When I first came to LA from New York back in 1995, I was part of an investigative team for CNN charged with spending the network's money in an effort to determine whether anyone other than O.J. could have slaughtered his former wife and her friend.
Needless to say, that part of my mission ended rather quickly.
But as the Simpson saga dragged on and on and on, from time to time, other allegedly "breaking news" would worm its way into the Simpson universe, and my Atlanta bound bosses would order me off to some other patch of Southern California soil to cover it. Usually live.
Which brings me to the Malibu part of my story.
It is important for you to know that months before what I am about to describe happened, it had rained. A lot of rain. Oceans of rain. Entire galaxies of rain. You get the idea. It was wet.
And, when it rains that much in these parts, what happens?
Can we all say M-U-D-S-L-I-D-E in unison? Of course we can. We live in Southern California.
Well, sure enough, following the rains came the mudslides and that brought me face to face with a distraught former homeowner in Malibu.
Now, I say former homeowner, because her house had been sort of ... how should I put this? ... pushed away by a wall of mud.
She was in tears. My producer was in tears. My camera crew were not in tears, but pretty darn close. Heck, even I was feeling a little moist around the tear ducts.
Easy decision here. It was decided I would interview the woman on live television.
At first, the interview went smoothly enough. I lost everything, she said. Sob. Sob.
My paintings, my projects, she said. Sob. Sob. This is devastating, she said. Sob. Sob.
This was great television.
Until she said something between sobs that quickly got my attention.
"And, this is the seventh time this has happened to me," she said. Sob. Sob.
Hold on!!!!!!!!!! What did she say? Seventh time?
I abruptly cut into her sob story. Excuse me, I recall saying (or words to that effect) -- did you say this is the seventh time this has happened to you?
Why, yes, she said. Sob. Sob. This was the seventh time her home in Malibu had either been destroyed or badly battered by a mudslide!
I paused. I thought. I reacted. " Then, why don't you just move!!!!!!!!!!!" I said to her on live television.
Because, she shot back, I like the sounds of the ocean and birds in the morning!!!
Well, then, I said, perhaps you should also get used to the sound of mudslides!
Granted, a bit on the harsh side.
But my point in sharing this with all you folks is simply this: Fires and mudslides are, of course, all part of nature and even a needed part. They are only a problem in LA and surrounding areas because, over the years, reckless and greedy developers pushed to build on land that should not have been built upon. And, of course, governments, deriving tax revenue from the building boom -- were not exactly eager to throw cold water on them.
The problem is, it is all becoming just too damn expensive. You think those awesome water dropping jetliners you like watching on TV are cheap?
I couldn't help notice the other day after it was raining, that one evacuation of a "neighborhood" turned out to be a relatively small number of homes ... nine, as I recall.
The fact is, we , as a society, simply can no longer afford to pick up the tab for expensive fire and rescue work just so that a few people, like my Malibu sobster, can enjoy the sounds of the surf when they arise each morning.
A climate expert, at USC I believe, who I talked to several years back, told me that when he was a small boy growing up in the LA area, fires, rains, and mudslides were not that big a deal as they are today simply because fewer people actually had homes in danger's path.
Perhaps government needs to come in and buy out some home owners in an effort to move them to higher and/or firmer ground? As costly as this would be, it would still be cheaper than having to dispatch small (medium?) sized armies of fire fighters, cops and an assortment of other rescue workers to a "burn area" in order to save what often turns out to be just a small number of houses.
Charles Feldman is journalist, media consultant and the co-author of the book, "No Time To Think-The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-hour News Cycle." He has covered police and politics in L.A. since 1995. He also contributes investigative reports to KNX 1070 Newsradio.