From the Publisher: Looking Back

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Arnold G. York

There comes a point in every columnist’s life when you sit in front of your computer, staring at your screen, and absolutely nothing comes out. So you start rummaging through your old columns to see if there is anything you can recycle. It’s sort of like a cook who doesn’t know what to make for dinner, who tries to dress up some leftovers from an earlier time. Rummaging through the refrigerator of my mind, I found a column I wrote about 10 years ago and decided to recycle it.

“It’s all changing and I’m not sure if I like it” from Oct. 27, 2005

I’ve lived in Malibu since 1976, which, if you do the arithmetic, is going on 30 years. The truth is, for most of the time, it really didn’t change much. But the last 10 years have been different — Malibu has really changed. Part of that change is due to shifts in our demographics over which we have little control and part of our change is due to our City Council policy over which we have a great deal of control.

What happened is today, Malibu is older and considerably richer, yet at the same time, almost as an anomaly, with a great many more children. After all, today when you see a guy with gray hair and very young children you don’t dare ask, “Are those your grandchildren?” because the chances are they’re not.

I can remember when you could get a house in the Malibu Colony for $250,000. Today, if you can find a Colony teardown on a 40-foot lot for only $9 million or $14 million, people say, “Wow, what a steal!” Certainly we didn’t create the real estate boom, but we certainly didn’t do anything to stop it.

So where is it all going?

On one hand, we’re all a great deal richer than we used to be and, in no small way, this is due to the fact that our real estate has gone off the charts. On the other hand, I get the sense that we’re losing our town, which is turning into a Golden Ghetto. It’s only a matter of time before all the little mom and pops, the shoe store, the independent drugstore, the small restaurants all disappear.

They’re all being replaced with new stores that are peddling $200 T-shirts that say Malibu — T-shirts that I suspect you could buy on any street corner in downtown Los Angeles for $9. Is Malibu becoming a town that buys the latest fancy label or the hippest new junk, peddled by the latest in a long line of hucksters?

Two hundred dollar T-shirt shops didn’t happen by accident. We created a climate for them. We have vigorously pursued a no new commercial-real estate policy ever since we became a city in 1991. People tell me it’s good solid environmentalism. They said we were preserving our Malibu way of life.

Well, I can tell you now they were wrong, totally wrong. It’s simple basic economics. If you have a growing demand and a limited supply, and you work to keep that supply limited, the rents skyrocket. Now I can’t blame the guys who own the property. They’re in business and they can’t be expected to rent real estate for $2.50 per square foot when there are people lined up willing to pay $8.50 a square foot. If the city doesn’t do something to preserve some reasonable commercial space and reasonable rentals, in five or 10 years, all the little places that give Malibu its soul will be gone. They will be replaced by high-end chains that couldn’t care less, which are totally detached from this community, contribute to nothing and are only concerned that they make so much per square foot. Take a look at the people who contribute to our charities, who make the community live, and I’ll bet you, you’re not going to find many $200 fancy T-shirt shops.

Well, I’ll tell you what we’re going to do. We’re going to start outing these people. I’m serving notice here and now to all these new places, and also some of the old ones. If all you do is take from this community, we’re coming after you. You are going to be outed and people are going to know who the slackers are. They’ll know who gives and who doesn’t. Then we’re going to ask everyone to stop patronizing those that don’t care.

The other part is that the city is going to have to break the logjam and get some commercial real estate approved. And I don’t mean in 10 years when it’s going to be too late, but now.

If we want to preserve the soul of our town, we’re going to have to fight for it.

It’s going to be interesting.

Publisher’s note: Those $8.50 per square foot rents I talked about in 2005 are now about $15 per square foot in late 2014.