Council Hopes to Pass Temporary Chain Ordinance

Faced with an impending grassroots ballot initiative that could trump a city ordinance in a special election, the City Council on Monday forged ahead on a 4-1 vote to pursue temporary regulations on chain stores in Malibu’s Civic Center. 

The council also voted unanimously (5-0) to begin drafting design guidelines and a land use/ specific plan for the Civic Center, a process expected to last at least a year, if not more. Officials hope implementing the standards down the line will eliminate the need in Malibu for chain store regulations, otherwise referred to as a formula retail ordinance. 

“The purpose of this [ordinance] is to have something in place [temporarily] … so that when design standards are put in place, this [ordinance] will no longer be necessary,” said Councilwoman Laura Rosenthal. 

The council vote came just hours after the Preserve Malibu Coalition announced in an email that it had begun legwork on a ballot to “protect our community from damaging and destructive developments that are of no value to our community and its residents.” Details of the group’s potential initiative remain vague, but it is expected the group will seek far-reaching regulations that apply across Malibu and not just the Civic Center. 

In City Hall, Councilman Lou La Monte had strong words for the group. 

“If they want to write an ordinance that’s going to supersede anything we’re doing here… and want to take what they consider is a shortcut, then God bless them,” La Monte said. 

Members of Preserve Malibu were noticeably absent from the meeting in an apparent boycott. The group has said it hopes to get the initiative onto a special ballot as soon as possible—before the November 2014 election. 

“Given our council’s inability to act in our community’s best interest, we will now go to the voters and ask them to enact a reasonable and impactful retail ordinance capable of preserving the unique character of our community,” the group said in a statement to The Malibu Times

The idea of a formula retail ordinance has come from those in Malibu who are unhappy with the disappearance of locally owned “mom and pop” businesses and an influx of high-end clothing stores and other national retailers, especially in the Civic Center. 

The council’s pursuit of a temporary 12-month ordinance cannot impede Preserve Malibu’s efforts to draft tougher regulations, according to City Attorney Christi Hogin. 

“The voters have the same authority and also the same limitations as the City Council in exercising the legislative powers. By initiative, the voters may change or repeal an existing law or enact a new one,” Hogin confirmed to The Malibu Times

Ordinance dramatically modified 

The latest version of the City Council’s proposed law is starkly different from prior versions, with the council on Monday choosing to eliminate several provisions, modify a percentage cap on the number of stores that can occupy tenant spaces in the five shopping centers in Malibu’s Civic Center and set a “sunset” date for the ordinance to expire after 12 months. 

Gone is a requirement for chain stores to obtain conditional use permits from the city before opening a store. Officials also removed a 3,500-square-foot limit for new chain stores and placed a 45 percent cap on the amount of formula retail uses within a shopping center (grocery, real estate, movie theaters and several other types of businesses are exempted from the ordinance). A formula business is defined as having 10 or more stores in the U.S. Urban Outfitters, as an example, would be considered a formula business. 

Mayor Pro Tem Skylar Peak cast the lone dissenting vote against the temporary idea, arguing the regulations were too weak. 

“It needs more teeth in it,” he said. 

Shopping center owners unhappy 

A small contingent of shopping center owners and attorneys reiterated their frustration with any level of regulation, including a temporary ordinance. 

“We’re disappointed by the decision tonight… we have to evaluate what the impact would be [of a temporary ordinance],” said attorney David Waite, who represents shopping center owners from the Malibu Country Mart, Malibu Village and Malibu Lumber Yard. 

After the meeting, Waite said he and his clients would likely campaign against Preserve Malibu’s initiative “if it’s illegal.” The group Waite represents has argued that formula retail ordinances discriminate against big businesses and violate the Federal Constitution’s interstate commerce clause. 

Ordinance not yet passed 

The temporary proposal has to be brought back once again at a later meeting for final reading and tentative passage. Hogin said the ordinance might even have to be sent back to the Planning Commission if the proposed modifications are judged to be outside the scope of the previous draft of the ordinance, which the commission recommended against in July. 

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

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