Residents Packed Town Hall on Ways to Support Small Businesses
• Store Owners Say that What They Need Most Are More Locals Shopping in Malibu
BY BILL KOENEKER
There was a town hall meeting last week, with rules, a facilitator and various segments of the Malibu community to talk about small local businesses and how they could grow and survive in the coastal community.
Mayor John Sibert laid down the first commandment when he said, "Do not demonize those who disagree."
There were then four "communication guidelines" that participants were asked to agree to before the meeting started by facilitator Natoma Keir, who suggested folks speak from their own experience, with what she called "I" statements.
The audience was asked to speak "freely and openly" and to consider how that sharing might be represented when it is repeated outside the meeting.
"Everyone is expected to be treated with respect and give each person time and space to participate and listen to all views with an open mind, even when you disagree," were the rest of the guidelines participants were expected to agree upon.
There were no time limits for participants to speak and some folks spoke more than once.
The town hall was actually a meeting of the Zoning Ordinance Review and Code Enforcement Subcommittee comprised of Sibert, Councilmember Jefferson Wagner and Planning Commissioner Jeff Jennings.
The event was videotaped and can be found on the city's website.
City Planner Joe Smith discussed the basics of how communities can go about making changes.
He mentioned how the city has a General Plan where the "high goals and policies" are expressed and then how the city's ordinances are crafted to implement the General Plan.
He said there were several options from legislation, such as a retail formula ban, to creating incentives. "There are different ways of doing this," he added.
First to volunteer to speak was developer Norm Haynie who said the question was, "How do you make space available to have mom-and-pop stores when they can't compete with the chains?"
He said the city could offer more space on a lot than currently allowed, what is called the Floor Area Ratio, but that extra space would have to be rented for 75 percent of the market for mom-and-pop stores.
Planning commissioner John Mazza suggested it is a matter of uses. "There is lack of community uses. Use the Planning Commission determination of a Conditional Use Permit to determine a diversified use. A lot of cities have utility uses. They have rules for too many souvenir shops, or too many art galleries," he noted.
The first store owner to speak was Leslie Goldstein, who owns Pinnacle. "Do the rest of you shop locally? We try to carry what you want. It is not the rents. The people who live here are not staying here to shop. But what we do have, you have to support. We are here for you. We need you, the local people, to be here," she said.
Don Schmitz, who is vice chair of the Malibu Chamber of Commerce's governmental affairs committee, said, "We are absolutely 100 percent in support of local businesses. If there is any other perception, it is a misperception," he said, adding any suggestion of some kind of level of regulation will not resonate with the Chamber. "It will dampen business. It is not easy to get a permit. It is not easy to get a Conditional Use Permit."
Susan Stiffleman, one of the original members of the Save Trancas Nursery campaign, said she totally disagreed with the Chamber and Schmitz.
"What excites me is a Conditional Use Permit. Businesses are here to serve us. We are the pockets. Businesses are here but are not necessarily here for our own best interest. We should develop a high level of accountability for those who want to do business, it is not just a matter of choosing mom-and-pop stores," she added.
Another nursery campaign member, Janet Katz, said that so far, nothing has happened, whether talking about the years the formula chain ban has been waiting in the wings or talking about a 'shop locally' campaign. She named several cities that have a chain ban and said when they were contacted they had nothing but good things to say about the ordinance.
She said that there has been no lowering of the quality of stores in Ojai and in Solvang and officials said that the ban protected businesses and rents had not increased. "We are at a crossroads," she said.
Shopping center owner Michael Koss said of the 67 tenants in his store, the Malibu Country Mart, 40 of them are locally owned. He said the Chamber found that there are 386 mom-and-pop stores in Malibu and only 30 chains. "There is a misperception. He said the CUP process in Laguna Beach is a matter of four or five bureaucrats deciding. The CUP is not good," he noted.
Koss said the cities pointed out by Katz with retail formula bans are all tourist cities. "You have no big box stores. You moved to this area because of no big box. Buying local is great. I encourage you to support local businesses," he said.
Jay Luchs, who is part owner of the Malibu Village shopping center and sells retail space for the shopping center and also for the city-owned Malibu Lumber Yard, said, "We would like to keep a mix. Some of these nationals help the locals. Getting rid of the nationals would be a problem."
Steve Soboroff, who is developing a Civic Center shopping center with a Whole Foods Market, said, "I have seen a lot of chain stores that are horrible, and I have seen local stores that are the same. I'm the guy who brought in Radio Shack."
He said he would promise to use every possible effort to advertise locally, support local charities and hire local contractors.
Self-described mom- and-pop business owner Arlington Forbes said he and his wife's store had been around more than five years through the support of his landlord and support of his local customers.
"We always listen to our customers. But you have got to come to the store or we won't exist. We try to entice you. Support the stores you like. It is your determination. We feel embraced by the community," he said.
Malibu Village owner Pouya Abdi said he wants to keep mom-and-pop stores. "I'm in the middle. I need to make it work with the mom-and-pop stores.
"If I can get an extra tool, this incentive is a tool. I could build a building for mom-and-pop stores," he said, referring to an increased FAR in exchange for lower rents for local businesses.
David Reznick, who heads up the Malibu Bay Company, which once owned the Trancas shopping center and Malibu Colony Plaza, said it is difficult to do business in Malibu.
"There is the high cost of doing business. The high costs of rent. Some businesses are doing very well. A CUP will cost and run up the rents," Resnick said, adding that he favored incentives.
A couple of longtime residents said they don't shop locally anymore for a variety of reasons.
One woman said she did not get the greeting or the welcome at local businesses that she gets over the hill. "Courtesies do not exist for local businesses here. Do some PR," she said.
Another long-term resident indicated that most of his favorite businesses either moved away or went out of business. "I'm buying less and less [here]," he said.