MALIBU ¬ó The activist group Preserve Malibu is formulating a ballot measure that would give residents the right to approve or deny commercial developments that exceed 25,000 square feet.

The group, which is concerned about the impact of commercial development on the quality of life in Malibu, hopes to get the new initiative on the November ballot, said one of its proponents.

Steve Uhring said the Malibu Right to Vote on Development Initiative would give city residents the right to vote on major proposed commercial building projects in Malibu, such as those currently pending or proposed in the Civic Center area. He added that Preserve Malibu members plan to meet individually this week with City Council members to discuss the draft measure. The group also expects to finalize the language of the measure this week and submit it to the council.

At the same time, other Preserve Malibu members will begin collecting signatures on a petition to get the measure on the ballot this fall, he said. Signatures would be unnecessary if the City Council approves the measure, noted Uhring, who considers the signature drive just a backup effort. If the City Council does not approve the initiative, approximately 900 verified signatures of Malibu residents would be needed to get the measure on the ballot.

Uhring said he thinks that unlikely.

“I can’t understand why the City Council wouldn’t want to let residents vote [on major development in the city],” he said, adding that he anticipates the council’s cooperation.

There is precedent for such a measure. In 2000, the City Council appeared somewhat like-minded with a voter-initiated ballot measure that also sought to control major development in Malibu. In the end, two similar but competing initiatives were placed on the ballot, each with a slightly different focus and scope. Measure P (which shares the name of the initiative that Preserve Malibu is now promoting) restricted all commercial development projects that exceeded 25,000 square feet and met certain conditions. A second, narrower measure promulgated by city officials was aimed at pending projects, most notably a major development by the Malibu Bay Company. Both measures passed, but the city’s version superseded the other because it received more votes.

“Basically we’re bringing back Measure P,” said Uhring of his group’s goal.

The proposed new initiative would require voter approval for construction or expansion of commercial, industrial, or combined commercial and residential buildings with a total square footage exceeding 25,000 square feet that also does any of the following: (1) requires a variance or conditional use permit, (2) increases the density of allowable current zoning limitations or (3) permits construction or widening of a public roadway.

Uhring argued that Preserve Malibu does not oppose development that does not require a variance or modify existing roadways. Rather, he said, the group’s concern is based on projects such as developer Steve Soboroff’s proposed Whole Foods in the Park proposal, which Uhring said has requested a variance allowing it to leave only 12 percent open space rather than the 48 percent required under the city’s general plan.

When reached for a response, Soboroff said Uhring was mistaken. The Whole Foods development “does not ask for open space variance,” Soboroff wrote in an e-mail. He said the development would stick to the city-mandated 0.15 floor-area ratio and would include “more landscaping than any other retail center in Malibu” with more than 100 trees.

“We prefer a system of government where folks elect people to represent them, and make their laws. I think it’s called democracy ….” Soboroff wrote.

The disagreement may just be a matter of semantics. Malibu Planning Director Joyce Parker-Bozylinski said the owners of the Whole Foods project have requested a variance for landscaping, but not open space. The Malibu zoning code and local coastal program require that 25 percent of a commercial parcel be devoted to open space, such as courtyards, patios, natural open space and additional landscaping. Forty percent of a commercial parcel must be devoted to landscaping.

“The project, as proposed, meets the open space requirement but they are requesting a variance to reduce the required landscaping from 40 percent to 12.8 percent,” Parker-Bozylinski wrote in an e-mail.

Addressing a gathering of Preserve Malibu supporters earlier this month, Uhring stated that the group’s “most critical concern” is large-scale development in the Civic Center.

If history is any example, Preserve Malibu can expect strong opposition to its proposed ballot initiative from major developers. Uhring said that the Malibu Bay Company spent “close to a quarter of a million dollars in 2000 [to fight Proposition P] — and that was only one developer. Now there are four.”

Council members were unable to be reached for comment.

This article originally appeared in the Malibu Times.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.