Mayor Says City Looks Out for Taxpayers
• ‘Tough-Nosed Landlord’ Stance Is Mandated by Debt
BY BILL KOENEKER
BY BILL KOENEKER
Mayor Andy Stern was the keynote speaker last week at a Malibu Chamber of Commerce event where he spoke about the state of the city.
Stern started off by talking about what the city had accomplished during the last year and what legislation and permits were enacted and granted, respectively.
The mayor saved some of his most extensive remarks for how Legacy Park was acquired and the subsequent business dealings of the city since then. Though there has been significant opposition from outside groups about improvements to the park, there has been little criticism from locals, except fallout on how the city in its role as landlord is perceived as impacting commercial rents and small businesses.
“People have never understood that deal for the taxpayer,” said the mayor, who noted the council elected to pay for the land acquisition by using the rents of the commercial buildings acquired in the purchase to pay back debts incurred on the $25 million deal.
“I want to share our frustration. It is difficult to be a city and a landlord,” said Stern, adding that the public does not seem to understand why the city cannot subsidize a severely needed local business, such as a hardware store, or allow a non-profit, such as the Boys and Girls Club, to move into any of the vacancies on city property.
He said that if the city offered what would amount to subsidized rents, it would not be able to pay off the debt that must be satisfied and that, in effect, such a subsidy to reduce rents would become a gift of public funds.
“We have to be a hard-nosed landlord. We are doing it as a business deal, not as a non-profit. It is the best deal for the taxpayer, but it is frustrating,” said Stern, who did not directly address whether the city as a landlord is impacting commercial rents in the Civic Center as some local business people have suggested.
The mayor also touched on the state of the municipality’s finances and said that, unlike many California cities, Malibu is in much better shape financially. “We started out as a deadbeat,” quipped Stern, meaning the city had almost no money, but due to conservative spending habits has produced a sizable general fund reserve.
“I read where we were in dire straits. Why would anybody write that?” he said, then indicated that, in actuality, the city is expecting a slight decline in revenue over the next year due to a downward trend in gas taxes, sale taxes and declining property taxes.
The mayor acknowledged city officials expect a $700,000 shortfall in permit fees. “We will have to trim that revenue shortfall. In general we are in good shape,” he added. He said the retail sales taxes should be offset when the city-owned Lumber Yard opens up and the Malibu Creek Plaza is once again filled with tenants.
Stern said the vacant look at the plaza “ is not businesses going out of business. That is just not true. It doesn’t look as good right now.”
Stern opened up the discussion to the audience by asking the predominately business crowd how the city could help. He said, “Anybody can make a buck on any day in July, but how do you do it on a rainy day in the middle of February?”
The mayor then told the chamber audience, “You said help business people. I don’t know what the city can do for you. Malibu is different.”
The mayor encouraged people to share creative solutions they might have to offer the rest of the business community.
Participants discussed ways to capitalize on the name of Malibu, utilizing a “secrets of Malibu” marketing campaign, and establishing some kind of visitors center, either in the chamber’s office, a separate kiosk, or at Legacy Park.