As you may recall, recently a group of citizens, led by Rob and Michele Reiner and others, circulated a petition to move the long-stalled chain store ordinance toward the ballot box. They circulated a petition and 2,300 people signed it, far more than the 1,400 needed to put it on the ballot. After the County Registrar verified they were valid signatures, the next step was to send it back to City Council for a decision of sorts.
It’s probably no surprise that the voters came up with a petition to force this issue to the ballot, since City Council kind of fiddled around with the issue for a couple of years until it became apparent that they weren’t terribly eager to come to grips with the problems of commercial growth and the invasion of national chains. Part of the Council’s reluctance was simply prudence.They surmised that this might very well end up in extended litigation, which is both expensive and time-consuming. What they hadn’t counted on is that many citizens of Malibu were very unhappy with the changes going on in the city. Many citizens didn’t seem to think that turning Malibu into a shopping destination for the benefit of some high-end shoppers was such a good idea, particularly when the citizens of Malibu were paying for it with increased traffic congestion, higher policing costs, parking problems and increased city maintenance costs.
Next Monday, Malibu’s City Council is going to have to make choices: adopt the ordinance, without changes, or not, and then put it on the ballot, either for Nov. 4, 2014, or push it off to the next city election on April 12, 2016. The process is actually more involved, but those are essentially the choices.
Recently, City Council did what city councils do when they are faced with a decision they really don’t want to make: they sent it out for a detailed staff report to evaluate all the impacts. They got back a document describing the legal impacts, a fact-check of the petition, a report on its consistency with the General Plan and land use impacts, and a financial and fiscal analysis. The staff reports for the first three have already come in and the last part is coming. You might say that the staff report is a 103-page smorgasbord, with something for everyone to like and something for everyone to hate, but no real commanding direction. It can’t help make a decision for us because what’s involved is not a question of what the staff thinks, or what the consultants think. The issue ultimately to be decided is: what do the voters of Malibu think? What do we want our town to be? And what don’t we want it to be?
I have friends that think the Reiner initiative is a terrible idea. They believe it will sink us into litigation and they insist many of the new people like the way the town is changing. They like these stores, they shop in these stores and their women are all size four or smaller and their children are all well above average. And it’s only the old-timers (meaning me and others, and that’s not the actual word they used) are stuck in our ways and opposed to change. They also see the new construction coming as a sign of a vibrant community, changing, growing, inviting to young families who are filled with optimism.
I have other friends who are less sanguine about the future, particularly in the Civic Center. They see a flood of visitors and little parking; they see this as thrusting additional financial demands on the city, all for the benefit of a few landowners in the Civic Center area. They see the center owners and many of their tenants giving very little back to the community, and they’re very unhappy about it. They know that recently the Malibu Village Shopping Center sold for $120 million, which is substantially more than it was only a few years ago. That means that the value of real estate in the Civic Center is skyrocketing, which always means that commercial rents are going to go up even more.
These are two conflicting scenarios and, in a democracy, that’s what a ballot box is for, to give us all an opportunity to stand up and be counted. I trust the City Council will put this on the ballot in November and not let this issue fester.