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In historic vote, the echo of another
By 11:40 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 3, the defeat of Malibu’s Measure W was clear, signaling a locally historic vote and the end of months of campaigning that seemed to sharply divide the Malibu community.
While the margin of victory for those opposing Measure W wasn’t down to the wire of a single-digit percentage, the nearly 14-percent divide for the measure — roughly 57 percent opposing, 43 percent in favor — showed a similar, but even closer, race than in last year’s Measure R vote, which passed with a 20 percent margin of victory.
In Measure R’s historic wake, Malibu residents decided that they wanted to vote on proposed commercial developments greater than 20,000 square feet in Malibu, and Measure W put that newly acquired power into practice for the first time.
Measure W’s race, in essence, marked the first time Malibu voters were granted the power of referendum to decide if they approved the plan to build a shopping center on a 5.88-acre parcel northwest of the intersection of Cross Creek Road and Malibu Civic Center Way. In Measure W’s defeat, Malibu voters indicated they didn’t like the plan.
The proposed 38,425 square-foot shopping center, dubbed “Whole Foods and the Park,” included plans for a Whole Foods Market, several retail spaces, a community garden and a special needs children’s playground — amenities revealed more than a year ago and promised by developer Steve Soboroff of The Park at Cross Creek, LLC.
Earlier this year, Soboroff, along with developers from the Malibu Bay Company, filed a lawsuit still litigating its way through California State Court against Measure R and its obvious effect on the Whole Foods and the Park project, believing the measure to be unconstitutional.
“It’s categorically not possible to win an election to build anything in Malibu,” Soboroff said, lamenting the defeat of Measure W. “We do believe that Measure R was unconstitutional — and the court will decide that.”
Soboroff added that if the court decides Measure R is constitutional, he and his peers will revise the Whole Foods and the Park Project to fit within Measure R’s 20,000 square-foot trigger.
“Because then, we don’t have to go to the voters,” he said.
Steve Uhring, Malibu resident and president of Malibu CAN, the organization that opposed Measure W, said the vote “sent a message” to developers that their projects need to benefit both Malibu residents and the developers themselves.
“I think the result demonstrated to the community that it can control its own destiny,” Uhring said. “We’ll become an educated electorate, and we’ll make the right decisions. In this case, we rejected a development that was only good for the developer. We’re not opposed to development, [but] we’re opposed to bad development. [Soboroff] can go back and fix it, or he can sell the property or do something else with it.”
While Uhring said there were a number of reasons he’d qualify Whole Foods and the Park as a development not wholly beneficial to the Malibu community, he pointed toward two issues that became flash points of argument when the campaign heated up last summer.
The first was the project’s traffic study, conducted by the city of Malibu, which indicated traffic had not increased in the city of Malibu on Pacific Coast Highway during the past 20 years. It was a conclusion Uhring said was “foolish.”
But Uhring’s second point of concern seemed steeped in more technical grounds, namely that on their ballots, Uhirng contended, Malibu residents weren’t voting for a Whole Foods Market itself, but “just a shopping center with a grocery store.”
“[Soboroff] sold it as Whole Foods and the Park, when in fact it was a shopping center,” Uhring said. “There was no guarantee, and there was nothing in the ballot language that said it had to be a Whole Foods. I’m sure at some point in time Whole Foods had the option of coming in here. The problem is that we’re a community of 12,000, and I don’t know how many supermarkets Malibu can actually support.”
A spokesperson for the Yes on Measure W campaign, however, pointed the Malibu Surfside News to a statement made by Erica Dubreuil, vice president of the Whole Foods Market’s Southern Pacific Region, who said the grocers “was committed and excited to finally open our doors in Malibu” as part of the project.
Of 8,934 registered voters in Malibu, about 30.8 percent — or 2,748 voters — turned up at the polls on Nov. 3.
Malibu Mayor Laura Rosenthal, recently elected by members of the city council for her second term as mayor, declined comment on what she thought of the Measure W result because she didn’t have an official response as mayor, but said she was disappointed with voter turnout as a whole.
“I was surprised and thought there would be a bigger turnout,” she said. “I feel very strongly about exercising the right to vote, and I was hoping more people would.”
Rosenthal added that she did hear feedback from some members in the community who said they declined to vote on Measure W because they felt they were becoming inundated with unreliable information that seemed to change on a daily basis.
“Some people did say they weren’t voting because they were so confused about all of the different information that they’ve gotten, and it seemed to change by the day,” Rosenthal said. “Of course, I encouraged them to find as much information as they could and go through it.”
But when it comes to why people ultimately decline to vote, Rosenthal said it’s a phenomenon that she ultimately doesn’t understand.
“I don’t know if it’s an apathy, I don’t know if people thought it was a foregone conclusion one way or another, I don’t have a good sense of why people don’t vote,” she said. “I think sometimes it’s difficult for people to figure out what’s fact, what’s hype and what’s misinformation. If people choose not to take their time to figure that out, then they’re going to choose not to vote or, even worse, vote with misinformation.”