Exploring Management of Malibu's Commercial Sector
• Second in an Ongoing Series on Looking Ahead to the Future of Local Business
BY ANNE SOBLE
COMMERCIAL INVENTORY—Copies of this map with legend and notes was provided to members of the City of Malibu stakeholders group addressing issues of municipal business regulation. Put together by the planning department with express statements that the inventory does not assess the feasibility of development of any parcel on the map, except where noted. The major impediment to buildout of these parcels is they require completion of a Civic Center area sewer system that they can hook up to before they would be able to seek approval. The potential for 820,000 square feet of development with a .15 floor-area-ratio, or over 1,000,000 square feet if those lobbying for a .20 FAR succeed, has motivated members of the Preserve Malibu Group to try to put the brakes on local commercial growth.
DIVERSE POINTS OF VIEW
Next month, the Malibu City Council is slated to address whether it will approve the municipal planning department preparing an ordinance to regulate the composition of commercial activity in the city.
A grassroots community organization that calls itself Preserve Malibu, and is often referred to as the Preserve Malibu Group, has been spearheading the push for a regulatory measure that would impose commercial diversification.
City of Malibu officials have been hosting what are called stakeholder meetings involving PMG representatives and the majority of the local commercial center owners, or their spokespersons.
These meetings were closed to the public and the media over the protest of PMG.
If the city council votes to initiate the ordinance process for a commercial diversification measure at its March 26 meeting, the municipal planning staff will be directed to prepare a draft proposal.
The ordinance process could take from a few weeks to a few months, unless it becomes bogged down in the way that the view preservation measure has and takes several years.
PMG spokesperson John Mazza said the group "has been working for almost a year to save local, vital businesses facing eviction due to a rapidly changing commercial landscape."
PMG has indicated that a statement "in support of an ordinance to help protect local serving retail/services in Malibu and to assure a diverse retail balance was signed by over 200 Malibu residents within the first two days of its limited circulation."
Mazza said the group "will continue to collect more and more signatures as they keep flooding in," and added, "There should no question at this point that this is a paramount issue for Malibu citizens."
Mazza stressed, "This effort to preserve our city will continue until it is finished."
Preserve Malibu has proposed a draft measure covering shopping centers over 10,000 square feet in size. If an ordinance results, it would not affect current tenants.
Mazza said the goal is to gradually balance retail uses to ensure that local goods and services provide a future retail balance for both the community and tourists.
If a new tenant provides a use that, combined with existing uses, exceeds 30 percent of that same use in a center, that tenant would be required to obtain a Conditional Use Permit from the city planning commission.
Mazza said, "The intention is to gradually balance the centers to meet needs in the community as tenants change."
PMG views the issue of diversification as a major issue in the upcoming city council campaign, which is why they put so much emphasis on any action that might be taken at the March council meeting.
In response to PMG's draft diversification proposal, commercial center owners had developed a preliminary pledge list of free services and community outreach.
But local PMG member Kerry Beth Daly described that effort as "a list of standard practices to maintain their own businesses' land upkeep, parking, security, etc."
Daly added, "All the while they are raising rents, pushing out local business owners, and bringing in retail that neither serves nor reflects the people and culture of Malibu."
Realizing that it will take years to alter the city's current commercial balance, PMG wants an ordinance that will regulate potential new development before it breaks ground.
The group regards the map on page 11 that was provided to members of the stakeholders group by the city planning staff last week as an indication of what could become allowable if a Civic Center sewer is built.
They point to the adverse impact of traffic and noise, as well as demands on infrastructure, and indicate that they want detailed regulations in place before anything new applies for permits.
PMG's Mazza said the map does not include all potential commercial development. He noted that that conversion of the Charter building to retail is not shown, nor is the Adamson property on Cross Creek.
He also indicated that at least two council members are thought to be contemplating mixed-use development in the area that might include condominiums.
He reiterated PMG's concern that there is a staff-and-developer-driven effort to increase the floor-area-ratio in order to up the allowable density in the Civic Center area. to .20 FAR.
That might mean that instead of 820,000 square feet of potential development, there could be over one million square feet of new commercial built.
The Malibu commercial center owners, however, remain adamant in their stance that any regulation by the city will have an adverse effect on their operations and the city as a whole.
Malibu Country Mart owner Michael Koss sent an updated version of the pledge offered by the center owners in lieu of an ordinance to city planning officials on Friday.
Koss' letter states, "We believe that the city can provide a requirement that shopping centers in Malibu with net rentable retail space of 15,000 square feet or more and/ or 12 or more stores must include a minimum of 20 percent allocated to food service and or service retail [subject to availability of water for the restaurants and water users]."
The center owners communication continued, "Also, we would like to have major anchors, such as a super market or bank, excluded from this formula as they may disproportionately dominate the total square footage and they do provide needed services to the community."
Koss added, "This will ensure that many service businesses in Malibu, typically small businesses, will continue to serve the community and new developments will maintain diversity."
The commercial property owners also reiterated their previous week's pledge to: "1) Maintain free parking, 2) Encourage local hiring when possible and establish a job posting through the internet to help facilitate local hiring, 3) Maintain picnic areas at no less than their present allocation, 4) Encourage our tenants to use eco friendly practices, 5) Encourage the use of local vendors and contractors, 6) Emphasize local, not outside-the-area, advertising, 7) Work with the city or city-appointed manager to encourage the support of a local serving business campaign, and 8) When we have more than one qualified tenant option, we will strive to give preference to local serving and service-oriented businesses."
There has also been preliminary discussion about a business internship program involving local high school students who would be mentored by business leaders in Malibu.
Koss reaffirmed the center owners' concerns about "the suggestion by a small but vocal number of Malibu residents that the city impose excessive governmental regulations."
He said, "To do so would not be in the interest of the city, residents of Malibu, the property owners, and the small business people who are tenants in the shopping centers."
Koss added, "The Malibu retail environment is currently about 80 percent non-chains and the Civic Center is one of the most beautiful and pristine gathering areas available for any community. We want to ensure that this continues."
PIE CHART CAPTION
PLANNING TOOL—This pie chart is another of the City of Malibu Planning Department's graphs illustrating the leased tenant mix in the four local retail centers that provided data—Malibu Country Mart, Malibu Village, Malibu Lumber Yard and Point Dume Village. The uses fall into the basic retail categories of hard goods, soft goods, food/food services and community retail services, as well as show office use and the current percentage of vacant space in each center. The percentages vary widely from center to center.
BAR CHART CAPTION
COUNTERINTUITIVE—Despite the oft-stated premise of some of the critics of the current local commercial composition that formula businesses have taken over Malibu's shopping centers, this bar chart created by the City of Malibu Planning Department from center-provided data appears to indicate that none of the four centers has a major percentage of formula or chain businesses. That notwithstanding, the Malibu City Council is expected to address a request for an emergency ordinance to immediately place a limit on formula businesses at its Monday, Feb. 27, meeting at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.