In a stunning move that emptied nearly 100 people from Malibu’s City Council chambers, the Planning Commission last week refused to rehear an application, originally heard in January, to build the La Paz office and shopping complex in the Civic Center area.
In a 3-2 vote, commissioners Regan Schaar and John Mazza agreed with the motion proposed by Planning Commission Chair Joan House, who attended the meeting by teleconference, to remove the project’s public hearing from the agenda.
Commissioners Ed Gillespie and Jeff Jennings voted against the removal, citing, respectively, the unfairness of the last-minute agenda change and the potential for legal action against the city.
There are two versions of the La Paz proposal for restaurant and office buildings on the 15-acre property located on Civic Center Way between Papa Jack’s State Park and the Malibu Library.
The larger option (132,000 square feet), which involves a development agreement, would require an amendment to the city’s Local Coastal Program and would need the California Coastal Commission’s blessing, while the smaller project (99,000 square feet) would not, unless it were appealed. As part of the development agreement, La Paz has offered to donate 2.3 acres of land and $500,000 to Malibu to build a city hall.
“This is not a new project,” House said in making her motion at the beginning of the meeting. “Staff says the changes proposed to the projects are relatively minor and would not result in any new significant environmental impacts.”
The Planning Commission in January recommended that the City Council reject the larger project and approve the smaller one. The proposal returned to the commission because the developer recently submitted a new wastewater disposal plan. The council is expected to hear the project on Sept. 22.
The commission’s refusal to rehear the application, against the advice of Assistant City Attorney Gregg Kovacevich, stems from certain comments in the staff report for the Aug. 5 meeting.
The report stated that while a new onsite wastewater treatment system is “materially different than the previously reviewed” system described in the Draft Environmental Impact Report [EIR], the changes were not sufficient enough to warrant recirculation of the EIR. Yet, the new system was “still a project change and modification to the EIR that the Planning Commission has not reviewed.”
“New information requires public discussion,” Planning Manager Stacey Rice said at last week’s meeting.
When asked by Jennings [who, as mayor during the March City Council meeting, wanted the proposals to be heard] about consequence from kicking the matter back to the City Council, Kovacevich said, “You can’t just decide you don’t want to do your job. The recommendation for the 0.15 FAR [less dense floor area ratio, floor-to-land size ratio] came with a long list of issues that have to be addressed. This is an opportunity for the commission to weigh in.”
“This is our third meeting [on the project],” Schaar retorted. “As an advisory body we have already voted. The RWQCB [Regional Water Quality Control Board] will not look at the project until the City Council approves it. What concerns me is that [a new hearing] would set a new precedent for someone who doesn’t like our prior vote. Savvy builders will do that. It’s time for us to move on.”
Speaking directly to representatives of the Chicago-based property owners, Jennings asked, “Do you foresee any legal problem, any legal impediment, if we do not decide?”
“My clients went to significant expense to address the concerns of the commission,” Don Schmitz of Schmitz & Associates, Inc., the land use consultant for property owner Malibu La Paz Ranch, LLC, heatedly responded. “There have been major, substantial changes to the wastewater treatment system. We’ve redesigned the back of the project to address concerns of the Gustavsons [who live next door to the project]. “We have been following [state laws]. I am shocked that we have been squelched. I have never experienced trying to be shut down like this in 20 years.”
Stanley Lamport, attorney for the Chicago-based project owners, said, “The Coastal Commission might say that the new design had not been reviewed by the Planning Commission and that’s the only way it should go before the city council.”
“The city council didn’t send it back to us, the staff sent it to us,” Mazza, who was not a commissioner in January but who, as a representative of the Malibu Township Council, urged the commission not to recommend either project, said.
“It’s unfair at the last moment to shut them off,” Gillespie, who was recently appointed to the commission, said. “I’m for fairness. I’m not sure about the project.”
Responding to Gillespie’s question on whether the city council could consider both proposals with the commission’s previous recommendations, Assistant City Attorney Kovacevich said the issue of whether the study of the new system is adequate for the California Environmental Quality Act is a gray area.
“There’s an argument to be made on both sides, but you possibly create an exposure for the city,” Kovacevich said. “I will not elaborate on why. I recommend that you hear the projects on its merits tonight and forward it to the city council.”
Planning commission action Aug. 5
€ Voted 4-1, Commissioner Jennings dissenting, to approve demolition of the Prudential Realty office building on Pacific Coast Highway near Zumirez Drive and replace it with a larger one.
While Jennings joined other commissioners in praising the landscaping efforts of Malibu Green Machine and neighboring property owners, he said the law on variances for such a small lot should be changed.
€ Approved conditional use permit for upcoming Chili Cook-Off
€ Directed staff to place an item on a future agenda requesting that the city council address issues with water and infrastructure in the Civic Center area. The issue came up during public comment when Malibu developer Norman Haynie said he had asked the public safety and public works commission to pressure the city to buttress the slopes of Pacific Coast Highway near Las Tunas Beach before they collapse and destroy the city’s water main and utility lines. “This is an emergency,” Haynie said. “The city should be proactive.”