Planning says ‘No’ to MBC deal

Citing overdevelopment, no control over construction, contracts and even naming of projects, planning

commissioners pass on the Malibu Bay Company Development Agreement. Deal goes before council June 9.

By Jonathan Friedman/Special to the Malibu Times

Calling it one-sided and unfair to the City of Malibu, the Planning Commission unanimously voted to recommend the City Council reject the Malibu Bay Company (MBC) Development Agreement. The Environmental Review Board is expected to make its recommendation later this month, and then the decision will be in the hands of the council.

Although the commissioners dismissed the agreement, they insisted they did not oppose the MBC development in Malibu. All spoke in favor of the city reaching some sort of agreement with the company, just not the one in front of them.

“As a lawyer, I could not ever recommend that a client of mine sign this agreement as it now stands,” Commissioner Deirdre Roney said.

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With the agreement, the MBC would be able to develop several of its properties located throughout Malibu, including about 257,000 square feet of commercial structures at four of its Civic Center area sites. Also, 20 homes and additional commercial development would be constructed at the Trancas Canyon properties. The various projects require numerous general plan and zoning amendments.

“I find the project requires so many [amendments] … that basically it’s leading to vast overdevelopment,” Commissioner Robert Adler said.

The commissioners raised various issues as to why they could not support the agreement, including the unavoidable effects on biological resources, air quality and traffic congestion. By California Environmental Quality Act regulations, the company must provide sufficient benefits in return to make up for effects on the environment, and the commission questioned if the MBC was doing so with its offer to keep various sites as open space, because the commission says they might not be developable anyway. Several commissioners also spoke about how 257,000 square feet of commercial development in the four civic center sites might be too much, evidenced by the fact that variances are needed to increase the floor area ratio to accommodate the structures.

“Would you feel claustrophobic?” Commission Chair Richard Carrigan asked. “Would there be space? Would there be quality of life? These are the questions you have to ask.”

As a public benefit, the MBC offered the city 18.87 acres of land on its Point Dume property, and $5 million dollars for a community center to be constructed there. Also, two ball fields could be built on the property. But the commissioners were not tempted by that offer for several reasons, one being the city would have to place $2 million of its own money in a trust for maintenance and other purposes. Another, that money would have to be put in a trust immediately, and the $5 million from the MBC would trickle in over a period of time.

They were also opposed to the MBC being given veto power on nearly every aspect of construction, including all of the contracts, the choice of the architect and even the center’s name. The MBC has said the reason for this is to ensure a center is built, but Roney suggested another reason is possible, although she admitted she does not know if it is accurate.

“That would allow the Malibu Bay Company to exert incredible leverage over the city with all its projects over the next 20 years,” she said.

But several speakers at the meeting said the offer was too good to refuse because it provided a place for ball fields.

“They have an answer to our problem … we don’t have enough fields,” Malibu AYSO Regional Commissioner Scott Sigman said.

Adler said that getting the ball fields on the Point Dume property was not a slam-dunk. He pointed out the city does not even know about the suitability of the property and that there are traffic safety issues involved with getting to and from the area.

The commission credited what they consider to be a lopsided agreement to the MBC’s excellent negotiation abilities. Councilmember Joan House, former Councilmember Tom Hasse and some city staff made the agreement through meetings with the MBC’s highly paid negotiators. The commissioners said if the city and the MBC return to the table for a new agreement, the city should hire top-notch people who will ensure Malibu’s best interests are met.

Spokesperson David Reznick declined to comment on that, and would only briefly respond to the commission’s decision

“I’m disappointed with the conclusion the Planning Commission reached,” he said. “We had a different evaluation of the agreement.”

The City Council is expected to begin with its series of public hearings on June 9.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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