious beliefs elsewhere please.

    Justin Levine (20f2b5)

  28. Thank you Justin – I was starting to lose my patience. Obviously, Da Bongz and his anthropogenic (you’re welcome) global warming don’t belong in this conversation. Santa Ana winds have been blasting So Cal forever. When I was a kid we used to fold our jackets over our head and become human kites, or free the tumbleweeds (!) from the chainlink fencing for “races”. The only thing that has changed is the amount of arsonists willing to capitalize on the tragedy.

    rhodeymark (6797b5)

  29. To Justin,

    I haven’t read the excerpt you provided because I don’t have the time, so I trusted your interpretation. But when time frees up again, I will read his book. However, I did find it important to raise the issue of anthropogenic (thank you rhodeymark. My mind thought anthropogenic, I wrote anthropological. Weird.) global warming. I have read some of your previous posts damning the scientific evidence behind global warming (which you call a religion). Why call my belief in global warming a religion? Is it because you normally have attached a negative connotation to the word global warming that you might call the belief of global warming a religion? Is global warming and religion then bad? For your information, I have worked for the Department of Energy on research centered on global warming, so my relationship and understanding is socratic and experimental in nature. Anyway, the reason why I bring anthropogenic global warming into the discussion is that, as rhodeymark stated there have always been strong winds in that region and as Davis pointed out rich liberals and insurance companies have capitalized on the misuse of public funds to stay in Malibu (a high risk area), but coupled with the deleterious effects of global warming, we are now observing that these fires are worsening and increasingly becoming unbeatable. Even if we stopped all carbon emissions today, scientifically it is clear that hotter, less humid, and windier weather as well as weakened forests will cause fires to spread faster. Ultimately, what is haunting Southern California does haunt Northern California as well. It’s only a matter of time. So, before the discovery of global warming, I might’ve been inclined to only support Davis’s solutions, but at this point I am most inclined to say that we should use some federal money to increase the numbers of trained professionals and increase the availability of equipment to fight these fires and other natural disasters that are increasingly becoming more intense. As I said before, a proper weighing of the costs and benefits is necessary to stop the advantages of rich liberals in Malibu, but also to confront challenges posed by global warming to everyone else living in California. We need legislation to confront these impending disasters. Also maybe fixated was the wrong word, I guess I wanted you to elaborate on Davis’s article with respect to what was recently occurring in Southern California.

    Da Bombz Diggity (ed218e)

  30. Why did we concentrate all areial support on 2,000 acres and 12 structures in Malibu, when we had 200,000 acres and over 1,000 structures burning in San Diego? Campaign contributions?

    tom (3616e5)

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