Trancas shopping center construction hits delays

Construction may drag on at Trancas through mid-2013. Jimy Tallal / TMT

However, 7.4 acres of adjacent Trancas Lagoon will be donated to the National Park Service.

By Jimy Tallal / Special to The Malibu Times

The Trancas Country Market shopping center, which has been undergoing renovations and expansion for more than a year, is not expected to reopen until at least March 2013—and maybe not until summer 2013 when the center’s largest tenant, Erewhon Natural Foods, is expected to move in. When the project began, construction company B. L. Price estimated it would take 14 months to complete, meaning the center’s projected reopening date was October 2012. But a number of issues have contributed to push that date back.

The construction company recently put up road signs warning that Trancas Canyon Rd. near PCH will be under construction from Sept. 10 until Nov. 1 and to “expect delays.” The construction will affect the ability of residents in Malibu West and Trancas Highlands to leave and return home, which has some there both irked and concerned: The construction could block the only way in and out of those neighborhoods as fire season kicks into high gear.

To ensure that fire trucks have a way of getting through to residences in the event of a fire evacuation, the Malibu West HOA (homeowner’s association) has been negotiating with the City of Malibu and the construction company for a fire lane easement.

Steve Rucker, President of the Malibu West HOA, said, “Malibu West is in a continuing negotiation with the Trancas Country Mart to reach an agreement for an easement that was granted to Malibu West by the City of Malibu. We are hopeful that an agreement will be reached soon, and at that point we’ll be able to share the specifics.”

An additional delay to completing the center on time is the issue of the MTA bus turnaround. The Trancas Canyon Rd./PCH intersection is the end of the line for metro bus service from Los Angeles. For decades, buses have used the shopping center’s parking lot to turn around before heading back to LA.

Hans Laetz, a local resident and activist, said shopping center representative Steve Rozier told him in June that the biggest problem they still faced in renovating the shopping area was the MTA bus turnaround.

“The buses turn around where the new electrical transformers for the entire center are supposed to be housed,” Laetz said. “The city, MTA and Coastal [Commission] will not allow that bus turnaround to be eliminated without replacing it…There is no place else anywhere west of the Civic Center where buses can make a U-turn.”

Contractually, MTA buses cannot go behind the grocery store to turn around.

Several years ago, Laetz sued the owners of the center and also filed an appeal with the California Coastal Commission over the remodeling and expansion project. He said his primary objective was to save the Trancas Lagoon—the 7.4 acres of undeveloped land around Trancas Creek—from becoming part of the expanded shopping center. He dropped his lawsuit as well as his appeal to the Coastal Commission in 2010 in exchange for the owners agreeing to transfer the lagoon acreage to a park agency, as well as design and build a right-hand turn lane from the PCH bridge over Trancas Creek up to the intersection of PCH and Trancas Canyon Rd.

Rozier told Laetz in June that the right turn lane had been designed and was awaiting Caltrans approval, Laetz said.

Meanwhile, the National Park Service is in the process of acquiring the Trancas Lagoon area as stipulated in Laetz’s deal. Rosi Dagit, a biologist with the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains, said the owners of the Country Mart, Zuma Beach LLC, are working with the NPS on a conservation easement for acreage east of the creek and some land west of the creek.

Dagit added that her group, the Resource Conservation District, is also working with Zuma Beach LLC and NPS on a grant proposal for a feasibility study that would be a preliminary step toward restoring the lagoon. The grant application is being reviewed by the Fisheries Restoration Grant Program, which will make a decision by March 2013.

“Zuma Beach LLC has already contributed a significant amount of money toward [the feasibility study],” Dagit said. “We just got a check for $81,000 from them on Friday. When you submit the grant, you have to show you have matching funds and partners.”

If approved, the feasibility study will analyze the hydrology and geomorphology of the lagoon area as well as the potential recreational elements. “It’s technical, but also very much about providing the information to the community,” Dagit said. “It will look at integrating the lagoon into the rest of the area in terms of trails, native vegetation, how big the actual lagoon should be, etc. It’s doing the homework for the eventual lagoon plan.”

The expansion and renovation project will add 25,728 square feet of commercial space to the existing 27,695 square foot shopping center; a new parking lot north of the Chevron gas station; a new public parking lot; and an on-site alternative wastewater treatment system.