Council Listens to Wide Range of Opinion on Local Business Policies
• Staff Asked to Come Back with Specifics to Shape Options that Help But Do Not Hinder Businesses
BY BILL KOENEKER
The Malibu City Council had a tool box of options at its disposal Monday night to take action "growing and sustaining local community serving business," but instead asked for more study by the staff and took limited action on allocating $1000 to a Montana-based consultant. There was a brief discussion the matter might come back in January 2012.
There were 41 speaker slips and the council got bogged down in a post-midnight session that dragged on as council members tried to find consensus on what they could agree would work to help local businesses stay afloat in Malibu.
There were dozens of Malibu residents who came to urge the council to take some kind of legislative action to give "local businesses a level playing field."
Civic Center shopping center owners including several local business owners showed up, for the most part, to urge the council to take no regulatory action that would place further restrictions on their businesses.
Matthew Khoury, who introduced himself as a Canadian and one of the new owners of Malibu Village shopping center, said he and his partners are community minded and have already cut deals with local businesses including the European shoe repair and are "trying to keep Guidos."
"The reason we can afford them is we have national tenants," he said. "We are very focused on local businesses "
Richard Weintraub, one of the owners of the Malibu Lumberyard, said he is proud of the property and noted "there are lots of locals in there. My kids go there, but that it costs to support mom-and-pops."
Michael Koss, the general partner of the Malibu Country Mart, said Malibu retail is suffering, the economy is not good. "I hope the citizens and city are thoughtful about what they do tonight," he added.
Developer Norm Haynie said it is easy to figure out what people in Malibu want. "People vote with their dollars. The free market works."
He said he noticed something about chains and Malibu—people have their favorites. "Starbucks is OK. The Cheesecake Factory. No. Marmalade is OK, but the Olive Garden has to go," he added.
The next day after the meeting, the Preserve Malibu Team had this to say in an email. "As citizens we will continue to stand up for preserving our city. The landlords representing our main retail centers last night clearly demanded no planning measures what so ever in our city. Outside after the meeting, a local landlord alongside his investors warned in front of a group of people and a city council member that if any regulations are passed they will immediately sell their Malibu strip center to Saudi Arabia and tear up all of the local leases they've signed. Clearly not every landlord is to be trusted to do the right thing. This is exactly why these measures are needed. This city must be protected from the blatant self-interests of some developers over the very real needs of the people who actually live here and the beach visitors who come to visit. We expect that our elected officials will follow through on their vital recommendation to city staff to study and then go further to fully implement, on the books, clear and balanced commercial planning tools. Tools that our city has readily available as discussed at the meeting last night. Tools that are commonly used in cities across this country daily. Thoughtful city oversight is not unique to cities as important as Malibu. Now it's time to finally protect this community and its future."
The staff report offered options such as the city registering or licensing all businesses and charging a fee. All commercial business uses would be determined by an administrative Conditional Use Permit.
The short-term measures include allocating a certain amount of resources to the Malibu Chamber of Commerce or Cornucopia Foundation or an outside consultant for a shop local campaign.
Proponents seeking legislative action from the city council were clear what they wanted to see happen.
Time and again those speakers called for the council to exercise Option B2, B3 and B4.
B2 calls for the council to initiate an amendment for modified CUP findings and/or commercial diversification requirements. B3 would have the council amend the municipal code and Local Coastal Program to create formula business regulations. B4 would have the council create a business registration program or business licensing program.
This is the fourth meeting in a series of committee meetings and town hall gatherings for the city to collect input from residents, businesses, community and local associations.
Municipal Planner Joseph Smith indicated in his voluminous staff report that two concerns have emerged from those sessions. Concern number one is the escalating loss of local community serving businesses in Malibu and secondly what is perceived as the inadequate land use and zoning controls to preserve Malibu's unique character from a changing commercial environment.
After hours of public testimony it was time for the council to speak.
Councilmember Lou La Monte said he wanted to hear from Mayor John Sibert and Councilmember Jefferson Wagner, who both served on the Zoning Ordinance Revisions and Code Enforcement Subcommittee or ZORACES, which has held several meetings on the issues already.
Wagner said whatever legislative action is taken, the city must keep in mind about the property owners and their mortgages. He said the text is important because of what lenders will allow or not allow.
The mayor said he had not formed any opinion. "The real issue here is do we need some sort of local campaign? I don't think the chamber is right. The chamber represents the businesses."
He said a point the city made when it was directly involved with its Lumberyard was to require 20 percent local tenants. "I would like to see more diversification. ZORACES looked at an incentive for the shopping center owners by offering an increased Floor Area Ratio," Sibert noted.
Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich talked about incubator businesses and using the vacant city hall to house them. She also advocated the city spent the $1000 for the out-of-state consultant, though earlier in the evening she had called on all municipal contracts to be signed with locals.
Sibert was dismissive of incubator businesses saying they have all failed.
Councilmember Laura Rosenthal said she thought it was ironic that the city was trying to jump start working on a shop local campaign and the city is prepared to hire someone from Montana. "Everyone can agree on doing a buy local campaign. I don't recommend going with the chamber. Who knows better than the people who live here or shop here," she said.
The council continued to discuss the Montana consultant. Conley Ulich said it adds a fresh pair of eyes.
The council then turned their attention to registration and had many questions to ask of staff.
"People want us to close loopholes. The only way to do that is with a business license.. We would not have that with registration," said Rosenthal. Who was quick to add later, "We don't like business licenses," she said.
After further discussion, Wagner said most of the business names could be gotten from sales tax lists and alarm registration. The council continued to discuss the matter for some time.
Rosenthal said she was trying to figure out what exactly was the thing that most upset people about some of the national chains when the council turned toward a discussion of chain stores.. "It might upset people because they can't afford them," she added.
The mayor noted a chain store ban would not have stopped what happened with Trancas Nursery.
The council continued to burn the midnight oil as it veered towards a discussion about chains, clustering, incentives and CUPs.
By the late hour, the staff had to ask several times what the council wanted them to specifically study.
Smith, in his staff report, points out modifying the CUP process would increase the regulation of some commercial uses in order "to preserve and protect Malibu's rural character" and the integrity of adjacent residential neighborhoods.
"However, note that most business uses within the city do not currently require a CUP to operate and would not be affected by this option," he noted.
Allowed uses change by commercial zone and are either permitted 'by right' meaning no CUP is required or they require a CUP to evaluate potential effects on the surrounding environment, according to the planner.
Smith notes modifying the CUP process can take many forms so it is important to identify the primary objectives sought by this option.
Retain the existing CUP process. Findings could be expanded to consider how the proposed use promotes and maintains a healthy balance between local community serving uses and visitor-serving uses and the proposed use will maintain a balanced mix of uses, which serves the needs of both local and non-local populations, he noted.
Lawmakers could require a level of use diversification within new and existing commercial centers by establishing numerical limits on specific uses identified as overabundant or detracting from a healthy balance between local community-serving and visitor- serving uses and/or requiring spacing requirements to prevent the clustering of uses, identified as overabundant or detracting from a healthy balance between local community-serving and visitor-serving uses.
The third option considered by Smith is what he calls formula business regulation. The focus is on a shared emphasis on "preserving Malibu's unique character from a changing commercial environment and sustaining local community-serving business."
The city planner says it would take from a year to a year and half to enact such legislation.
Another option is streamlining the CUP process to provide more emphasis on sustaining local community-serving business.
"However, this option is not limited to local community serving businesses, nor emphasizes preserving Malibu's unique character," he noted.
It would rather encourage the opening of new businesses by reducing the requirements and review process placed on business owners. The process would benefit any business use subject to the CUP process.
Another option is a business incentives program which could offer commercial property owners incentives for providing dedicated tenant space, leasing priority, reduced rents for small neighborhood and community serving businesses.
"The program could benefit under-represented business uses within the city and businesses that directly support and enhance the community," the planner added.
The benefits to commercial property owners could include increases in floor area ratio, permit fee reductions and rebates provided by the city.
Another option could be the creation of what are called overlay zones or specific plans.
Smith describes it as a more complete and thorough approach, the city can create overlay zones and specific plans for one or more commercial areas in the city that could incorporate any of the previously discussed options.
"However, the preparation of overlay zones and specific plans requires a lengthier timeframe and would need funding," he noted.
Overlay zones can be prepared and superimposed over base commercial zoning districts in targeted areas of the city in order to increase or decrease development requirements for those areas, Smith noted. An overlay zone is essentially a "special district" which addresses particular land use circumstances in the designated area.
Specific plans are more comprehensive in scope than overlay zones. They provide detailed specifications on all future physical development and uses to be implemented within a geographically deigned area, according to Smith. Specific plans typically include the goals and objectives and policies for the plan, the types of land uses to be developed on each parcel, physical and environmental conditions in the plan area, a plan for circulation in and adjacent to the plan area, requirements for capital improvements, written standards, regulations and policies for such items as architectural design, open spaces, preservation of existing structures and other relevant factors to the plan area.
Sibert mentioned that trying again for a specific plan for the Civic Center area might be the way to go. He did acknowledge the city has tried in the past on numerous occasions to come up with a plan that would be approved but to no avail.
The plans can be very expensive and take up to years to finalize.