• Supporting Malibu Business in
Turbulent Times •
BY ANNE SOBLE
Establishing municipal policies to bolster the Malibu business community is going to take time and effort. That was obvious when members of the city council made it clear at their meeting Monday night, in the words of one council member, that this is "no slam dunk." Municipal regulations that have an effect on the local business community will have major repercussions for the city, and council members cannot slough off that responsibility, whatever their personal preferences may be.
While there are many options on the table, the city council does not appear to view the role of municipal government as one of creating an artificial environment to sustain individual businesses. There can be planning incentives that include rent variables but a business has to pull its own weight. The marketplace is still the marketplace.
The call by Malibuites for local business diversification is resounding. But there are many questions—what additional types of businesses and services are wanted and will be supported? Where in Malibu should they be located? Are entrepreneurs out there who are eager to start these businesses, especially in this economy? Is the capital available?
Balance is the community's other watchword. Malibuites want a healthy mix. There is a place in Malibu for small chains—less than a half dozen outlets—as well as smaller branches of larger chains that bring something tailored to the community's needs. But most mega-chains per se won't give Malibu a second glance—there aren't the numbers here and demonizing them is setting up a straw man.
The council is skipping the easy political route it could have taken and indicates it will factor in the current state of the economy and the serious financial constraints created by banks and other lenders that are more concerned with maximizing their profits than they are in underwriting new businesses, or even offering much leeway for existing commercial mortgage holders.
Also resonating from the public comment, as well as council members' candid remarks about their own personal shopping habits, is that being a mom-and-pop store doesn't guarantee hometown support, especially if people don't like the goods or services, think there's a sense of entitlement, or view the prices as well beyond the higher costs of a smaller establishment. Malibuites have budgets, but more importantly, people "don't want to be told where to shop." One member of the public said, "If [a business doesn't have what] I want, I won't shop there." Left unstated is the reality that people won't buy what they don't want just because it's the only inventory carried by a local mom-and-pop.
That is why there are some longtime residents who differ with the mom-and-pop proponents and ask whether it was lack of selection, service issues, as well as the price differential that helped shutter some of the community's former small businesses, not corporate greed, however serious a social issue that may be. Some of these "old-timers" remember Malibu Township Council meetings during the heyday of the mom-and-pops in the '70s and '80s when some of their current vocal proponents criticized local stores for the very same issues of selection and high prices and promoted a shift to shopping outside Malibu because they didn't want to be "held hostage" by the local stores.
It now looks as if local business public policy is going to be under staff review until after the first of the year. If reports are scheduled for city council meetings in January and February, the municipal election will be a scant two months away. This might mean that any substantive decision-making could be put on hold until mid-2012.
If that happens, Malibuites can expect to be hearing about local business public policymaking for the next six-plus months, and they can anticipate that the subject will be a dominant theme in the April election campaign.