Council cuts theater seats by almost half

Preliminary design plans for the new city hall, which will reduce the amount of seats in the performing arts theater from 412 to between 230 and 320.

The decision dismays many local performing arts enthusiasts, who say the decision ignores the value of a state-of-the-art performing center and theater in Malibu.

By Jonathan Friedman / Special to The Malibu Times

There will be a place for performances at the new Malibu City Hall, but the number of seats will be greatly reduced, to the disappointment of some concert enthusiasts. The Malibu City Council at a special meeting on Tuesday morning approved a remodel concept for the future city hall at the site of the former Malibu Performing Arts Center, or MPAC.

The number of seats in the 8,900-square-foot performance room, which will also serve as council chambers, will be reduced from the current 412 seats (which has been increased to more than 500 when temporary seats are used) to between 230 and 320 seats, depending on the size of the stage being used.

“It’s still a recording studio … and it can still be used as a performance venue,” Mayor Sharon Barovsky said. “You’re just not going to have quite as many seats.”

Several speakers bashed the council for sizing down the seating area. They said city leaders were harming a venue that has been used by world-famous artists such as Tom Petty and Barbra Streisand for concerts, and recording sessions to allow for more government uses.

Malibu resident Robert Kerbeck said, “I, as a taxpayer, feel a little bit duped,” because the city noted the building as a performance center in a June press release that announced the $15 million municipal purchase of the 35,000-square-foot facility.

“Who is driving this ship? Is it the taxpayers or is it the city staff that wants a nice, fancier city hall?” Kerbeck asked.

Gardia Fox said she had a petition with more than 1,300 signatures demanding the number of seats not be reduced. She read from several letters that she said she had received from people supporting the petition.

“It would be a crime to remove the seats at the performing arts center,” Fox read from one letter. “I have attended many events and the seating is always full. What a blessing it is for us to have this space. Removal of any seating undermines our coming together as a community. Any seat removed is one more person excluded.”

But Councilmember John Sibert said the building was purchased to create a city hall. And, he said, that must be the first priority for the redesign of the structure.

“If we can retain 320 seats for various venues and find a way to make sure that we have chamber music groups or things like that in there, great,” Sibert said. “If it can be used for recording and generate some revenue, great. But that’s all secondary. It has to be a city hall first.”

Other features of the building will include a 1,300-square-foot senior center, a 1,300-square-foot multi-purpose room, a 140-square-foot office for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and a 475-square-foot meeting room. The teen center, which had earlier been proposed for this building, is slated to go into the current city hall building, located adjacent to the new facility.