MALIBU — The Malibu Planning Commission capped a marathon meeting Monday night with a 4-1 vote recommending the City Council oppose a draft ordinance that would limit the number of chain stores in Malibu’s Civic Center commercial area.
The decision prompted indignant members of community coalition Preserve Malibu to walk out of the meeting, vowing to bring a formula retail ordinance to Malibu voters directly through a ballot initiative.
The commission had been expected to push the ordinance through to the City Council, which directed staff in November to draft an ordinance and air it with the Planning Commission for a recommendation.
Instead, the commission voted to recommend that the City Council oppose the draft ordinance on the basis that there are “questionable areas that need further study.”
The formula retail ordinance would regulate the location and operation of “formula” chain stores and services within the Civic Center “to prevent a predominant sense of sameness and familiarity from occurring,” according to a city staff report. The regulation would be achieved by requiring new chain retailers to apply for and obtain a conditional use permit (CUP) if they wish to open a new franchise in the Civic Center.
The commission’s recommendation suggested the council request from city staff:
• Further review and clarification regarding which chain stores would be exempted from the proposed ordinance.
• An explanation of the methodology of how it calculated a provision in the ordinance that no more than 50 percent of tenants in a particular shopping center consist of chain stores.
• Revision of the suggested maximum 2,500 square feet for new chain stores.
• Clarification on the definition of the term “formula retail.”
The commission’s vote marked an about face from earlier in the meeting, when the commission briefly considered a proposal by commissioner John Mazza to not only give its approval of the ordinance, but recommend the addition of the Point Dume Plaza and Trancas Country Market shopping centers to the ordinance.
Four of the five commissioners initially signaled support for the measure, but that changed after city planner Joseph Smith and Assistant City Attorney Greg Kovacevich noted that all of the research on the proposed ordinance had been done with the Civic Center in mind, not the two other shopping centers.
Commissioner Roohi Stack switched her vote, followed by colleague David Brotman, who ultimately suggested the council request more research on the ordinance.
The vote drew the ire of Mazza, the lone dissenting vote, who said his fellow commissioners were not carrying out the will of the council and that the vote would only cause needless delay for the ordinance.
The vote caused frustrated Preserve Malibu members to walk out of the meeting in anger. J. Flora Katz, a member of the group, said the group would be working on a ballot measure for the ordinance beginning soon.
The council could still decide to consider the ordinance despite the commission’s recommendation, several commissioners noted before voting.
E-mail sparks confrontation
Mazza himself became the subject of controversy midway through discussion on the item.
David Waite, an attorney representing the Civic Center shopping center owners, read during public comment from a chain e-mail which appeared to show Mazza advocating for the ordinance as a way to keep the center owners from renting out all of their space. Mazza claimed during and after the meeting that he did not write the message.
This article first appeared in The Malibu Times.