Council Seeks Middle Road in Civic Center Dispute

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Mayor Joan House speaks during Monday's City Council meeting.

Facing pressure from both business interests and community activists after passing temporary one-year restrictions on chain stores in the Civic Center Monday, the Malibu City Council directed staff to begin work on a specific plan and a set of design guidelines for Malibu’s commercial center. 

Council members said they hoped the moves would make the proposed formula retail ordinance unnecessary by satisfying both sides of the community dispute. 

In order to coincide with the expiration of the chain store restrictions, Council members set a tight 12-month deadline to complete the design guidelines, which would set standards for architectural, street, lighting, parking and other elements in the area. But staff questioned whether that timeframe was realistic. 

“It’s a long process to get things through,” Planning Director Joyce Parker-Bozylinski told the council. Staff needed to gain approval from a finance subcommittee to pay for consulting fees, solicit bids from consultants and interview them, bring a contract to the City Council for approval and hold several public input meetings along the way. 

“Getting a consultant is the part I was thinking could take just a few months to do that alone,” she said after the meeting. 

However, council members felt that the shortened timetable would be helpful. 

“If we leave it at 12 months it would put a little pressure on getting this thing done,” said Councilman Lou La Monte. 

The second part of the directive, a design plan, promises to be much more detailed and take far longer: three years, according to a city staff report. 

“A specific plan must specify in detail the land uses, public and private facilities needed to support the land uses, phasing of development, standards for the conservation, development, and use of natural resources, and a program of implementation measures, including financing measures,” staff wrote. An environmental impact report (EIR) would be required for the specific plan, while implementing design guidelines would not require an EIR. 

Design standards and a specific plan would render a chain store ordinance obsolete, according to council members, and help appease community members who believe “mom and pop” shops face too many challenges as Malibu becomes a high-end shopping destination for tourists. 

“What’s become clearer and clearer … is the least important part is the formula retail ordinance. The most important part is the design standards and the specific plan,” said Councilman John Sibert. 

Preparation of both items is expected to cost upwards of $650,000. 

“In the long run, it’s money well spent and our city deserves a good plan,” Mayor Joan House said. 

Councilwoman Laura Rosenthal called pursuit of design standards and a specific plan “a win” because both the grassroots group Preserve Malibu and Civic Center developers advocated for the initiatives in the past. 

“I think it’s something everybody agreed on,” she said. 

David Waite, an attorney representing Civic Center landowners and developers, supported both initiatives. 

“We’ve always supported this… in lieu of a formula retail ordinance,” Waite told the council. 

But members of Preserve Malibu refuted Rosenthal’s claim. 

“Any suggestion that the group Preserve Malibu pushed this council for any sort of a specific plan is a complete fabrication,” the group said in a statement to The Malibu Times.