Local files second appeal on Trancas market project

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The appeal contains the same allegations of the first one, which was dismissed by a Superior Court judge earlier this year.

By Olivia Damavandi / Assistant Editor

A local journalist and community activist last month filed his second appeal against the Trancas Country Market project, challenging the Malibu City Council?s approval of the shopping center expansion in January.

Hans Laetz, who has written for local papers including The Malibu Times and the Ventura County Star, (he has not written for this publication since 2006) has cited 14 alleged violations of state law by the city in the appeal.

The appeal is under review by the California Coastal Commission, which will hold a hearing on the matter no sooner than April, according to Laetz and commission staff.

Laetz cited those same violations in his lawsuit challenging the Malibu Planning Commission?s approval of the project last year. But the suit was dismissed in January of this year by the Los Angeles Superior Court due to “lack of legal sufficiency,” and because the council had not yet approved the project.

Laetz in a phone interview Monday said his decision to file a second lawsuit against the project is pending on the outcome of the Coastal Commission?s review of the appeal.

“But I don?t think I?m going to have to file another lawsuit because I think Coastal’s going to kill it [the project],” Laetz said. “The Coastal Commission staff has to determine whether they think there?s a substantial issue that I?ve raised. I?m pretty confident I?ve raised about 20.”

The long road of approval for the expansion of Trancas Country Market, located at the intersection of Trancas Canyon Road and Pacific Coast Highway, has been a contentious one, with supporters and opponents arguing over size limitations, parking, emergency access and environmental concerns, in addition to the noise and traffic mitigation. A separate appeal against the project was filed by the Malibu West Homeowners Association, located adjacent to the shopping center. But the council upon its approval of the development denied that appeal.

Described by owner/developer Dan Bercu as “a shopping center created by locals, for locals,” the 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 north of HOW’S supermarket; and an on-site alternative wastewater treatment system.

Among the allegations made by Laetz is that more extensive analysis is required to determine the environmental impacts of the nearly 26,000-square-foot expansion, especially on the adjacent Trancas Lagoon. Laetz, in the appeal, claims that an environmental impact statement, or EIS, is needed. An environmental impact report, or an EIR, is the highest form of analysis done for major developments in this state. A mitigated negative declaration, or MND, which involves less analysis than an EIR, was done for the project. Laetz called the MND ?inadequate.?

?The [city council and planning commission] saw a wonderful shopping center plan that would give west Malibu a community focus and delightful retail experience. The problem is it’s too damn big,” Laetz said.

Bercu noted that the project was voluntarily scaled down last year, when an 11,000-square-foot stand-alone building was eliminated from the development plans in response to a fury of public concerns.

The resolution adopted by the council includes conditional use permits for two new restaurants, La Spiagga, an Italian restaurant run by the same restaurateur who operates Tra di Noi, and Malibu Diner. The project application also includes a proposal to enhance Trancas Creek by replanting native vegetation along its banks.