Residents protest theater seat cuts

A group gathered outside of city hall to protest the loss of seats in the Malibu Performing Arts Center. Photo by Devon Meyers / TMT

One resident threatens litigation if the city goes through with plans to reduce the 500 theater seats in the new city hall building by more than half.

By Olivia Damavandi / Assistant Editor

Local performing arts enthusiasts during Monday night’s city council meeting continued their revolt against the $5 million renovation of the new city hall building that will result in reduction of theater seats.

The issue was not scheduled for discussion by the council, but became a focal point of the meeting when dozens of performing arts enthusiasts, including Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich, appeared wearing T-shirts and holding signs donning the slogan, “Save Our Seats.”

The slogan referred to the planned reduction of the existing 500 theater seats to around 230 seats.

Robert Kerbeck threatened the council that a legal injunction would be filed if they did not reconsider the current renovation plan.

Kerbeck listed Randy Newman, Jackson Browne, Eddy Vedder and Tom Petty as some artists he has seen perform in the theater, and told the council, “We have this unbelievable opportunity to drive 10 minutes from our homes and see these world class artists. When we cut those seats we eliminate that entire possibility, which is so special.”

The city bought the building for $15 million last year in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. Some critics have said a substantial reason why the building went into bankruptcy was because the theater was underutilized. But some performing arts activists say the theater was underutilized because it was not properly managed.

Resident Guardia Fox told the council that the millions of dollars being spent in the renovation to provide city staff members with ocean-view offices should be spent providing residents, whose tax dollars are being used to pay for some of the project, with a cultural center.

Under the preliminary plan, the 500-person theater would have also been used as 2,250-square-foot council chambers.

The problems with doing so, however, are poor sight lines that limit views to the stage, which is currently not handicap accessible, and the large distance between the first row of seats and the stage. Complications also exist with the acoustics and lighting of the theater, which would have to be modified to suit the atmosphere of a meeting space.

To mediate those issues, the plan suggests reducing the seating from 500 to 230, which would also reduce the size of the room and create additional space for community use. The council two weeks ago voted to put the renovation plan out for bid.

“Arts and culture will not die in Malibu with a different looking theater,” Councilmember Laura Rosenthal said at the meeting, adding that the city’s purpose in purchasing the building was to make it its new city hall.

“That [the theater] is not going to be a cultural center, it’s going to be a city hall,” Rosenthal continued. “We do need a cultural arts center here in Malibu but that room and that place is not going to be it. We need a respectable city hall.”

Other features of the building will include a 1,300-square-foot senior center, a 1,300-square-foot multipurpose room, a 140-square-foot office for a Sheriff’s substation and a 475-square-foot meeting room.

“The new city hall will have so many things for the community to use,” Rosenthal said. “We will be able to have a lot more family events there.”