The campaign season dust has settled, and development in Malibu is about to get much more interesting.
Nearly 60 percent of Malibu voters who took to the polls approved Measure R, a new ordinance that will regulate the percentage of chain stores allowed in shopping centers. It also provides a new dawn for local democracy, with voters now granted the right to approve or shoot down any new commercial development measuring over 20,000 square feet.
Malibu now becomes part of a handful of coastal towns in California that allow residents to take a stance on major developments, including Del Mar and Encinitas.
Victory was grand, proponents Rob and Michele Reiner said.
“[The] election result is a major victory for the residents of Malibu, all of whom now have a stronger voice over the future of our community. Measure R will help preserve the unique character of Malibu and combat increased traffic and the destruction of open spaces by giving voters a say on the 1.5 million square feet of commercial development currently planned in the heart of the city and on future development plans,” Rob Reiner said.
They were joined in their excitement by local grassroots group Preserve Malibu, which has been pushing for more regulation since 2011 when members fought to keep Sea Lily and the Trancas Canyon Nursery open at the Trancas Country Market.
“The people of Malibu have loudly spoken,” the group said on its Facebook page after results were finalized.
Whole Foods in the Park developer Steve Soboroff, who funded the campaign against Measure R and memorably debated Reiner at City Hall, did not issue a statement reacting to the results, but extended congratulations to the Reiners via email.
On Monday, Soboroff told The Malibu Times he will continue working to get his development built.
“Everybody wants Whole Foods, and they’ve seen our site plan and floor plans,” Soboroff said, “and our plans to build two parks as part of it.”
He added that he was unsure how Measure R might impact his timeline, but preparing a specific plan is required under the new measure before a project goes to the voters.
After alluding to potential lawsuits throughout the campaign season, Soboroff said he had no comment on the matter.
But a court date seems inevitable, according to Malibu Bay Company President David Reznick.
“No one should be surprised if one or more legal challenges are filed,” Reznick said.
The Bay Company owns a parcel of land where the Chili Cook-Off is held annually on the northeast corner of Civic Center Way and Stuart Ranch Road. Their 80,000-square-foot project is supposed to house stores, office space, restaurants and a new Malibu Urgent Care facility.
Reznick added that he and other Civic Center landholders are figuring out their next move.
“A number of property owners, including Malibu Bay Company, are evaluating options on how best to proceed,” Reznick said. “Despite the election results, municipal and constitutional lawyers believe Measure R contains legal flaws that threaten the rights of Malibu’s businesses and property owners.”
When and if a lawsuit is filed remains to be seen, but earlier this year City Attorney Christi Hogin said she had no legal qualms with the measure.
“Nothing has changed my mind in terms of the analysis of the legal effect of the measure,” she said Tuesday.
City must now repeal its own formula retail ordinance
Measure R is tentatively scheduled to be read into law during the City Council’s Dec. 8 meeting, according to City Attorney Christi Hogin.
During the same meeting, the council must also repeal the formula retail ordinance it quietly passed in July.
“Measure R covers the same area of regulation,” Hogin said. “[The two ordinances] can’t be reconciled.”
The city’s ordinance only applied to the Civic Center and placed a 3,500-square-foot cap on formula retail stores. It also capped the number of establishments at 45 percent whereas Measure R lowers the cap to 30.
New territory for city planners
With changes to the way the city handles commercial development and issuance of operating permits, Malibu’s city planning department has some studying to do.
City Manager Jim Thorsen said they would do “some initial training” on Measure R, while Planning Manager Bonnie Blue said the department would likely develop a training plan in the near future.
Planning Director Joyce Parker-Bozylinski was not available for comment.