It isn’t often you see a city council consciously try to hurt its own citizens. To intentionally try and make them all poorer. To tell the citizenry what the council believes is good for them. To tell them to stop complaining and take the council-prescribed medicine. Well, they’re doing it and coming next Monday, the Planning Commission, after what promises to be a long and contentious meeting, will—I suspect—vote to make us all quite a bit poorer in the name of keeping our little rural town rural. The fact that it is a rural fantasy doesn’t matter because our city council (by 4 to 1) and our Planning Commission (by pretty much the same vote) believe that is what you all want. Unless you tell them loudly and emphatically that you don’t want all of us downzoned, it is going to happen.
So, you have to ask yourself: Why are they doing it?
There are some like council member Rick Mullen, a true believer who thinks that a house of 1,900 or so square feet is good enough for him and his family, and therefore should be good enough for the rest of us also. A number of people on the council share that belief. There are some who believe that the houses being designed or renovated are mansions and destroying what they believe is the character of neighborhoods. There are others seeing people getting what’s allowed under the current code who seem to be friends and supporters of certain planning commissioners and council members while they are being denied approval. It’s inevitable. When government gets arbitrary, people begin to believe there may be corruption.
As for the Malibu Planning Commission, and planning commissioners Steve Uhring and John Mazza in particular, well, they never saw a house they believed shouldn’t be smaller. The city got into this because the commission created a big problem for them. People would go through the entire planning process, hire all the necessary consultants, design a house that was within the existing standards and then the planning commission would look at it and say “No, it’s too big,” and “Go back and try again.” That was after people had spent tens of thousands of dollars or even several hundred thousands to essentially be back at square one. They screamed and shouted, and the council agreed the system was broken. If we were going to reject proposed buildings or renovations, there had to be some certainty. Just to say that it violated neighborhood standards when there were no agreed rules made it all arbitrary and unnecessarily expensive.
Creating some neighborhood standards sounds like a solution, but it turns out to be much more complicated than you might think. For example, what’s a neighborhood? Do you just count your side of the street—or include the other side of the street? How many houses should be required to define a neighborhood? If there are not enough houses on your street, should you count the houses around the corner?
I’ll give you an example.
What’s the neighborhood standard in Malibu Park? Is there one size that fits all parts of Malibu Park? Do we split it up into sub neighborhoods or what? Do we use the average size or the median size? Suppose we choose the average—then how much variation do we allow? Do we allow 50 percent above the average? How about 100 percent above the average? Then, there is an even bigger question: What do you do about all the older houses, many of which were built in the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s? Many of them have older owners. That house is their retirement, their estate and, for many, the source of their funds to pay for care in their old age. Downzoning reduces their value, sometimes significantly.
We are going to create winners and losers in this game. If you are in an old house and you’ve been there for 40 years and never renovated, well, you lose. Tough! If you live on a large lot with a small house, you lose again because you can’t build out or sell under the rules like everyone else was able to do. If, on the other hand, you built or bought a new house, relatively recently, you are the big winner because other people are not able to do what you did. I would speculate that if any of you have a house that was built before the year 2000 or even, say, 1990 and have never done a major size renovation, you have major problem. If under the old rules you could build an 8,000-square-foot house and the new rules down zone you to a maximum of 6,000 square feet, do the arithmetic. A Realtor and long-term Malibu citizen said houses sell for about $1,000 per square foot. If they cut you by 2,000 square feet, you’ve effectively lost $2 million. It’s even worse if you have a small lot where maybe you could have built a 2,400-square-foot house. Under the cuts they’re thinking about, you would be down to 1,800 square feet, which would make the lot almost economically unbuildable.
We have a serious problem in Malibu. We’ve had a major fire. We’ve lost approximately 450 homes in the City of Malibu, which equates to about 2,000 people, plus another 350 homes or so in County Malibu, which equates to the loss of another 1,400. We’ve lost families. We’ve lost children. Many businesses are hanging on by their fingernails. The schools have lost students. What is the council looking for? An empty town with all of the middle class gone? Why would the council and planning commission want to kick people while they’re down? The answer is relatively simple. They live in a bubble and unless they come out and realistically evaluate things, they will destroy this town.
Go to the meeting next Monday, July 1, at 6:30 p.m. and add your voice. Fight to preserve Malibu. Malibu is not buildings—it’s people.