Politics

Malibu City Council gets an earful as residents react to chain store decision

FILE: Voters in Malibu thought that approving a measure to limit retail stores would help maintain the character of the beach town, but a judge recently overturned the measure.
FILE: Voters in Malibu thought that approving a measure to limit retail stores would help maintain the character of the beach town, but a judge recently overturned the measure.
JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

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Malibu voters, who thought they’d blocked a large retail project to maintain the character of the famous beach town only to have their vote overturned in court, got their first chance to discuss the decision before the City Council Monday night.

About 15 local residents spoke during a public comment period that followed a review of the December Los Angeles Superior Court decision that overturned the voters' will on a planned shopping center anchored by a Whole Foods store.

At issue are two ballot measures: Measure R placed citywide restrictions on retail stores, such as requiring voters to approve plans for commercial projects over 20,000 square feet. That measure passed handily in November 2014 and was followed in November 2015 by Measure W, which failed to pass and so blocked the large commercial shopping center.

But L.A. Superior Court Judge James Chalfant's decision last month set aside the votes, essentially paving the way now for the shopping center to be built. 

On Monday night, council members heard from residents. Several said they felt deceived by a system that negated their votes to limit chain stores in Malibu. 

"I think it’s our duty to try and follow what the residents wanted and they overwhelmingly wanted this,” said Michael Osterman, a business owner and 30-year resident of Malibu, in urging the council to appeal the court decision.

On the other hand, Malibu resident Justine Peretti echoed a sentiment also shared during the meeting: concerns about the cost to pursue further legal action while issues like homelessness and school improvements need addressing.

“I would hate to see any more money spent on this,” she said. “I think it would be a total waste.”

Some suggested if an appeal goes forward, it should be Rob Reiner who pays for it. The actor was a major supporter of Measure R to stop the development.

Steve Soboroff, the developer behind the project and former vice chairman of the Los Angeles Dodgers, was unavailable for an interview, according to his representative.

Malibu Mayor Laura Zahn Ronsenthal has been hearing from many residents since the judge’s decision. Voters have been approaching her at the gym and grocery store, she said.

"I think that’s important to listen to the will of the voters," she said. "But if something is unconstitutional we can’t do it."

City Attorney Christi Hogin said council members should consider several issues when deciding whether to appeal the court decision. For one, she said, there may be ways to solve the problem through legislation without appealing. Additionally, she cautioned that an appeal could ultimately make things worse and create further openings for development since there aren't a lot of decisions published on similar issues. 

The final judgment is expected by Jan. 28. Hogin said the city then has 60 days to decide whether to appeal.