City of Malibu

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“We thought it was dead, but it keeps coming back,” joked Malibu resident Michael Lustig. 

City Council was greeted with a full house in the Civic Theater at City Hall for a special meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 3, regarding one of the most hot button issues in the city: short-term rental regulations.

This meeting comes on the heels of an Oct. 28 council meeting where, after reviewing the financial and legal analysis of a ban, council directed staff to create a two-phase approach to regulating vacation rentals: one would be a quick fix, a Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) that enacts some restrictions, and the other would be a long-term solution, a Local Coastal Program Amendment modeled after a short-term rental restriction enacted last year in the City of Santa Monica. 

As previously reported by The Malibu Times, the City of Santa Monica’s Home Sharing Ordinance allows homeowners to “host visitors for compensation for a period of less than 31 days, as long as the resident and visitor are both present in the home,” according to the City of Santa Monica website.

By the end of the meeting, it was clear the more popular option was to scrap the quick fix of a ZTA and focus on launching the progress of a permanent Local Coastal Program Amendment modeled after the one in Santa Monica—one that has notably already been upheld in court.

More than a dozen speakers came to the podium to make their case, most in favor of a total ban on vacation rentals. 

The first speaker, Planning Commissioner John Mazza, asked council to “fast track the Santa Monica ordinance, pass it and enforce it, without going to the [California] Coastal Commission.

“The Coastal Commission can change what you do if you ask them—so don’t ask them,” he suggested.

He also requested council authorize a budget item for the planning department and staff to speed up the process for the ordinance to take effect before the end of summer 2020.

Other speakers referred to Mazza’s comment and chose to focus on the importance of enforcement.

“No matter what you pass, if you don’t enforce the laws that you guys put together, there’s no point in putting them together,” longtime Malibu resident Graeme Clifford said.

Realtor Andrew Gombiner, who said he owned a multi-family property on Malibu Road, claimed the proposal “still goes too far.”

He argued that adopting it would “eliminate more than half of the TOT [transient occupancy tax]” and lead to the elimination of the city’s financial reserves in 10 years.

“Why now, so soon after the Woolsey Fire, consider such a significant loss of income? I don’t get it,” Gombiner added.

Another Malibu Road building owner, Marc Maniscalco, countered many speakers’ claims that—as Clifford phrased it—”quality of life in our community trumps money any day of the week.”

“Quality of life in its most basic form is most easily achieved by money,” Maniscalco said.

Lustig, representing a “coalition” of 400 residents who signed a petition in support of the short-term rental restrictions, called passing the zoning amendment a mortally bad idea.

After outlining the coalition’s reasoning, Lustig asked for two things: “Vote ‘no’ on the ZTA and make a motion that promises us that you will pass and implement the Malibu Rules before the election.” (Malibu Rules refers to the city’s version of Santa Monica’s ordinance.)

One of the final speakers, Realtor Brian Merrick, said he did not particularly care for which way the council made the decision—so long as they kept it out of the hands of the planning commission, which has vocally supported heavy restrictions or a full ban.

“I think that the final decision should be with you guys, it should not go to the planning commission,” he said. “I’ve seen a majority of [commissioners] already come before you today. They have an agenda ... You need to make the decisions, and not them.”

Council Member Rick Mullen, in favor of the most “simple” solution, asked Assistant City Attorney Trevor Rusin how long the process to secure a Local Coastal Program amendment from the California Coastal Commission would take. 

Rusin, along with Planning Director Bonnie Blue, explained that though the city could expedite the paperwork as much as it wanted to—resulting in a finish date of late spring 2020—the ensuing timeline would be dependent on the Coastal Commission. The result would most likely come back to the city with modifications, which council would have to consider adopting before sending back to Coastal.

Mullen asked whether any changes could be made locally within that time period.

“No, because it would be a change of use,” Rusin answered. 

This is where the ZTA would be useful, allowing council to start regulating rentals in the city. Homesharing, however, would have to wait until certification from the coastal commission.

Mayor Pro Tem Mikke Pierson kept his comments short, but noted that, “This is a residential community and I think this is where we have to stand up for it.”

“Ultimately, we’ll have to do an LCPA if we want to go to home sharing,” Council Member Skylar Peak said. “I don’t see at all the benefits of doing ZTA.”

Mayor Karen Farrer seemed to be the sole council member in favor of the ZTA, which she said would “put in place mechanisms to shut people down who are causing problems while we wait for the home sharing ordinance.”

Their job, as Council Member Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner described it, was considering “whether we’re willing to put our constituents through the long wait of the LCPA to have it done correctly in the long run or do we adopt something—this is the quick language of it—adopt something now that we crafted that has bullet points that may hurt us in the long run?”

Council went ahead with a straw vote to test opinion among members regarding an LCP amendment, but no ZTA: all five members voted ‘yes.’ 

From there, Wagner asked for clearer definitions to help with enforcement in the city. 

With the “bones of ordinance,” Rusin clarified that staff would review the Santa Monica staff report (“Plagiarism is good and we can benefit from their lessons,” Mullen said.), review Lustig’s emailed suggestions representing the community and add more definition to the amendment. 

The motion passed with a 5-0 vote.

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