City Council, Staff Reject Planning Commission Updates to Civic Center Way Project

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The long-debated Civic Center Way project, originally initiated in 2016, was once again discussed during the Malibu City Council’s Monday, Feb. 10, meeting. In December, the Malibu Planning Commission added numerous, controversial modifications to the project. On Monday, in an uncommon act, city staff came before the city council to appeal those modifications.

The council voted, 3-0, to adopt the staff’s recommendation, with specific changes. Council Member Skylar Peak was absent, and Council Member Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner left the room in order to avoid a potential conflict-of-interest, given that he owns a property in the area.

Assistant City Attorney Trevor Rusin opened the discussion by commenting on the unusual nature of the appeal.

“This is something we don’t typically see,” Rusin said. “This is a city project that has been appealed by the city to the city council on the planning commission’s decision.”

Contract Planner Lilly Rudolph described the six conditions being appealed.

The first item appealed regarded the proposed safety fence from Stuart Ranch Road and Webb Way to the Malibu Canyon Village Condominiums.

“The proposed fence would have a 15-inch gap between the lowest railing and the ground to be wildlife permeable and cables are provided in between the rails,” Rudolph said. 

The planning commission’s modification required the wires to be removed from the fence and, instead, a different type of material used. 

The second item appealed regarded the retaining wall texture and vegetative cover proposed by the planning commission. The commission had required a rock wall covering and 50 percent vegetation cover on the wall. The retaining wall proposed by city staff would have a “wood plank texture” and “Yosemite brown color,” according to Rudolph.

The third appeal concerned the relocation of a streetlight by approximately five feet, and the requirement that the streetlight have dark-sky-compliant features. The item appealed required the removal of safety cable railing on top of the retaining wall. A fifth appeal concerned keeping the Class III bike lanes in the plan—the planning commission had required a condition changing them to Class II bike lanes. Class III bike lanes share the road with cars, while Class II bike lanes are separate lanes dedicated to cyclists.

The last appeal item concerned sidewalk materials—the planning commission had required decomposed granite (DG), but city staff recommend porous concrete. 

Planning commissioners Kraig Hill and John Mazza presented the planning commission’s perspectives on the modifications during public comment, arguing council should not alter the decisions made by planning.

“The planning commission made a binding decision,” Hill said. 

The planning commission’s decisions should not be overturned, except where they are “clearly incorrect,” according to Hill. 

Hill focused specifically on the importance of using DG instead of concrete for sidewalks. He said the maintenance of DG pathways was “the big deal” that Malibu residents cared about. DG pathways maintain Malibu’s “rural sense,” according to Hill.

“This is the moment we decide to be more like Ojai or Carmel and less like Costa Mesa or Irvine,” Hill said. 

Commissioner John Mazza said the planning commission tried to follow the city’s general plan for the rural nature of Malibu. The designers of the Civic Center Way project “totally ignored” the general plan when designing this project, Mazza alleged.

“What the planning commission tried to do was soften it, make it more rural. They did nothing radical,” Mazza said.

Malibu resident Paul Grisanti said he was “a little bit distressed” by the direction this project took when it was heard by the planning commission.

“[The planning commission] spent over four hours in the most horrible dog’s mess of a meeting that you ever could see,” Grisanti said. 

Grisanti called the commission’s Dec. 2 meeting “ridiculous.” 

Funding for the project comes from LA County Measure R funds, a transportation bond passed in 2008. According to Public Works Director Rob DuBoux, $2.1 million of the project funds are set to lapse in June 2020.

“So if we don’t get going doing something, at least showing Metro that we’re making some progress moving forward, there’s a chance that we won’t get an extension on this,” DuBoux said.

If the city can show it is moving forward with the project—through construction contracts, for example—those extensions are easier to get, DuBoux said.

Mayor Pro Tem Mikke Pierson—himself a veteran of the planning commission before being elected to city council—said he was not in favor of sending the project back to the commission, and that it was time for city council to figure it out.

“It feels like this project spun a little out of control, for sure,” Pierson said.

Mayor Karen Farrer said this project was heard six times already, and she said she was not sure how all these changes were added last-minute.

The three council members present—Mullen, Farrer and Pierson—voted to approve the staff’s recommendation, with specific changes. The first change pertained to the first appeal and included allowing materials like “Trex”—a composite material marketed as an alternative to wood and vinyl—to be used for the safety fence. Other changes that responded to the appeals included removing wires on the fence and instead using wider rails, a dark-sky-compliant streetlight, if feasible, and using porous concrete for the sidewalks. 

The council also voted to bring back the following items on a future agenda: potential bike lane expansions, a traffic study and expanding dark-sky streetlights in the city, exploring vegetation options for the retaining wall and lowering the nearby speed limit.

Planning staff would explore vegetation options for the retaining wall on an administrative level, which would not come back to council, according to Planning Director Bonnie Blue.