Citing a need for a locally based road repair and paving service, the Planning Commission last week authorized the Malibu Paving Company to remain at its current location at the Trancas shopping center. In an effort to reassure Malibu West residents who objected to the business’ location, the commission issued an operating permit that is valid for only two years.
The company’s owner, Jim Denson, moved to the Trancas site four years ago without knowing that in doing so, he was violating local zoning laws.
City officials have not zoned any part of Malibu for light industrial activities, and that fact played a large part in the commission’s decision to grant the company the necessary operating permit. The company uses the Trancas location mainly as a storage yard for its trucks and construction materials, which are stored behind a tall fence. Asphalt production is done only at the road repair site.
If the commission had denied the conditional use permit, Denson’s supporters argued, he would be put out of business because he would have no where to move to, and Malibu residents, particularly those living on private roads, would be deprived of an essential service.
Joe Kearns of the homeowners association on private Via Escondido Road said because of road closures during heavy storms, contractors outside Malibu are often not able to get into the city to clean up the debris and rock slides on his street.
“With the number of private roads we have in the area, this is a service business we absolutely have to have access to all year round,” he told the commissioners.
Malibu West residents argued that the business is not suitable for the small shopping center and therefore the commission should be unable to make the necessary findings to support issuance of the permit.
Steve Hotchkiss, speaking on behalf of the Malibu West Board of Directors, said issuing the permit would set a precedent. “You need to look at what the land use policy is for this area,” he said.
Resident Brian Spengel said he did not want Denson going out of business, he just did not want the company located so close to his home.
“He shouldn’t be in business in our little commercial center,” Spengel said. “If you do this, you’re subverting the land use process and making a mockery of the whole system.”
But because the city’s Environmental Review Board had made a number of recommendations to limit the environmental impact of the business, Commissioners Ken Kearsley, Ed Lipnick and Charleen Kabrin voted to issue the permit. Those recommendations include protecting heritage sycamore trees near the storage yard and building a berm to prevent runoff into Trancas Creek. The commission also added a condition requiring that the two-year permit lapse if the site is abandoned for 10 days.
Kearsley called it a classic NIMBY case, and he conceded he would probably not want the business near his backyard either. But, he said, Malibu West residents should be more concerned about the development potential for the Trancas shopping center, which is owned by the Malibu Bay Company.
“You’re going to have a 900-pound gorilla in your backyard in the future with that zoning,” he said. “This is the lowest economic use of that land. I’m sure Malibu Bay Company would like to put something in with a higher yield per square foot.”
Seeing a broader issue, Kabrin said other light industrial services do not have a place to locate in the city either, and she said city officials needed to solve that problem.
“I think that there needs to be a better search to see if we can find a better location for like kinds of light industrial uses,” she said.
Vice Chair Andrew Stern, who spoke after the three commissioners had indicated their support for issuing the permit, said that as a lawyer he could not make the necessary findings for the permit and he voted to deny it.
Chair Jo Ruggles, on Kearsley’s suggestion, recused herself from the discussion because she recently bought a home in Malibu West.
The conditional use permit was issued to the landowners, the Bay Company, rather than to Denson, the tenant. Although it is scheduled to lapse in two years, Planning Director Craig Ewing said the commission at that time could vote to extend it.
Pat Healy, speaking for Malibu West homeowners, cautioned the commissioners that temporary permits have a way of becoming permanent ones.
“We all know once a conditional use permit is given, it is very, very hard to have it revoked,” she said. “We’ve seen it over and over again.”