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Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Planner Addresses Policy Options that Could Help to Bolster Local Businesses

• Community Could Take the Lead by Spending Locally

BY BILL KOENEKER

After Malibu municipal officials count how many storefront businesses are in the city and inventories they sell, what else is left to do?
Associate Planner Joe Smith laid out a detailed analysis of what he considers are the six options that are available to both the city and the community.
Smith prepared the staff report that was readied for the Zoning Ordinance Revisions and Code Enforcement Subcommittee or ZORACES last week when the panel met with about 50 attendees to sort through a plethora of ideas.
The planning official indicated there were several ideas provided by the public that are contained within four categorized approaches intended to explore alternative methods of achieving a feasible outcome; which is growing and sustaining local community serving businesses.
He described one of the methods as utilizing current city actions or policies. The city council takes the lead using actions and existing polices.
Another approach is using new laws or ordinances, with the city creating new or modified legislation.
Another alternative method, according to Smith, is community-driven where residents and the business community take the lead to maintain local community-serving businesses.
“Based on the community’s feedback, five primary goals were highlighted through the course of the meeting and are summarized as preserve, ensure, encourage, explore, and provide,” he wrote in a staff report.
Smith noted what he heard were individuals and groups saying they wanted to preserve the city’s unique, natural and rural character as envisioned by the city’s general plan.
What was also heard were community members saying they wanted to ensure that a broad commercial mix of businesses is available that service the needs of the community and visitors.
Folks have also insisted that the establishment and continued operation of small neighborhood and community-serving businesses should be encouraged.
Some groups, with the exception of shopping center owners and the chamber of commerce, and many participants have insisted that regulations for businesses should be required.
Some want a ban on future incoming businesses or chains defined by if they maintain a standardized forum or array of services and/or merchandise, trademark, use logo service marks or symbols, and/or require décor, architecture, layout, uniform or similar standardized feature.
Another option could be developing incentives and streamlined processes for commercial development that services the community.
“Any options chosen for implementation must be in conformance with the city’s guiding language, as applicable. Otherwise the options should be avoided or amendments to the guiding documents should be considered,” Smith pointed out in his report.
The municipal planner also explained how the various options might work and who would be involved in them or could take the lead.
One of the first options mentioned is a shop local campaign, which could start immediately and would not require any regulatory or incentive-based methods such as creating a new law.
“Any participating business could benefit from a shop local campaign. This option is generally not limited to local community- serving businesses, nor emphasizes preserving Malibu’s unique character from a changing commercial environment,” Smith noted.
The leads could be the chamber, residents and/or business community.
Smith noted a shop local campaign is a cause-oriented and community-based grassroots effort using public awareness about the benefits of buying locally and inspiring people to take action via a website or social media outlet while spearheading the idea that the community as a whole can keep the local economy strong and local community-serving businesses operating.
“The loss of ‘mom and pop shops’ can result in the local community, private sector and/or the city to create marketing campaigns for local programs and local retailers. These campaigns share resources to promote the ‘shop local’ message and are often a venue for merchants to meet and discuss best practices,” the planning official noted.
Another option that has been bandied about most notably by Planning Commissioner John Mazza is what is called the modified Conditional Use Permit process.
This is a regulatory procedure enacted through an ordinance of the city council which provides more emphasis on preserving Malibu’s unique character from a changing commercial environment than sustaining local community servicing business, according to Smith.
Smith 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.
Smith notes modifying the CUP process can take many forms, so it is important to identify the primary objectives sought by this option.
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.
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 a 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.
Option five 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 said.
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.
Mayor John 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.

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