Planning Commission votes against chain ordinance

The Malibu Planning Commission capped a marathon meeting Monday night with a surprising 4-1 vote recommending the City Council oppose a draft ordinance that would limit the number of chain stores in Malibu’s Civic Center commercial area, citing flaws in the draft. The decision prompted indignant members of community coalition Preserve Malibu to walk out of the meeting, vowing to bring a formula retail ordinance to Malibu voters directly through a ballot initiative.

The commission had been expected to follow the staff ’s recommendation that it recommend to the City Council in favor of the ordinance, after the council last year directed staff to draft the ordinance and submit it to the commission for review. Instead, the commission voted to recommend the City Council oppose the draft ordinance on the basis that there are “questionable areas that need further study.” 

“The ordinance as presented is fraught with problems,” Chairman Jeff Jennings said. “If you… think how this thing is going to be administered, it’s extremely difficult. I’m not going to say to the City Council, just go forward with it. I don’t agree.” 

The commission’s vote marked an about face from earlier in the meeting, when the commission briefly considered a proposal by commissioner John Mazza to not only give its approval of the ordinance, but recommend the addition of the Point Dume Plaza and Trancas Country Market shopping centers to the ordinance. 

Four of the five commissioners initially signaled support for the measure, but that changed after city planner Joseph Smith noted that a 2,500 maximum square footage requirement for chain stores in the proposed ordinance had been done with the Civic Center in mind, and that adding two extra centers would be to do so without the benefit of research. 

Commissioner Roohi Stack switched her vote, followed by colleague David Brotman, who ultimately suggested the council request more research on the ordinance. 

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The final decision drew the ire of Mazza, the lone dissenting vote, who said his fellow commissioners were not carrying out the will of the council and that the vote would only cause needless delay for the ordinance. 

“We have an opportunity to improve on an ordinance proposed by staff, and we punted,” Mazza said. 

Frustrated Preserve Malibu members walked out of the meeting in anger, vowing a voter referendum on the ordinance. 

“Thank you for talking us into a ballot measure, we really appreciate it,” Preserve Malibu member J. Flora Katz shouted as she left the room. “We don’t need you guys. We’re taking it to the public. We’re taking it to the residents.” 

Katz said after the meeting that the group would be working on a ballot measure for the ordinance beginning Tuesday morning. 

Several commissioners, before voting, said the City Council could still decide to consider the ordinance despite the commission’s recommendation. 

The formula retail ordinance would regulate the location of operation of “formula” chain stores and services within the Civic Center “to prevent a predominant sense of sameness and familiarity from occurring,” according to an agenda report. The regulation would be achieved by requiring new chain retailers to apply for and obtain a conditional use permit (CUP) if they wish to open a new franchise in the Civic Center. 

The commission’s recommendation suggested the council request that staff provide further review and clarification on which chain stores would be exempted from the proposed ordinance. It also suggested a revision of the suggested maximum 2,500 square feet for new chain stores, clarification of the term “formula retail” and an explanation of the methodology of how staff calculated a provision in the ordinance that no more than 50 percent of tenants in a particular shopping center consist of chain stores. 

Email sparks confrontation 

Mazza himself became the subject of controversy midway through discussion on the item. 

David Waite, an attorney representing the Civic Center shopping center owners, read during public comment from a chain email which appeared to show Mazza advocating for the ordinance as a way to keep the center owners from renting out all of their space. Mazza claimed during and after the meeting that he did not write the message. 

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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