Calabasas Voters Reject Hotel, Housing Development Plan

Map showing the location of the proposed housing and commercial development, which was voted down by Calabasas residents on Nov. 8

On Nov. 8, Calabasas voters rejected a controversial plan to build a 72,872-square-foot, three-story hotel, along with 67 single-family homes and two duplexes on a 77-acre property on Las Virgenes Road at Agoura Road. 

Measure F — which sought to change the zoning and Calabasas’ general plan to permit the development — was defeated by a landslide, with voters opposing the project two-to-one.

Although only Calabasas voters could weigh in on the Canyon Oaks hotel and housing tract project, the ballot battle generated considerable interest from Malibu residents Part of that interest came because any development on the parcel is expected to impact the already challenging and congested Malibu Canyon commute, but also because the Measure F fight closely mirrors Malibu’s Measure R and W referendums. In both Malibu and Calabasas, voters overwhelmingly opposed a major development that was approved by their city council.

Measure R, passed in 2014, gave Malibu voters a voice in development over 25,000 square feet, and enabled voters to weigh in on the Whole Foods and the Park shopping center development, which they rejected with Measure W the next year. 

Opponents of the Canyon Oaks project were able to put the issue on the ballot because that municipality permits a referendum on projects that require changes to the general plan. Much like Malibu activists who campaigned against Measure W, Calabasas residents wanted Measure F on the ballot not because they hoped it would pass, but to enable the community to defeat it.

The arguments against Measure F included the potential negative impact on traffic and on biological and scenic resources. Critics argued that the scale of the project, which called for approximately three million cubic yards of cut and fill, exceeded the limits established by the City of Calabasas’ general plan.  They raised concerns over the loss of environmentally sensitive habitat, including a spring and wetland and the removal of 39 oak trees. 

The developer, New Home Company, which paid $12 million for the property in 2013, responded that the project was smaller than the maximum potential build-out for the site. New Home Company cautioned that if F were defeated, it would pursue a much larger alternative: One that includes five apartment buildings, a restaurant, a parking structure, 100,000 square feet of office space and 38,000 square feet of retail. 

This secondary plan would not require changes to zoning or the general plan. However, the developer is not automatically entitled to maximum build-out and the project would still have to address the site’s constraints.

The decision will ultimately rest with the Calabasas City Council, which voted 3:2 to approve the hotel proposal. The ballot argument in favor of Measure F was written by the three council members who approved the project: Fred Gaines, David Shapiro and Alicia Weintraub.

They argued that the revenue generated by the hotel, estimated at $500,000 per year, would offset the impacts by providing “additional Sheriff’s patrols, youth and senior programs, and enhanced beautification, environmental and community services.” 

Calabasas voters didn’t buy the Measure F argument and apparently weren’t intimidated by the developer’s alternate plan, which Mayor Mary Sue Maurer, a project critic, has described as unrealistic, and a worst-case scenario.

Malibu’s voter-approved R and W initiatives were challenged in court by the developers whose projects were impacted by them and are still making their way through the appeals process. Whether the court upholds or rejects them, they have already resulted in a reordering of the Malibu City Council, with Measure R opponents losing spectacularly to Measure R proponents — a phenomenon that Calabasas activists have watched with interest. 

“The Calabasas City Council is out of touch with its constituents,” Las Virgenes Homeowners Federation President Kim Lamoire told The Malibu Times. That federation, a coalition of homeowner groups in the Santa Monica Mountains, is one of numerous organizations opposed the development plans. 

“We all saw what happened in Malibu,” she said.

Some Calabasas residents don’t want to wait until the next city council election to vote their displeasure. Instead, they are reportedly starting a recall effort. No matter what the outcome, any development on the controversial Las Virgenes Road property is expected to involve a lengthy, costly battle.