No Decision on Hotel Project Following Tense Meeting

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In a video provided to city council on Monday, developer Norm Haynie points out details in an architectural rendering of a proposed hotel project at 22741 and 22729 Pacific Coast Highway.

Malibu City Council had a remarkably unproductive meeting on Monday, Aug. 9, when it met to discuss the fate of a proposed new hotel on Pacific Coast Highway near the Malibu Pier. 

When the meeting was adjourned at 12:46 a.m. on Tuesday, no decision on the hotel project had been made. The only agenda item checked off was the consent calendar, a slate of mostly routine approvals. A decision on the hotel project is now expected at a special meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. next Thursday, Aug. 19. 

After two hours of general public comment, city staff updates and other procedures, council members spent about four hours on Monday night reviewing the project—which seeks to turn an office building and dilapidated gas station into a 39-room hotel with an attached restaurant, pool and spa—with the conversation at times growing combative, especially between Mayor Paul Grisanti and Mayor Pro Tem Bruce Silverstein.

When Silverstein started the meeting by suggesting the hotel hearing be moved to a later date or placed at the end of the agenda so as to not do the applicant, Norm Haynie, “an injustice” by depriving him of time Silverstein said he needed to thoroughly address the item, Grisanti countered, accusing Silverstein of being ill-prepared for the hearing.

“My grandchildren were here this week and I read 1,200 pages on this item. I attended an ex-parte meeting on this item. I attended planning commission meetings on this item. It’s not proper for someone to show up unprepared,” Grisanti railed against Silverstein.

Minutes later, Silverstein responded: “I would bet money, Paul, that I have spent more time than you preparing for this hearing.” Silverstein estimated he had spent “six to eight hours a day” in the past week going over materials in preparation for the hearing and accused Grisanti of “grandstanding.”

That exchange set a tense tone for the long meeting, where Grisanti and Silverstein debated procedures and sparred over seemingly minute language adjustments requested by Silverstein (at one point, Silverstein requested “open” be changed to “open and available,” kicking off several minutes of debate).

Toward the end of the hearing, after midnight, Grisanti attempted to call a final approval vote for the permit, with Silverstein stating that he still had several pages of notes with questions and issues to address.

An openly frustrated Grisanti asked Silverstein why he did not come forward with his proposed edits prior to the meeting and allow them to be distributed to other council members. Silverstein replied that the California open meetings law, or Brown Act, precluded him from doing so.

“Why don’t you post them online and have people mail them to me?” Grisanti asked, in apparent reference to Silverstein’s public Facebook page where the mayor pro tem often discusses city issues. Silverstein replied that Grisanti’s sarcasm was not productive.

The hostility was addressed openly at the meeting. Speaking during public comment, Malibu Planning Commissioner John Mazza said he hoped after the 2022 election “we’ll get a council that can get along.” (Council Members Mikke Pierson and Karen Farrer are up for reelection in 2022.) Later in the meeting it was suggested the back-and-forth was making it “awkward” for city staff to follow council instructions.

Before the meeting was done, a handful of suggested changes were agreed upon, although no binding vote was taken. They included requesting the developer give $800,000 to the city, rather than giving a proposed $400,000 to the city and another $400,000 directly to the Boys & Girls Club of Malibu as a “third-party benefit.” Many other adjustments focused on clarifying language with no substantial change.

In the end, the meeting was “adjourned” to Aug. 19, meaning the agenda will pick up where council left off in its discussion. No public comment may be made and council members are prohibited from discussing the item between the close of the Aug. 9 meeting and the start of the next public meeting on the 19th. Two other items from the Aug. 9 meeting—both planning commission appeals for private properties—were also set to be discussed then. Several other agenda items that were not addressed on Monday were continued to a date uncertain.