City Council voted unanimously Monday in a 4-0 vote to allocate an additional $33,000 toward the final environmental impact report (EIR) for the proposed Whole Foods in the Park project, the commercial development that’s become a guinea pig for new growth under Measure R.
The project’s draft-EIR, which was prepared by Impact Sciences with the aid of Malibu staff, is being paid for by Whole Foods in the Park LLC, the corporation owned by Steve Soboroff, as per City regulations.
Mayor John Sibert is out of the country and did not attend Monday’s meeting. Councilmember Skylar Peak attended remotely via Skype.
According to Planning Director Bonnie Blue, there were various reasons for the increase in cost, the first being Measure R.
“Reasons for the increase in the contract amount had to do primarily with the voters’ approval of Measure R in November, which required this Whole Foods in the Park project prepare a specific plan,” Blue explained, adding that the original application for the project was submitted five years ago.
“The increase in contract amount will allow the consultants to respond to the large number of comments that were received on the draft-Environmental Impact Report and do a thorough job with that, so that’s another reason,” Blue added.
The 45-day comment period following the publication of the draft-EIR yielded over 200 comments from residents and stakeholders.
“Going forward to a final EIR at this point does a disservice to decision makers and the entire Malibu community,” said Pat Healy from the Malibu Coalition for Slow Growth.
Although Healy presented a laundry list of complaints over the EIR, it was concerns over the validity of existing traffic studies that caught Council’s ear.
City Manager Jim Thorsen noted that there is $18,000-$20,000 allocated for contingency within the Impact Sciences contract, which should cover an improved traffic study, should one be needed.
“There are funds already into this project that would allow that to be done, and the analysis thereof,” Thorsen said.
Peak suggested council should ensure enough money that a traffic study that meets the demands of all residents can be done.
“I just don’t know how detailed of a traffic study can be done [for that amount],” Peak said. “I’m concerned for the people in our community who’ve raised questions over this EIR are going to get their questions answered sufficiently.”
City Attorney Christi Hogin assured Peak that the traffic issues are under review.
“The traffic questions have to be addressed and the EIR consultant is in the process of preparing drafts of those responses and then they’ll go to the planning department,” Hogin said.
Whole Foods in the Park spokesperson Brian Lewis sent a statement in response to residents’ concerns, in agreement with Hogin’s statement.
“A comprehensive and thorough traffic study was undertaken by Overland Traffic Consultants. The conclusions of that report were that there are no significant traffic impacts after mitigations are put in place,” the statement reads. “The report has and continues to be independently analyzed and peer reviewed by the City of Malibu and their traffic consultants.”