Compromise Struck in Measure R Replacement

Michael Koss, John Mazza and Christi Hogin walk into council chambers…

…and, for the first time in a decade, a deal is struck that does not seem to leave one of the three reeling.

Malibu’s formula retail wars have raged from the retail boom of the early-aughts, to the economic collapse in 2008 and through the explosion of online shopping. Now, amid the changing landscape, council has tried once more to settle the score.

“This has been 10 years, it’s been millions of dollars, filling the place with people screaming,” Mazza told council as midnight approached.  “We on the Preserve Malibu side just want to get it over with.”

The newest version of the ordinance will have the city sticking with the Measure R definition of “formula retail”—which includes any retail establishment with 10 or more locations in the world that maintains two or more of the following:

  1. standardized array of merchandise or menu
  2. standardized color scheme
  3. standardized decor
  4. standardized façade
  5. standardized layout
  6. standardized signage, including a servicemark, or a trademark 
  7. uniform apparel

That was considered a victory for the Measure R camp.

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On the other side, a change was enacted allowing formula retail establishments up to 4,000 square feet. Earlier wording of the ordinance would have capped formula retail stores to locations as small as 2,500 square feet, meaning locations like 3,855-square-foot Sephora and 3,600-square-foot Marmalade Cafe would have to be subdivided if they were to go to chain stores—a seemingly impossible task when stores are long and narrow, as they are in the Malibu Village.

“If a store is long, you can’t divide it,” Developer Michael Koss, owner of the Malibu Country Mart, explained. “They can’t divide those spaces because they’d have what we call in our retail business ‘bowling alleys.’ You have to have more frontage to divide a store.”

“You’d be chopping spaces in a weird way,” Realtor Jay Luchs agreed.

David Reznick of the Malibu Bay Company said those types of spaces abound in the Civic Center.

“Structurally, ones like Colony Plaza, parts of the Lumberyard, have really deep spaces so you can’t effectively divide the spaces,” Reznick said.

Council also kept the door open for “waivers,” which would allow for the potential of formula retail businesses to operate outside the strict guidelines laid out in the ordinance.

The final major piece of the new rules stipulated that, while “non-exempt” formula retail (which excludes things like banks and grocery stores) may only take up 30 percent of any given shopping center, in multifloor centers, only up to 40 percent of the ground floor businesses may be chains.

This was an effort meant to keep centers from loading chain stores into prime, ground floor tenant spaces and keeping local stores in less desirable second-story locations.

One member of the public, Lloyd Ahern, asked City Attorney Christi Hogin to assure him the new ordinance would not result in another round in courts, as was the case with Measure R.

“I want you to ask yourselves, deep in your heart, do you believe, like how John [Mazza] said on Measure R, that this thing is bullet proof and we’re not going to go down that stupid route we did with Measure R,” Ahern asked. “Please think of the solvency of the city with your vote.”

The newest version of the ordinance is expected to become law following a vote at the Feb. 26 city council meeting.

Editor’s note: In an earlier version of the story, the definition of “formula retail” was incorrect. The story has been updated to include correct information.

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