Trancas Country Market still on hold

It was standing room only at the Planning Commission meeting July 21, where a hearing took place on the Trancas Country Market development. Supporters wore hats that bore the name of the market, opponents wore T-shirts that read "Keep the Country Country." The commission postponed decisions on the project until its next meeting. Photo by Sherene Tagharobi / TMT

Although developer Dan Bercu had agreed to reduce his Trancas Country Market planned development by more than 15,000 square feet, many local area residents remain opposed to expansion.

By Sherene Tagharobi / Special to The Malibu Times

An estimated 160 Malibu residents packed the Malibu City Hall Senior Center last week for the hearing on the Trancas Country Market development, loudly and visibly voicing support or opposition to the project. Following the five-hour-long, highly anticipated meeting, the Planning Commission decided last Tuesday to continue discussion of the proposed development at the HOWS shopping center to its next hearing, Aug. 4, when staff will come back with a resolution approving certain limitations on the project.

Malibu resident and Trancas Country Market owner Dan Bercu had intended to add five buildings (totaling 37,372 square feet) to the 14-acre shopping center, a new public parking lot north of HOWS supermarket, a new employee parking lot north of Chevron gas station on the west side of Trancas Canyon Road, and a new 11,000-square-foot shopping center to be built on the former Riders and Ropers 6.44-acre property located east of Trancas Creek.

But a zoning inconsistency and lack of support from the community forced Bercu to withdraw plans to develop the Riders and Ropers site, decreasing the project’s potential area to 22,000 square feet. Still, many remain vehemently opposed to expansion.

During the meeting, people were sitting and standing anywhere they could, including outside and in the hallways. Malibu teens clad in T-shirts that read “Don’t Cross Creek Trancas” on one side and “Keep the Country Country” on the other showed strength in numbers, taking up several rows of seats at the hearing.

But equally uniform and numerous were those in favor of the project, mostly Malibu parents clad in beige hats that read “Trancas Country Market.”

Opponents say the project is too big and would cause environmental damage, destroying the area’s peaceful existence. Supporters say that having local restaurants and shops would save them the long-and environmentally degrading (because of gas emissions)-trips to the Valley or Santa Monica or other areas.

In creating a place were residents would be able to walk across the street from Broad Beach to have breakfast or dinner at the Trancas Country Mart, or even “ride across the dry creek bed” from Malibu Park, and “tie up under the old sycamore trees” to have a picnic or take a yoga class, Bercu said at the meeting, “without having to drive an hour in many directions …. we are attempting to … create an extension of your home.”

Bercu said he has two signed leases with what would be two new, locally owned restaurants: one with the Malibu Diner, and another with La Spiaggia, an Italian restaurant owned by the same restaurateur of Tra di Noi at the Malibu Country Mart.

Bercu said he has also had conversations with other existing local businesses about either relocating to the Trancas Country Market or opening up a second Malibu store there.

He also stressed that his current tenants’ leases will continue to be honored. Some of them spoke in favor of the project, including Joey Escobar, who owns the karate studio at the HOWS Shopping Center.

“When I looked at the plans, I saw my dream karate school,” said Escobar, who’s lived in Malibu for 40 years.

Most of the project opponents said they were concerned the Trancas Country Market would create more traffic and waste, jeopardizing the environment, public safety and the Malibu way of life.

“The legal requirement for an EIR (environmental impact report) here is obvious,” Hans Laetz wrote in a post-hearing e-mail. “The Malibu West and Surfside Way homeowners have more than raised the fair argument that the project will degrade the local environment.”

Bercu is convinced opponents will find any reason to prolong the process. “We’ve done what the city’s told us to do,” he said in a phone interview. “They did not request an EIR. We did a Mitigated Negative Declaration, which took two to three years. It’s 564 pages long. I don’t know what other studies they could possibly want since we’re not developing anything on the east parcel.

“The EIR request is just political, not environmental,” he continued. “They’re trying to run out the clock until April when seats are up for city council.”

EIR or not, many Malibu residents are opposed to any and all development.

“There’s a natural creek that goes through Cross Creek that attracts trash and all this crap that goes out into the ocean and makes Surfrider (Beach) have a great ‘F,’” said Garrett Eamer, who surfs at Malibu West every day, “and look at Zuma Beach without this (development), and it’s an ‘A.’ There’s no point of destroying that.”

But supporters said change is necessary, calling the existing landscape “an eyesore” and “an unofficial day labor camp.”

One recurring rebuttal to claims from opponents that development would be harmful to the environment was the argument that constantly driving long distances to access basic goods and services isn’t environmentally friendly, either.