Draft of Malibu Civic Center chain store ordinance released

Following months of research, public polling and environmental review, the City of Malibu on Tuesday released the draft of a controversial ordinance to regulate chain stores in the Civic Center.

The ordinance would amend the city’s zoning code to require formula/chain businesses to obtain a conditional use permit (CUP) from the city if they wish to open a business in the Civic Center. The public has 30 days to review and comment on the draft, from Wed., March 13 until Thurs., April 11.

“To advance the City’s goals, the proposed ordinance is intended to encourage retail elements that promote variety while contributing to and maintaining the City’s rural charm and small-town feel,” the draft states.

The draft defines a chain as having six or more establishments operating in Southern California (outside of Malibu), but it excludes banks, grocery stores, gas stations and “existing formula retail uses that change ownership, exclusively.”

The city’s planning department was directed to write the ordinance last November after the City Council voted 3-2 in favor of considering a draft proposal.

Backers of a retail ordinance believe Malibu’s character and uniqueness will lose its luster if chain businesses continue renting up vacant spaces in shopping centers. They also fear shopping center landlords hiking rent prices and making it hard for small business owners to afford leases in Malibu.


Opponents of the ordinance, however, believe such regulations would impede upon the free market and potentially expose the City of Malibu to lawsuits for dictating land uses for private property owners.

According to an environmental report attached to the draft, 3.7 percent, or 444 acres, of the city’s total land area of 12,000 acres is zoned for commercial use. Close to half of that acreage is located in the Civic Center.

The environmental review, known as a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review, determined that such an ordinance would not have any significant environmental impact on the Civic Center or surrounding areas—something the planning staff expected before the review took place.

“We didn’t foresee any impacts and could’ve relied on an exemption noted [in CEQA],” said Senior Planner Joseph Smith. “But that said, we wanted to ensure that no impacts were identified through the initial study process.”

The environmental review also found that the ordinance, if approved by the Malibu City Council, would not require a hearing at the California Coastal Commission, a legislative step which members of the council seemed to dread.

“Is there a way that we wouldn’t have to go to Coastal… so that it doesn’t take forever and a day?” Rosenthal asked in November. At the time, Smith responded it was likely the state’s powerful coastal body would have to be part of the mix. But in researching and writing the ordinance, staff believes it will be able to avoid Coastal involvement.

“The ordinance is in conformance with the [city’s] general plan and local coastal program (LCP). No reason to amend the LCP,” Smith said this week.

The draft factors in results from a town hall polling session held by the city last December. Nearly 60 community members attended the feedback forum and were asked how they defined what a chain or retail formula business is, and whether some types of uses, such as grocery stores or banks, should be granted exemptions from the ordinance.

Nearly half of those polled said a chain store’s intensity (i.e., how many people it attracts) is the most important “subjective” aspect in evaluating the site.

Already-existing chain stores and businesses would be grandfathered in if an ordinance passes, unless they try to relocate, expand their business by 200 square feet or more, or increase service area by 50 feet or more, according to the draft.

Once the 30-day public review period ends April 11, the city’s planning staff will schedule the draft item for Planning Commission public hearing and then the same at a City Council meeting.

The draft and environmental report are available for review at Malibu City Hall or at malibucity.org. Public comments may be submitted in person or via email to Smith at jsmith@malibucity.org.

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

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