Debate on retail ordinance continues

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Developers, residents and city leaders give their input during a second meeting on the proposal of a law that would limit chain stores in Malibu. The city will discuss the issue in August.

By Paul Sisolak / Special to The Malibu Times

Malibu’s retail future was at the heart of another public meeting this week, again examining the merits of creating a special law its supporters say could protect local businesses from chain stores by maxing them out.

ZORACES, the Zoning Ordinance Revisions and Code Enforcement Subcommittee, which sets and enforces zoning laws, met Tuesday morning at Malibu City Hall to take input from residents, business and property owners over proposals to enact a formula retail ordinance. It was the second time in a month ZORACES members solicited comments over a topic that’s polarized locals to great effect-a perceived identity crisis over Malibu’s commercial character.

Backers of the proposal say that a city law restricting corporate stores from setting up shop in Malibu may save mom-and-pop entities from going under. Opponents say a special ordinance stamps out free enterprise.

Some residents attested that Malibu’s bucolic seaside charm has been changing for the worse in recent years, favoring expensive designer names drawn to the city for its glamorous associations with Hollywood. Their presence in Malibu, said Malibu resident Jae Flora Katz, is often nothing more than a marketing ploy at the expense of longtime local businesses that can’t keep up with high rent costs a chain store can easily afford.

“They can really write off that store as an advertising cost,” she said. “So there’s this huge unfair balance in Malibu, where you have stores who don’t need to make next month’s rent. Malibu is a very rare place, where the name of our city is an advertisement.”

Katz said toward the end of the meeting that several petitions supporting a formula retail ordinance have been circulating around town and fast gaining signatures.

“For years, decades, the developers and landlords have been lobbying our city to their best interests,” said Kerry Beth Daley, who supports adoption of a new ordinance. “We absolutely need to legislate what our city will look like moving forward.”

“I don’t know a tenant who says we just want an advertisement,” countered Jay Luchs, a real estate broker and partner in Malibu Village. “They want sales, and they talk to other stores in Malibu, even the national tenants.”

Luchs, who said he’d agree to meet and talk with opponents to the measure, shared like views with developer Norm Haynie and Malibu Country Mart owner Michael Koss, stating that a special retail law goes against the grain of free enterprise.

“The American system has always been based on opportunity. Who decides who’s going to lease a piece of property?” Haynie asked. “It’s a slippery slope when the government tells the people what they should be buying.”

“There are some expensive stores in Malibu, and there are people who don’t like that type of shopping. It’s an ambience that doesn’t appeal to them, and they’d like to dictate what you’ve got in Malibu,” Koss said. “That is not a healthy thing for a community.”

There are also residents who are against a retail ordinance.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but I’m not sure if there’s a whole lot broken here,” resident David Brotman said. “We don’t need legislation and ordinances to force people into boxes they don’t want. This is a free world and a free economy. Let’s make it that.”

The Malibu Chamber of Commerce has previously gone on record opposing the idea of a formula retail ordinance.

“When we focus our energy, it’s in promoting small businesses,” Roger Gronwald, the chamber’s chairman, said.

City planning department officials had previously devised a series of alternative measures to pursue in lieu of adopting a formal ordinance, which was similarly proposed two years ago by Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich, but was voted down.

Those alternatives have included a business incentives program offering reduced fees or rents for local retailers, modifications to the city’s conditional use permitting process, so shopping plazas can diversify their retail clientele, and a special “Shop Local” public relations campaign, essentially urging Malibu residents to decide with their dollars.

Mayor John Sibert, who, along with Councilmember Jefferson Wagner, sits on ZORACES, said more research needs to be done because alternatives to formal, permanent legislation is costly.

“Before we do those actual things, we have to make recommendations. We need to put some bucks behind this,” Sibert said.

The Malibu City Council is scheduled to bring ZORACES’ findings to its Aug. 8 agenda, where it will discuss the proposed formula retail ordinance.

City Council Actions

Registration required for wastewater treatment systems

The city council Monday night gave the green light to add a new ordinance to the Malibu Municipal Code that would require owners of onsite wastewater treatment systems (OWTS) to register with the city, pay a fee, and undergo training and education regarding the operation of the systems. Under the ordinance, OWTS owners will be required to pay an application fee of $200 and a renewal fee of $200 for their treatment systems. The fees will offset staff time spent managing the program, according to the staff report. The ordinance will be considered for final approval at the council’s July 25 meeting.

Library reopening pushed back

After questioning from Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich, City Manager Jim Thorsen confirmed that the reopening of the Malibu Library has been pushed back from November of this year to January 2012 due to construction delays.

“We hopefully either will make some better progress and we can get it back on track, or we will continue with our January opening and completion date,” Thorsen said.

City awards grant-writing contract

The council authorized Thorsen to retain Barbara Cameron as the city’s grant consultant with a two-year professional services agreement. Under the agreement, Cameron will be paid $7,647 per month, as well as up to $4,000 per year in pre-approved expenses. One public speaker asked why Cameron had been awarded the contract without the city soliciting other bids for the contract.

Thorsen said, “Barbara Cameron is one of the best in the business … [her work] a great value for the city, and I did not see the need to go back out and try to bid and see if there’s anybody better or can do a professional services agreement that might be cheaper but not get the same results.”