Civic Center Design Standards Task Force and Public Come Together

The Malibu Civic Center Design Standards Task Force hosted a two-day workshop on March 25-26 at Malibu City Hall. 

During two consecutive evenings last week, members of the Malibu Civic Center Design Standards Task Force and interested members of the public participated in workshops to shape the future look of the Civic Center area. Groups focused on three key design standards: the “character,” or look and feel the Civic Center area should have; the best way of connecting the retail, institutional and natural areas within the Civic Center; and how to handle parking. 

Last year, City Council asked the Planning Department to establish Civic Center Design Standards as the first phase of a Civic Center Specific Plan. Although the City first started drafting the plan in 1995, it was never finished. Interest was suddenly resurrected in 2013 after an unprecedented number of major commercial development permit applications were submitted for the Civic Center area, including the La Paz Retail Center, Whole Foods in the Park, Malibu Sycamore Village, a Santa Monica College satellite campus, a new civic center area wastewater treatment facility and even the possibility of a cemetery.

Local activists and businesses realized that the heart of Malibu would be forever changed by this amount of development, and that in order to avoid a further hodgepodge of architectural styles interspersed with a smorgasbord of parking lots and open spaces, there had to be unifying characteristics that would tie the various areas together while serving the community’s vision of itself.

A 10-member Task Force was appointed to work with the City’s design team (MIG Consultants and John Kaliski Architects) to prepare design standards, which will ultimately go before the Planning Commission and City Council for approval. 

On the first night of meetings last week, participants divided themselves into workshop groups to gather ideas.  On the second night, the consulting team presented a summary of those ideas, translating them into preliminary design standard concepts. 

When it came to the general character of the civic center area, all of the groups rejected a “suburban” look.  

All of the groups were in favor of a center where culture (art) and the natural world (views, creek, ocean and parks) are emphasized above everything else, and where the buildings and general setting retain rural and village characteristics.

In terms of design standards, these ideas translated into keeping the heights of buildings low, keeping a high ratio of natural land versus build-out on each lot and enhancing the standards for landscaping, plant materials, set-backs and on-site open spaces. 

Architect and Task Force member Ed Niles said, “Nature is the primary architectural device. We want buildings to scale (maximum height of 30 feet) with an understanding that buildings become subservient to the landscaping. What solves the problem is getting rid of the parking lots —- just putting trees in front of the buildings is not going to help.”

With regard to connecting the various parts of the Civic Center, the groups want the entire area to be pedestrian-friendly with a series of paths or trails connecting the various retail, institutional and park areas. Task Force member Jefferson Wagner pointed out that the Malibu Creek and Malibu Pacific Trails have already been approved, and showed their locations on a map, with one extending along Malibu Canyon Rd. and the other going up Malibu Creek.

There was also the generally accepted notion of possibly constructing one or two pedestrian overpasses that would allow people to cross over PCH to points of interest south, including the Colony Plaza, Adamson House, Malibu Pier and Malibu Lagoon.

Traffic flow through the Civic Center area was a concern, considering the amount of new development in the pipeline. Some suggested a one-way traffic flow on Civic Center Way or a complete rerouting of Civic Center Way.

Ensuring adequate parking without being dominated by unattractive parking lots was another major focus of the groups. Some said parking would need to be planned in tandem with any changes in the traffic patterns. There was also discussion of constructing shared parking structures or underground lots, and banning truck parking.

Most agreed that the more invisible parking is, the more attractive the area would look, which could mean putting parking behind buildings instead of in front, using parking structures that utilize high design or screening, or planting more groups of trees in the lots. There was also discussion of re-evaluating the zoning standards for size and number of parking spaces. 

Planning Director Bonnie Blue said in an interview that the consultants requested one additional meeting with the Task Force before going to the City with a set of recommended design standards. She’s currently reviewing the budget to determine if that’s feasible.