There has been a lot of interest and debate over the City Council’s decision to reduce the theater seating in the new City Hall. Along with Mayor Jefferson Wagner, I was on the Ad Hoc Committee to study the building plans. We were tasked with ensuring that the city was using its money wisely and getting the best possible building. I had promised during my campaign to do what I could to maintain the current space while looking at all possibilities.
Since I was new to this committee, I spent a considerable amount of time talking with the architects, local musicians, actors, music industry people, community members and city staff. I also read over the public comments from eight previous council meetings. There was substantial disagreement about the usefulness of the theater as it currently stands. Some people loved the theater and others were lukewarm about it. Some thought it could be developed into a top-notch musical venue, while others argued that the acoustics and setup (no tiered seating, structural poles obstructing view corridors) were less than ideal for anything except certain musical performances. There was debate over how the space could be kept as is while used for City Council chambers. After reviewing the evidence, it was clear to me that a modified theater would be the best solution, and here are a few of the reasons.
ADA (Americans with Disability Act) issues: The area designated for staff cubicles on the western side of the building is physically disjointed from the rest of the building by the theater. To comply with ADA codes, restrooms and an elevator would need to be added to the west side. New restrooms would greatly reduce the backstage room, but more importantly, the city cannot add additional restrooms in this facility due to the Regional Water Quality Board prohibition.
Saves money: In lieu of the additional elevator and restrooms, we looked at increasing the footprint of the building to help with ADA access issues for the western side of the building. Unfortunately, this would be very expensive and would trigger a host of building improvements, parking lot changes, drainage changes, and would require significant, expensive design changes. These modifications would delay and potentially add over $1 million to the current price tag. I am not willing to have the city take on that additional debt right now.
Building code compliance: A new state building code requires any theater with 300 seats or more to have three primary exits leading directly outside. The existing space has two, so a new exit would need to be built, impacting the existing dressing rooms and backstage areas. It was possible, but expensive and would greatly diminish use of the theater.
City Hall efficiency: The new design has the proposed broadcast room near the council dais and the IT (computer server) room in the middle of the building for efficiency purposes. Again, moving these rooms to other parts of the building was doable, but required the elimination of much needed community rooms; i.e., the senior center and/or required city staff to be relocated to a different building.
Vestibule is good addition: The addition of a vestibule with a double door entrance at the rear of the theater will greatly enhance the use of the theater by softening the noise and light that currently flows into the theater whenever the main door is opened. The vestibule will double as an art gallery-showcasing our local artists.
The new City Hall is not perfect, but it’s ours. When you are dealing with an existing building there are many limitations. It will be a LEED-certified building, demonstrating our commitment to green building practices. There will be community rooms, multipurpose rooms and several conference rooms that will allow increased use (when compared to our existing facility) by residents. There will be a larger dedicated senior center with an adjacent catering kitchen and a modern emergency preparedness center for our disaster prone city. The new, smaller theater will be more intimate and adaptable for a variety of community uses. We will still have concerts, plays, lectures and movies. It will be a wonderful local venue for theater, music and dance programs for all ages.
Art and culture can and will thrive in Malibu. I agree that we need additional venues and a local cultural center. The council will be talking about an Arts Commission at our next meeting. I look forward to any creative input from the community. When we work together, great things can happen.
By Laura Rosenthal / City Council member