Planning Panel Gives Tentative OK for Trancas Country Market Expansion
BY BILL KOENEKER
After a surprise announcement that the owners were withdrawing plans for development of the old Riders and Ropers site, the Malibu Planning Commission this week tentatively approved permits and entitlements for the Trancas shopping center expansion by a unanimous vote.
At the outset of the meeting, Dan Bercu, an owner of the Trancas Country Market located on the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Trancas Canyon Road, declared he was withdrawing the application for the nearly 11,000-square-foot, stand-alone building, which requires a General Plan amendment and zoning change.
At the beginning of the meeting before Bercu’s announcement, which was praised by almost everyone, the commission had been set to simply make recommendations and turn the approval process over to the city council.
However, planning panelists were told that with the General Plan amendment and zoning change requests for the parcel located east of Trancas Creek out of the way, the commission could choose to grant the approvals sought by the applicant.
Consequently, the commission directed the staff to bring back a resolution reflecting the added conditions they wanted imposed and the reduced expansion plans.
The tone of the hearing was in sharp contrast to recent previous meetings before the city council on the proposed Trancas Canyon Park when west Malibu residents jeered and cheered during what everyone described as raucous sessions.
However, at this hearing, Planning Chair Ed Gillespie insisted there would be no noise and demonstrated that the standing-room-only crowd should show their favor by putting their hands in the air and flailing them, or show their displeasure by putting their hands and arms in the air and crossing them. It worked! “I’ve never seen a meeting like this,” exclaimed Commissioner John Mazza.
Supporters, who wore baseball caps emblazoned with Trancas Country Market sat in the front and the opponents sporting T-shirts that proclaimed “Don’t Cross Creek Trancas,” sat in the back.
In an apparent effort to show that Bercu and his architects and consultants were regular citizens, none wore suits or ties. They were all dressed casually, much like the opponents. The only suit and ties to be found in the crowded council chambers that the fire marshal could have closed down for exceeding its occupancy was on the dais.
Mazza was the only planning panelist who made a reference to the outfits of the crowd, saying he had just been to the North Shore of Oahu Hawaii and recognized the slogan on the back of the T-shirts, “Keep the Country Country.”
Bercu said he lives in “the country,” as far west in Malibu as possible on Deer Creek Road. “I know about not being comfortable with change. I get it,” he said. “My kids go to Trancas [shopping center], and they say there is nothing to do, nothing to eat. Ninety percent of the people opposing us go to Starbucks,” he said.
Bercu noted that he wanted to create a park or common green where folks from Broad Beach could walk over, customers from Malibu West could ride bikes to the shopping center and equestrians from Malibu Park could ride to the market—a focal point for the west end of Malibu.
However, several individuals from Malibu West and its homeowners association, who put on an organized presentation, said they had come to the conclusion that the project was too large for the site and required an Environmental Impact Report.
They ticked off a laundry list of items during a power point presentation that they maintain had not adequately been studied, such as air quality, noise, public services, water and evacuation plans.
They insisted an EIR is needed because the project is growth inducing, represents a near 100 percent increase in commercial space, would attract beachgoers and the traveling public, create a problem for bus service and encourage jaywalking because of the off-site parking lot.
They also noted the proposal does not have enough on-site parking, intrudes into an Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area buffer, creates building heights that are too high, lacks adequate visual setbacks and is an inadequate site design.
Other viewpoints arose. Melanie Beck, from the National Park Service, said their concerns were addressed when the Riders and Ropers site was withdrawn from development plans. The NPS wants to purchase the site and restore Trancas Lagoon. Bercu has repeatedly said he is a willing seller.
Some of the other business owners currently at Trancas praised Bercu and said he is the only hope for local businesses to survive in Malibu at the shopping center.
Joey Escobar, who runs a karate instruction business in the center, talked about how times had changed when contrasted with his youth. “Cross Creek was not a bad name. We went on dates there,” he said. “It is great the kids are talking about surfing, but what about jobs? Dan is a great landlord. I see dream homes and dream cars in Malibu. When I saw the plans, I saw my dream karate studio,” he added.
Another set of opinions was offered by an entourage of male teenage surfers sporting the T-shirts, who appeared at the speaker’s dais together, and all spoke about wanting to maintain clean water at Zuma Beach and said they feared expansion plans could add pollution to one of the cleanest beaches in Malibu.
A contingent of younger females, also sporting the T-shirts, voiced the same thoughts and said, though they liked shopping, they too worried that the traffic and water quality would worsen. “We already have the Malibu Country Mart. Don’t wreck our ocean,” they said.
There were over 40 speakers, who told planning panelists what was on their minds and expressed either opposition or support for the plans.
Malibu Park resident Carol Bretonne talked about how much Malibu has changed and said the change planned for Trancas is good. “I worked at Malibu Lumber. Now it is a big concrete box with stores. I and my friends can’t afford to go there. I want to shop here. I don’t want to go over the hill. When I had my business, it was the locals who kept me in business, not the tourists,” she said.
Then it was time for planning panelists to deliberate. Commissioner Joan House said she could support parking across the street for employees and could also support the side yard setbacks.”I wish the market was going to be bigger. I’m looking for a nice community center in Malibu for the twenty-first century,” House added.
Commissioner Regan Schaar said she was amazed that the developer was not trying to reach the building threshold allowed by city codes. “This is 40 percent of what you can do. I am surprised anyone would oppose that,” she added.
Mazza said he had several conditions he wanted the commission to support, and members went through each one of them. He had earlier said he wanted to put forward a motion requiring an EIR, but decided not to do so, saying he did not think he had the support.
Mazza asked why a 2002 EIR prepared for the Malibu Bay Company proposal could not be used. He was told it could not.
Most of the rest of the meeting time was taken up with Mazza’s motions for additional conditions on approval. The panel agreed to require the offsite parking lot to be gated and for employees only. Mazza failed to get three votes banning outside service windows, but got a majority for a requirement for the number of loading docks to comply with city codes, and then failed to get a majority for prohibiting parking for outside events.
Mazza dissented during the vote to certify the mitigated negative declaration, but voted with the majority approving the permits and entitlements.