To M or not to M, that is the question

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From the publisher, Arnold G. York

The Sacramento dust is beginning to settle. We actually have a new governor in place, and it’s time to return home and start worrying about our next election on Nov. 4, when Malibu goes to the polls to vote on Proposition M.

Several people have stopped me on the street and asked if there were actually two propositions because to hear the partisans tell it, you could seriously wonder whether they were talking about the same plan. So I’m going to try and put this in some perspective over the next few columns and see if it’s possible to separate the reality from the baloney.

Proposition M, for those of you who have been out of town, is the proposal put forth by the Malibu Bay Company (MBC) for an agreement covering the development during the next decade or two of the Civic Center area (primarily, but not exclusively, what we call the Chili Cook-off site), a large piece of land in Point Dume alongside the Pacific Coast Highway and several pieces of land in the Trancas area. The MBC holdings are owned by Jerry Perenchio and family and, before that, by a partnership of the Konheim and Perenchio families. Before that, the Crummer family, who were early developers in Malibu, owned the land for many years. Roy Crummer built the Malibu Colony Plaza Shopping Center (at Webb Way and PCH). Previously, the family built the market at Trancas and numerous other developments. Needless to say, Malibu being Malibu, all of this development was very controversial and just about everything was fought over as if it was life or death. (In case you were wondering, controversy in Malibu is not a recent phenomenon.)

The land in question is primarily commercially zoned, but there are also some lots zoned for single-family residences. The whole idea of a development agreement is the developer gives some things to the city, like money or dedicating land to open space, or both, and in return gets some certainty over the next decade or two as to what can be done with the land and, sometimes, a timetable. The alternative to no development agreement is no development. The alternative is you battle over future development parcel by parcel, which is the way smaller development happens. Typically, cities want development agreements for larger projects because it allows the city to negotiate for amenities, and developers like it because it gives them some assurance of certainty. The fight is always over whether or not the development agreement is good enough. Does it give enough for what it gets in return?

Several people have asked why we need an agreement at all. They charge we simply shouldn’t allow any development, and we should just keep it all as open space. We actually could do that, but we’d have to first buy the land from its owners. In Malibu, that could cost more than $100 million. The likelihood of the city spending that much is very slim.

Several others have said, “Well then, let’s just make the rules so restrictive or the zoning so tough, that they won’t be able to build much anyway.” In other words, let’s see if we can stop the development without buying it. Frankly, that doesn’t work very well because those cases always end up in court. Ultimately, a judge ends up deciding for Malibu instead of Malibu deciding for itself.

The development agreement that we’re going to vote on next month has been in the works for several years. Initially, the MBC agreed to wait in moving ahead on pursuing any development. It and an ad hoc committee, consisting of former Councilmember Tom Hasse and Councilmember Joan House, negotiated for more than a year to come up with an agreement. The tentative agreement they reached went through an environmental impact review process, then before the Planning Commission and, ultimately, before the City Council. Along the way, it also went through numerous public hearings and even more numerous changes-the most important one being the city will have what is essentially a three-year option to buy the Chili Cook-off site for $25 million and possibly turn it into a park and/or wastewater treatment plant.

Ultimately, the final voice on the agreement is the Malibu voters, who will vote it up or down at the polls. The reason that’s the case is because several years ago Malibu voters went to the polls and passed an initiative, which mandated they get final say on the development agreement.

Next week I’ll go into the details of the proposed deal.