Community gathers for retail ordinance town hall

In the span of two hours Thursday night, the mood in the community room at City Hall shifted from contentious to boisterous to optimistic.

Nearly 60 community members showed up for a town hall polling forum to provide input on a Civic Center chain store ordinance. Participants also helped articulating what “community serving business” means to Malibu.

The City Council directed city staff to hold the meeting in response to community outcry in recent weeks over the closure of several small businesses in Malibu and the push for a retail or small business ordinance in Malibu. 


Things got off to a seemingly rough start as the group was presented the setup: a list of 20 multiple-choice questions to be answered via electronic “clickers”—often used in college settings to take attendance. 

Many had expected more of a dialogue format.  

“You should be asking us, not telling us these are the choices,” one audience member said. 

Others demanded that before anonymous polling began, commercial property owners and non-residents should be required to stand up and identify themselves to the crowd. Pete Peterson, a consultant from Pepperdine contracted to help with the polling and discussion system, warned that asking others to stand up would contradict the goal of anonymously surveying the participants. 

The people who live in Malibu have a different say than the people who own a business in Malibu,” said Hans Laetz, a local activist who had wanted to see the owners stand up. 

When multiple choice questions such as “Are you a current resident of the city?” arose, some took issue with how to define “resident”—ultimately, Planning Director Joyce Parker-Bozylinski and Associate Planner Joseph Smith defined it as a person registered to vote in Malibu. 

Other questions attempted to gauge what the community believes the number of franchises a business has to have open to be considered a “chain” or “formula” retail business, square footage requirements and what types of businesses, if any, should be exempt from a chain store ordinance. 

About a dozen attendees left halfway through the meeting as the polling ended and a group workshop segment began. Participants broke off into groups to come up with adjectives that they believe help define a “community serving business”: resident-serving, possessing unique local character, selling affordable basic goods, having regular household use and encouraging community involvement. 

During those group discussions, a change in the mood was palpable. 

“To actually hear people talk to one another and hear from the other side is essential,” said Carla McCloskey, a member of the Preserve Malibu group which strongly advocated for a retail ordinance to be drafted.

Marc Persson, executive director for the Malibu Chamber of Commerce was in attendance and took part in the polling and group workshop. The Chamber has been outspoken about its outright opposition to any type of retail ordinance. But Persson said he found the town hall worthwhile.

“I thought it was fantastic, very cordial,” Persson said. However, the Chamber, he said, will still have “no reason to change its mind based on its position historically.” 

Susan Stiffelman, who also supports the ordinance, addressed the entire room as the meeting neared its end.

“It meant so much that we were able to sit and chat with each other and I believe we need more of that,” she said.  

“This is the genius of democracy,” Peterson said. 

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

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