Malibu City Council decided Monday to approve the environmental impact report for the prospective Whole Foods and the Park project, thereby sending the shopping center to a general vote in the November election and serving as the first test to Malibu’s new Measure R formula retail ordinance.
Four of five councilmembers approved the project, with Skylar Peak casting the sole dissenting vote. Councilmember Laura Rosenthal attended the meeting remotely.
Peak received council support for several amendments to the project, which will include a 24,000-square-foot Whole Foods shopping center, several smaller businesses, public outdoor dining areas, a sensory garden and an accessible playground.
Amongst these amendments are an addition of three electric vehicle parking spaces, bringing the total up to five; a guarantee that the outdoor garden and playground will not be changed without Planning Commission approval; a requirement for bollards to be put in place to protect pedestrians from cars; and that property owners pay a share of any traffic improvements necessary for the project, including a possible stoplight or roundabout at Civic Center Drive and Webb Way.
The council’s decision came at the tail end of a nearly six-and-a-half-hour meeting, where a total of 92 members of the public spoke or allowed someone to speak on their behalf.
Of the 92 who weighed in, an estimated 24 spoke in favor of the project and 23 spoke against, though many of those who spoke out against the project received extra time to make statements from four or five other members of the public. Notably, local celebrities and Measure R backers Rob and Michele Reiner attended the meeting but “gave their time” for others to speak on their behalf.
The city’s traffic study and anticipated traffic increases were the number one issue discussed.
“In my opinion, it’s kind of asinine for us to adopt a traffic study that says the traffic on PCH has remained the same or gone down over a certain period of time,” Peak said.
The study, which came under fire from skeptical citizens and councilmembers, seemed to imply that traffic has not increased on PCH over the past 20 years. This came despite reports from State Parks and Lifeguards that Malibu beach traffic had increased nearly 60 percent in recent years.
Further explanation at Monday’s meeting shed some light on those findings.
“Average daily traffic volume did increase,” said the city’s traffic engineer, Sri Chakravarthy, from the firm Kimley-Horn.
“What we have seen is that the data shows the peak period is spreading,” Chakravarthy said. In other words, though traffic during peak hours has not increased, traffic now generally remains high throughout the day.
“The data that we see here on PCH … once it picks up during the a.m. peak, it remains and continues to remain that way during the p.m. peak,” Chakravarthy said.
Another issue with the traffic study was weather, which Planning Commissioner Mikke Pierson first called into question in June. Pierson mentioned to Chakravarthy that, according to his informal research, many of the traffic counts were taken on colder, cloudier days.
Chakravarthy addressed this during the meeting.
“I’d like to further clarify that … the weather was anywhere between mid 60s to mid 70s … when this data was collected,” Chakravarthy said.
“So essentially, there’s no data from a hot summer day where the weather would be 85 degrees?” asked Peak. “Is that correct?”
“That is correct,” Chakravarthy replied.
Council determined that an additional traffic study would not be necessary.
“A traffic study would just delay [a vote],” Councilmember Lou La Monte said. “We need to put it in front of the people.”
“I have confidence in the reports we got,” Rosenthal added.
Steve Soboroff, one of the Whole Foods developers, provided a statement to The Malibu Times Tuesday, saying it was “gratifying” to receive the yes vote from council, together with support from the community.
“The overwhelming number of supporters who came out last night to speak in favor of Whole Foods and the Park — young and old, husbands and wives, school leaders and members of Malibu’s special needs community alike, was truly humbling and makes me proud to once again be part of something special for Malibu,” Soboroff said. “This is a project designed by locals for locals.”
Possible Coastal Commission roadblock
Though council voted to place the project’s specific plan on the ballot of this fall’s election, there is still one possible stumbling block for the construction of the new project — possible objections from the California Coastal Commission (CCC).
A CCC staffer sent a letter to stakeholders and city staffers informing them that the project may violate Malibu’s Local Coastal Program and would need to achieve CCC approval before being built.
“The proposed Civic Center Northeast Specific Plan (CCNESP) [the Whole Foods project] includes several development standards that would apply only to the subject project site, including building height, setbacks, fence/wall height, landscaping percentage and grading. These development standards are not consistent with the standards required by the certified Malibu Local Coastal Program (LCP),” the letter read.
City Attorney Christi Hogin told The Malibu Times Tuesday that she is confident City Council and the CCC have the same vision for the project.
“The city and the Coastal Commission agree for sure on what’s legally required, we just think in this factual scenario it doesn’t require an LCP amendment,” Hogin said. “These are pretty minor changes that are well within the scope of what’s allowed in that zone — assuming, of course, the voters approve it.”