The Malibu City Council on Tuesday voted to explore an ordinance that would seek to give the city more of a voice in what chain stores can set up shop in the Civic Center area.
In a 3-2 vote, the council agreed to direct city staff to draft an ordinance to require a conditional use permit for any new chain businesses in shopping centers with more than 10,000 square feet in the Civic Center area, with Mayor Lou La Monte and Mayor Pro Tem Joan House dissenting.
The council also directed staff to hold a town hall meeting to allow the community to give input and for an online study to take place on the city’s website.
The draft ordinance exempts grocery stores, real estate, gas stations, banks and insurance offices. If approved, the ordinance would have to ultimately go before the California Coastal Commission because changes would need to be made to the city's Local Coastal Program.
In March, the Malibu City Council directed city staff to draft a retail diversification ordinance as part of an effort to address residents' concerns, including maintaining Malibu's character in existing and planned development in the Civic Center and Trancas areas.
At the meeting Tuesday, City Attorney Michael Jenkins, who stood in for Christi Hogin, said any draft ordinance could not violate state and federal laws, or seek to regulate commercial rents.
“We have to decide if the municipal purpose we have is a legitimate one,” Jenkins said.
La Monte said he has a desire to preserve Malibu, but not at the expense of the free market, state and federal law and other factors.
“I’d like it to be 1979 again. I’d like to look like what I did in 1979,” La Monte said, getting some laughter from the council chamber.
House said she supports the city taking a hard look at its commercial zoning to make sure it is what the city wants and to set design standards.
Councilman John Sibert said he has been part of the conversation about protecting local businesses for the past two years and believes it is time to do something.
“I had hoped we could bringing folks like the chamber and the community to try to find a middle ground. What we ended up a lot with was a repeat of the 2012 election,” Sibert said.
He said the city’s demographics have shifted significantly over the years.
“We have developed a culture of not shopping in Malibu,” Sibert said.
Councilman Skylar Peak said he wants to figure out a way to preserve the existing small businesses.
“Are we going to be a town or a shopping destination with homes around it?” Peak said. “… This community and this town was built on these small businesses,” Peak said.
Peak said he does not want to see more chains come into Malibu.
“I think our community needs to preserve its character and not change for the worse any more than it recently has,” Peak said.
Councilwoman Laura Zahn Rosenthal said she believes the city needs to use zoning and ordinances, as well as look to citizens to come up with a solution.
She said that she is in favor of requiring a conditional use permit for new chain businesses in the Civic Center area.
“The criteria for this CUP would be developed during one more town hall meeting,” Rosenthal said, adding that residents could give input on the city’s website through a Granicus survey.
“It is the Civic Center that I am most concerned about. It is not being dictated by us, the residents. Much of it is being dictated by the visitors,” Rosenthal said.
She echoed Sibert’s observations about the climate in Malibu.
“I think that things have become very polarized and that is very disappointing to me also,” Rosenthal said.
She said the amount of undeveloped land in the Civic Center, which is commercially zoned, concerns her.
“I’m afraid of what’s to come. We don’t know yet what’s to come. There is a lot of commercial land in the pipeline,” Rosenthal said.
Attorney David Waite, who is representing several commercial property owners in Malibu, said that two reports about the retail climate in Malibu show that “there is not a proliferation of formula retail in Malibu.”
He pointed to analysis that shows that only 8.5 percent, or 34 out of 400 businesses, are formula businesses.
Don Schmitz, speaking as the president of the Malibu Chamber of Commerce, said the organization represents 366 member businesses.
“Don’t go to the stick, go to the carrot,” Schmitz said, pointing to the “Shop the Bu” campaign.
He said not a single member has been supportive of the ordinances.
“We will put our resources behind connecting the residents in this community with the businesses,” Schimtz said.
David Reznick of the Malibu Bay Co. said the premise that all local business are good and all chains are bad is inaccurate.
“These stores employ many locals and locals eat there,” he said, adding that he recently saw many Malibu High School students eating as he walked by the recently opened Chipotle.
Norm Haney asked why the city is trying to fix something that he sees as not broken.
“Let the people in Malibu decide what they want. They vote with their dollar,” Haney said.
Shahnaz Fattahi, owner of Subway in Malibu, said he is beginning construction this week on Malibu Wok, which will offer Chinese food.
Fattahi asked that the council stick to the city’s zoning ordinance already in place.
“My only wish from you guys is don’t over do it,” Fattahi said.
Jo Giese, a Malibu Public Works Commissioner, questioned why a small minority, namely the Preserve Malibu group, has attracted so much attention from the city.
“I don’t want one penny of the tax money I pay to go toward fighting the many lawsuits that will come from this ordinance. Don’t waste the city’s money either,” Giese said.
She also asked that the Preserve Malibu group start up a legal fund to pay for the lawsuits.
Lucile Keller, representing the Malibu Township Council, said the issue has gone on for too long.
“We urge the council to adopt the current draft ordinance under consideration,” Keller said.
Former Malibu City Councilman Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner, who is a business owner, said there is a way to put in guidelines that will not violate property owners rights.
Many people in the community have expressed with great enthusiasm and with great resolve this is not going to go away. As electives you have to remember that is why you are here,” Wagner said. “You need to move something forward and that is what many in the community are expecting.”
Brian Eamer said Preserve Malibu is not going away.
“All the Preserve Malibu folks have a united idea and that is to protect. Malibu is a rural community. It is not high-end retail,” Eamer said. “We want the council to protect us.”
Jae Flora-Katz of Preserve Malibu said she supports the idea of a formula ordinance, not an outright ban of chain stores.
“That’s not going to happen. They are not going to be banned,” she said. “… Citizens get input. It’s not the big, bad, scary monster.”
She also contested the report that said there were 400 businesses in Malibu.
“There are 100. That’s based on a city inventory,” Flora-Katz said.
She encouraged the council to take action.
“Nearly two years later, what has the city done on this issue?” Flora-Katz said. “… We have saved some leases. We have rallied. We have gotten thousands and thousands of signatures.”
Malibu Planning Commissioner John Mazza said the citizens will take action to preserve the character of Malibu if the council does not.
“You want to do something that makes sense that you can correct if it is wrong,” Mazza said.
Many more people spoke during the hearing. Feel free to share your perspective in the comments.