It’s in council’s hands now.
Malibu’s planning commissioners weathered threats, curses and supplications lobbed at them on Monday in order to move forward with a city council-proposed ordinance to reduce the size of development homeowners are permitted to build on residential lots.
A crowd of hundreds of residents descended on Malibu City Hall on Monday, July 1, almost all of them demanding planning commissioners not take up a proposal to impose more stringent limits on the amount of total development square footage permitted in Malibu.
City Hall’s parking lots were filled; dozens of extra chairs brought into the council chambers did nothing to accommodate the mass of people, who sat on the floor, leaned on walls and filled an overflow room—the city’s large Multipurpose Room—to capacity.
After three-and-a-half hours of passionate—and, at times, raucous—public comment, the commission began the process of determining exactly how best to advise council on the proposed changes.
In February of this year, Malibu City Council discussed their desire to preserve Malibu’s neighborhood character and fight perceived mansionization. Council voted, 4-1, to have staff draw up an ordinance “that alters the maximum TDSF [total development square footage] down to 8,500 square feet; and develop language that would allow use of 75 percent of the TDSF unless the average of the neighborhood allowed use of up to, but not to more than, the new maximum TDSF allowed for the lot size.” The sole dissenting vote on that item was Mayor Pro Tem Karen Farrer.
Now, it was the planning commission’s time to take a crack at it—council had previously specified it was not to go through the normal channel of a hearing at the Zoning Ordinance Revisions and Code Enforcement Subcommittee (ZORACES).
Complaints from audience members ranged from loss of home value to misuse of staff resources, as well as accusations the commission was knowingly trying to force through an unpopular amendment.
“I’m not buying it. You wouldn’t have scheduled this tonight if you were on the square,” the very first speaker of the evening, Forrest Stuart, told the commission. “Not everybody, but a lot of people, are out of town. You do it right at Fourth of July. You think you’re clever, but you’re not that clever and we’re not buying it out here.”
Other speakers, including 25-year resident Peter Higgins, suggested the timing was poor since many people are displaced after the Woolsey Fire.
“This smacks of piling on, as far as I’m concerned,” Higgins said. “If you wish to do this, wait until the people have recovered and the city can deal with this—and all the people are here. Not the people who are hurting, living in hotels, displaced. It’s bad timing. It’s piling on.”
Other residents accused commissioners of engaging in political maneuvering.
“They know that if they put this up to a vote, everybody would turn this down because nobody wants this,” homeowner Mark Damber said. “This is an unfair and unpopular vote, and if it passes, it will guarantee a lawsuit ... Please spend your time helping the victims of fire, not doing nonsense like this.”
Many speakers expressed fear and frustration over a loss of value to their homes, including longtime residents, Realtors and real estate appraisers, new landowners hoping to build, and young families.
A small handful of supporters were brave enough to voice their opinion on Monday as well, including longtime resident Lucile Keller.
“We are one of the old time families,” Keller said, describing how her family has lived on their three-quarters-of-an-acre lot for 58 years. She said the new, decreased development allowance would still allow much more than her family needed. “According to the TDSF figures I got in the mail, I can build twice the house I have now, with the reduced figures.”
“Why don’t we want mansions in Malibu? Because we think they will turn into rehabs and short-term rentals, which is commercial use inserted into residential zoning,” she continued. “We won’t have any neighbors left. There will be corporate owners. They aren’t going to be there.”
Around 10:45 p.m., when it became time for planning commissioners to speak, Commission Chair Steve Uhring sought to reassure residents the commission would be recommending some changes.
“Our general plan is our constitution,” Uhring explained, adding, “We’re going to make some changes that may make it more palatable for the people here.”
Commissioner John Mazza added that council needed input from the commission, but was not compelled to follow their guidance.
“We need to give them our input; they may take it, they may not take it,” Mazza said, adding, “If we say, ‘Table it,’ it’s not tabled. It’s just, ‘We don’t want to comment,’ and that’s a bad decision.”
Commission Vice Chair Jeff Jennings did not mince words, describing that in his opinion “The planning process in Malibu has completely broken down”; but, he later added, “Here’s the conclusion: this proposed ordinance doesn’t do anything to impact that problem.”
Later in the evening, Uhring suggested the restrictions should cover not only rural residential properties but all residential lots in Malibu.
“I think we’d like to have it apply to single family across the board,” Uhring said.
“If we’re going to screw people, we ought to screw everybody,” Jennings replied wryly, eliciting a round of applause from those in the audience still present for the 11:45 p.m. exchange—not the only heated moment on the dias that evening.
A few minutes later, as Mazza suggested removing some language from the city code describing neighborhood standards, Planning Director Bonnie Blue interjected, telling Mazza, “You’re now amending more than council asked you.”
As Mazza continued to describe the change he wanted, Blue repeated, “I just want to remind Commissioner Mazza, I strongly caution not to do that.”
“I would strongly recommend that you listen to me,” he replied, to groans and boos from the audience.
In the final vote, which took place after 12:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, Uhring, as well as commissioners Kraig Hill and Chris Marx, voted to approve a motion detailing some modifications to council’s suggestions, including keeping the building allowance the same on lots up to one acre in size, limiting houses to a maximum of 8,500 square feet, regardless of lot size and making the restrictions apply citywide to all single-family zoned lots.
Jennings, echoing the vote of Farrer, the city council member who appointed him, voted “No,” as did Mazza.
Malibu Planning Commission proposes an ordinance reducing the allowed total development square footage, that:
• Keeps the TDSF curve (limit) the same as it currently exists for properties up to at least one acre.
• Applies to all residentially zoned properties except for multi-family zoning districts.
• Sets the TDSF curve maximum at 8,500 square feet.
• For lots larger than one acre, includes a separate additional curve (limit) that restricts the size of the primary house so that at the maximum end of the curve where the overall TDSF limit is 8,500 square feet, the primary house limit would be no more than approximately 75 to 80 percent of the maximum TDSF, with the curve tapering back to the one-acre lot size where the maximum house size would equal the maximum TDSF.
• Sets the maximum TDSF for beachfront lots at 8,500 square feet.
Per City of Malibu Memo