Planners reject "Napa-nization" of Malibu


To make it easier for people to know how to use their property, and to avoid confrontations like the firestorm over Barbra Streisand’s plans to enlarge her home, the Malibu Planning Commission Saturday started finalizing the city’s 6-year-old “Interim” Zoning Ordinance.

In other action, the commission decided to allocate money in the city’s two-year budget to hire planning consultants Crawford, Multari & Clark to draft the final ordinance. Handing the commissioners a booklet and memo on current zoning districts, lot development criteria and permitted standards, Planning Director Craig Ewing said the commission’s decisions on the residential, commercial and institutional zones would be the first step in finalizing the ordinance.

The commissioners took about an hour to refine permission standards for residential neighborhoods. In the process of deciding whether people violate restrictions because they don’t know about them (as Commissioner Charleen Kabrin said) or whether people circumvent the system (as Ewing said), the commissioners found out from local landscape architect Bruce Meeks that homeowners are grading hillsides for vineyards.

In what Vice Chair Ed Lipnick described as rejection of the “Napa-nization of Malibu,” the commissioners noted crops such as grapes may be grown in backyards, subject to neighborhood standards and planning director review.

Commissioners were divided on how much to include in the ordinance.

“One of the advantages of a fuzzy definition is that if you don’t specify it, it becomes a nuisance issue,” said Ewing, referring to whether a boa constrictor or a ferret should be defined as a domestic animal. “Animals continue to be an issue in this town, especially barking dogs, roosters and wild peacocks. We want to be clear what our values are. Whether animals are a nuisance is something we could play with.”

“If it’s left over from county days, then leave it,” said Andrew Stern “I want to be sure you are not taking the country out of the city.”

“That means, we’ll have to come down on every issue,” said Kabrin.

Chairman Ken Kearsley wanted to know how to deal with the issue of vineyards in single-family zones. “Do we want to allow it when the Coastal Act doesn’t?” he asked.

“People come out here for their independence,” said Stern. “I suspect 50 percent will be in violation with the vineyards.”

“Are they destroying environmentally sensitive habitats to do it?” retorted Kearsley.

“It’s already happening, people are grading hillsides and removing coastal vegetation,” said Meeks.

“We are in a conflict,” said Kabrin. “There’s an increasing interest in vineyards. I don’t think anyone realizes you need a coastal permit to do it.”

The commissioners’ conflicts illustrated what two Malibu architects say about the dangers inherent in having politicians without the appropriate education make design and engineering decisions. Ed Niles, who sits on the newly created Architects and Engineers Committee, and Ron Goldman, who served on the task force that created the city’s General Plan, told The Malibu Times the immense amount of discretion ultimately given to the city is a two-edged sword.

“People don’t understand how this ordinance affects their lives,” said Niles. A buyer finds out that he or she can’t do anything without involving property owners within 500-1000 feet who receive notice of property improvement plans. This planning notification is not required in coastal cities like Santa Monica or San Diego, Niles added.

The process obviously has political overtones because it gives the ability to capture the vote of existing landowners rather than new ones, Niles continued. People moved here to be free of restrictions. It’s a problem that should be solved by property owners, not used as a political weapon by government to satisfy those who presently live here, he said.