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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Chamber and Realtors Host Candidates

• Discussion Focuses on Retail and Commercial Development Issues

BY BILL KOENEKER

Council candidates had a chance to mix it up a little bit more at last week’s candidates’ forum sponsored by the Malibu Chamber of Commerce and Malibu Association of Realtors.
Chamber members wanted to know: Some have proposed ordinances which would increase permitting requirements, costs and time to open up a new business in Malibu. If you are in favor of such legislation (formula retail or diversification ordinances), please explain how that would improve the viability of businesses in our community. B. If you are not in favor of such legislation, please outline the proactive steps the city should take to improve diversity and support local diversification ordinance.
Last year several stores would not have made it, according to Joan House. “This is another way to have government in your face,” she said.
A related question was: “With historical high commercial vacancy rates, and distressing levels of business failures in Malibu, what legislative actions would you take as a council member to improve the business climate in our community?
Hamish Patterson said Malibu is a residential community. “Are we going to support floating businesses?” He cited as an example placing a burger joint at the end of the pier rather than a seafood restaurant as an example of a business failure based on what he considered bad judgment.
He said there is a bottleneck of traffic near the Civic Center shopping centers. “Our town is grid lock. Let’s take care of PCH first,” he said.
Patterson said diversification may be needed but the community could not have gotten an Anawalt Lumber and Hardware store.
Missy Zeitsoff said a long time ago during the formation of the General Plan the city looked at the possibility of including an economic element in the General Plan. “The city is a commercial owner. It might be useful to form a Commercial and Financing Commission. It is not fair when talking about chains [including] locally owned franchises,” she said. “If there is a high commercial vacancy rate,that means we don’t need more.”
Andy Lyon said the Cross Creek shopping area “Is not for us. The Colony is going to be Balboa. Are you ready?” he asked.
House referring to elements of the diversification ordinance proposed by some and being considered at next week’s city council meeting said, “I don’t know if a Conditional Use Permit is an attractive way to do business. It is an interesting problem.” Under a retail formula ordinance, House said, “Anawalt and Planet Blue would be chains.”
John Sibert said he has spent most of his life as a free market advocate. “Government is lousy at running business. One council member worried about the city becoming a landlord [when the Chili Cook-Off site was purchased], but that was for debt service, It is not the city’s job to fill commercial space. You guys at the chamber should be doing that. We should not be taking the lead,” John Sibert said he has spent most of his life as a free market advocate. “Government is lousy at running business. One council member worried about the city becoming a landlord [when the Chili Cook-Off site was purchased], but that was for debt service, It is not the city’s job to fill commercial space. You guys at the chamber should be doing that. We should not be taking the lead,” he said.
Another question concerned water district issues: There are 34 water tanks in the Malibu coastal area served by [Waterworks] District 29. Approximately 16 of those tanks do not hold enough water to satisfy the fire department standard for fire flow. Homes served by these tanks may not be able to expand by more than 10 percent and homes destroyed by any means may not be able to rebuild. How would you solve district 29 and the fire department problems?
“That is the biggest problem we have,” answered Hans Laetz. “District 29 is a disaster. There is no local control. We can’t even get answers about how bad they are. At some point there is going to be a catastrophe,” he said.
Missy Zeitsoff said part of the problem is the district is not doing capitol improvements. “It is unbelievable how much we are paying for water than others outside the district,” she said.
Chamber head Don Schmitz elaborated on the questions saying studies have shown it would take $250 million with about $150 million in required improvements in Malibu. “There is a change of policy instituted outside of the city that has created a de facto [building] moratorium,” he added about the district requiring new users to pay for costly upgrades to the system
Skylar Peak said the fire department action stems from a lawsuit by a homeowner in Acton. “The fire department got sued,” he said. “It is not fair for us to pay for all the litigation.”
Patterson noted there is a giant infrastructure problem in the entire country. “Maybe it is time to take back the water district. We need to get down and dirty on this issue,” he said.
Schmitz told the candidates the fire department has said no to any kind of personal water systems including a proposed 150,000 gallon storage system [for a hillside residential home]. “They still said no unless the homeowner contributed to the current water system,” he said.
Sibert noted Malibu has some of the most expensive water in Southern California. “I would love the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District to take it over. Hamish is right. We have to bite the bullet. But you cannot just take it over,” Sibert said.
House said, “We are talking about public safety. We passed approval on Trancas Highlands for a water tank. Malibu has always been expensive. Water is going up for everybody,” she said.
Lyon said it is noticeable about the constant repairs of the water pipes up and down the highway. “Pepperdine has huge tanks. Maybe they can get involved. The city council should work on it.”
Somewhat akin to a game show host, Schmitz wanted answers to the next question “in no more than 15 seconds.”
“Since cityhood we have had on-site water storage mitigation. Should we go back to on-site water storage?”
Lyon answered, “yes.” Laetz said he wanted to know why the firefighters have done so and would say yes only if the firefighters say it is safe. House said “on-site water storage is perfect. Patterson said, “Yes. Absolutely. But most of these houses are outside city limits.”
Peak said, “The issue of source should not be a factor. “Yes,” Sibert, who quipped, “The guy imposing this is retiring in a couple of weeks.”
“Maybe the city could take part.” Zeitsoff said, “I don’t see it as a problem. There has to be a good reason [for the decision] I don’t have the expertise,” she said.
The fourth question was asked: “Surrounding communities have hired third party consultants to analyze their permitting process for new homes and businesses, to make recommendations to the council on how to improve and streamline the process. Would you support such a study to improve the ability of new businesses and homeowners to establish themselves in Malibu?
Patterson said there has been too much use of consultants. “It is influence. If there is not the right people down there. Money talks,” he said. To which the audience murmured its disapproval.
Later, Patterson said he was not talking about corruption, but about how money could buy extra attorneys, consultants, permit expediters to move the process along.
“I’m not into streamlining. Maybe the planning process needs to be slower,” Patterson said.
Schmitz had interrupted Patterson to say, “The chamber is about good business. I have the highest regard for the planning department. There is no stench of corruption in the planning department,” he said.
House said streamlining should be looked at. “I am a big believer in using zoning codes to control building. The Ralph’s center would be a quarter size under the city codes. There has only been several commercial projects [approved by the city], a storage facility and office buildings,” she said.
Sibert said it is totally false about [comments made] about the staff. The problem we have is communication. But we have the California Coastal Commission. They are in favor of streamlining. I echo Joan. There is a potential of 800,000 square feet [of build out] that has been there all along. We took 130,000 square feet of potential commercial out. There is no evidence the city is leading development,” he said.
Laetz said he wanted to refer to how the Lumberyard shopping center has changed the character on the entire Civic Center area
Laetz said it was House and Sibert that gave “every exemption and waiver” to the Trancas market remodeling project. “Streamlining is one thing, but not loopholes,” he said.
The next question asked, “What do you see as the top three issues facing Malibu homeowners with respect to property values and property rights? If elected would you commit to making the tough decisions on these issues even if that decision is not the popular one?
Zietsoff said, “I am tough. It won’t be a problem. The infrastructure problems are the most difficult. Road repairs are not done. The CHP is back, but policing is an issue, but now we are spending money on studies for wastewater injection,” she said.
Laetz said schools and water had already been talked about. “I am an intervener in the SCE lawsuit. We are going to win $12 million. Now it is about how to spend it. I want it for studying the poles in the Santa Monica Mountains—an inspection.”
Sibert said PCH is a disaster. “The schools are really, really important. The permitting process makes it possible. I did my own permitting. The process worked well. I did not use experts. I have to agree with Hans on the poles. He did a great job.”
Lyon said the septic ban completely effects the surrounding properties saying Malibu has been made a hostage of the septic ban.
“The other thing is the Broad Beach GHAD. It will go on for 20 years. Even John [Sibert] said it is ‘spitting in the wind.’ And there will be an assessment district.”
House defended her vote on the Trancas market redevelopment saying the decisions were all unanimous. “I will come back with what the variances were. I have a serious problem with the water board. Package treatment plant in Civic Center?’”
Peak said the city needs to keep an eye out for the mobile home parks because of upcoming legislation attempting to abolish rent control. He said two other important issues for homeowners are wastewater and view, which are also important.

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