What’s wrong with a little help?

Members of Malibu’s business community say they’re offended and even outraged over the debate surrounding a proposed $24,000 grant from Los Angeles County to fund an economic study. The Malibu City Council will soon vote on whether to accept the grant, after the Administration and Finance Subcommittee voted against it.

“I’m angry. We’ve had a terrible year,” said Jannis Swerman, general manager of Granita. Swerman said Granita’s business traffic was down 45 percent this Labor Day weekend. “I really wish that the Malibu government were interested in hearing what the businesses have to say,” said Swerman. “I wish they were interested in hearing our voices in this matter.”

“It’s free money from the county,” said Tony Lardas, whose family owns and operates McDonald’s in Malibu. “Anytime you can get free money to do an economic study, why not take it? What are they afraid of? All it is is a study. You don’t have to do anything.”

Lardas compared the economic study to preventative medicine. “It’s kind of like when you go to the doctor and he tells you you’re 20 pounds overweight. You’d better start exercising or you’re going to have a heart attack.”

“It’s hard for us to understand when a $24,000 grant is given, how you can just turn it down,” said Jeff Peterson, general manager of Geoffrey’s. “It gives us the power of knowledge. We need knowledge to make informed decisions. When you have a business, you should have a business plan.”

Peterson said an economic plan would give people a better understanding of Malibu and its potential. “There are people with different desires and views of what Malibu should be. It [the economic study] seems like the perfect opportunity for a little objectivity.”

When pointing out that Malibu’s tax revenue was down 11.8 percent the first quarter of the year, Swerman said, “You’d think somebody would be interested in this.”

Swerman said she is also affronted by the notion that Malibu business is too dependent upon tourists. “To say the reason these businesses are failing because we’re relying on the tourist trade is offending. It’s really offending. We rely on people who are part of the Los Angeles community. They aren’t tourists. It’s not people who are coming from France or Italy or New York City. That’s a very small percentage. It’s our local trade from adjacent communities, those people support our community. They shouldn’t be punished and not allowed to use our services because they don’t live here. This is America, isn’t it?

“If it [business] were solely from residents, most of these businesses would fail. People would have to go to Santa Monica to do their shopping,” Swerman added.

Swerman said she’s making phone calls, writing letters and talking to residents and voters who frequent the restaurant and encouraging them to get involved in the city’s business issues. From her office at Granita, she has formed a small committee for support. “I’m being really vocal about it, and I’m trying to get the community to get more involved in it instead of feeling that there’s not really anything we can do,” she said. “Eventually, I’m hoping someone will listen.”

The grant issue is expected to appear on a council agenda late this month and there seems to be some initial interest.

“I think an economic plan is just as necessary for a new city as is a general plan,” said CouncilmanTom Hasse. “An economic plan is not a development plan.”

Hasse said an economic study would present the City Council with a variety of options that could improve the city’s economy. “In the end, the City Council makes the decision about which options it will pursue.” Among the possible options, Hasse said an economic study could help determine the types of businesses residents want and help the city to attract them.

“I would hate not to at least go forward with the plan,” said Hasse, who said a serious analysis of the city’s financial situation would be a plus. “Business does not necessarily equal development. Supporting the existing business community in no way means you’re pro development.”

“I believe a portion of that money could be used to fund the pier study,” said Councilman Harry Barovsky. “And we have to find ways to improve business conditions for our local businesses. They’ve been hurt severely because of the road closures, and maybe these funds can help us explore methods to improve their business. It will be an interesting debate at the City Council level.”

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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