Hearings round up usual suspects


After three consecutive nights of public hearings on the Civic Center Specific Plan, it seemed apparent to city councilmembers that the majority of voters who elected them don’t want much of anything built there.

In 1996, the city contracted with consultants Crawford Multari and Clarke to design a plan for $300,000. Mike Multari worked with a citizens advisory committee for 18 months to come up with a plan that would be acceptable to residents and Civic Center property owners (about nine, including: Malibu Bay Company, Adamson Cos., Pepperdine and Joan Knapp).

A markedly different plan was proposed by the Malibu Coalition for Slow Growth (MCSG), which advocates greatly limiting commercial development to what is known as the Chili Cook-off site (the level parcel bounded by PCH, Webb Way and Civic Center Way. The remaining land would be set aside for private homes, small bed-and-breakfasts, a stream park, public ball fields and perhaps a small amphitheater.

After the Planning Commission reviewed, and scaled down, Multari’s plan in February, the council deadlocked on which version would be used for the EIR and ultimately decided it wanted more public input.

Planning Director Craig Ewing explained that there are now several specific plan drafts. Under the MCSG plan, “commercial development would be limited pretty much to what’s already there,” he said.

A large map of the area was displayed with areas marked in different colors, designating buildings and parking already there: the county building, which houses the Public Library, Municipal Court, City Hall; the retail complexes on Cross Creek Road; a professional building; and the buildings on Stuart Ranch Road leased by Miramar Communications and the Chamber of Commerce.

Added to this were build-out projections (with their required parking spaces) allowed by both plans, shown in different colors. The proposed buildings were, however, not placed in any particular location on the map, which seemed to add to some of the residents’ confusion. There were no open-space calculations with any of the build-out plans. To better picture the density of different build-out scenarios, the existing B-1 district is calculated at .13 FAR (floor area ratio), Ewing explained.

The idea was to locate each meeting in different parts of the city, and though each meeting drew 40 to 50 people, several attended two or even all three sessions.

A sampling of citizens’ concerns: Bill Carson, president of Serra Canyon Homeowners Assoc., said, “We are most concerned about the sewage disposal issue. We are not happy with the proposal to dispose of it on Joan Knapp’s property [east of the library]. We are downwind from it. Who wants to live in a place where you say, ‘to find my house, follow your nose?'”

David Resnick, who represents the Malibu Bay Co., read from a prepared statement. “I am concerned that the democratic process has been circumvented . . . . The advisory group considered the full range of public opinions . . . . Their hard work was not given any respect.” Further, he read, the slow-growth plan “was developed behind closed doors. This private group shut out competing voices. . . . The advisory group was maybe only a calculated sham.”

Marshall Thompson, a newcomer to Malibu and a resident of Malibu Park, questioned the amount of black space on the map indicating parking. “Is there a way to acquire the Civic Center, bring it back into public domain, where we have a balance of legitimate property rights and a way to preserve the beauty and charm of Malibu? Is there a way to have an exchange where they get development rights in exchange for us getting open space?”

Ewing replied, “Either through bonuses or through development rights, we can do it. It’s complex, but we can do it.”

Councilman Harry Barovsky noted that there is a 60 percent provision for open space under the advisory committee plan, which doesn’t include parking lots.

Attorney David Kagon said, “The key word here is horse trading. . . . Everyone would like to see as little development as we can legally restrict. The key word here is ‘legally.’ We could end up back with the General Plan, and that permits more development than any of the Specific Plans.”

Some residents said they were not opposed to all development and said the Civic Center was the perfect place for a seniors residential complex that would include a community center and medical facilities, as had been proposed by both Pepperdine and Joan Knapp during the first specific plan process. Other planners had noted that senior housing would not add to traffic, as shuttles would take senior residents to and from the nearby theater, shops and restaurants.

Several residents expressed concern that both plans would be moot if the land was found not to be able to sustain that development, and that perhaps the EIR should be done first.

Ewing said staff needed to know which proposal to submit for the EIR, and that he would need to know basic uses — retail, residential, commercial and maximum FAR — but not as much detail as whether it’s visitor-serving vs. residential-serving.

Councilman Tom Hasse asked if two alternatives could be studied. Ewing responded, “Yes, but it will be more expensive.” The EIR is budgeted for $140,000. Ewing also said that there would be public hearings on the EIR after it is completed.

Barovsky asked, if landowners submitted development plans before a Specific Plan was adopted, would their proposals be evaluated under the current rules?

City Attorney Christi Hogin replied they would be grand-fathered in at the time of application. “We can’t indefinitely delay a proposal because a Specific Plan is under development,” she said.

By the end of the third session, the council had heard so many requests for more open space and limited development, that they were talking about possibilities of a land trust, a bond issue, assessments and other methods of purchasing the land to preserve it.

Hogin warned the council against considering property for purchase while still regulating its development, which would put the council in a conflicted role. “To flirt with buying for a long time stigmatizes it [the property]. You should identify the land and buy it.” Hogin added, “There will be a comprehensive memo on this in your boxes in a few days.”

The council is tentatively scheduled to consider the matter June 30.

Katie Cooper and Eron Ben-Yehuda contributed to this story.