Let me begin by saying what this measure and this battle are not about. This isn’t a battle between the family of an elitist non-residential Hollywood titan and a greedy over-reaching land desecrator determined to squeeze every last dollar out of Malibu. Looking at some of the ads and direct mail pieces, you could almost conclude this is a battle between evils, which it most certainly is not.
Whether you agree with them or not, you have to admire the Reiners, who put themselves on the line — their personal reputations, their energy, their money and the inevitable hits they knew they would take when they entered the fray. I’d call that democracy at its best, with people who care deeply.
Steve Soboroff is also not some land reaper out to make a quick buck. I’ve known Steve for most of the 27 years we’ve owned the newspaper and he has always been the first center owner to step up for a local cause, contribute energy and money, work to keep local business in his centers and be part of this community. Whatever you read to the contrary about either the Reiners or Soboroff is nonsense and should be totally ignored.
The issue on which you’re asked to vote is whether Measure R is a solution to a problem which perplexes many of us, including me.
So let’s begin with the problem. Malibu is changing, and for many of us it’s going in a direction with which many of us are uncomfortable. We have gone from a somewhat laid-back beach community of 12,000 to a worldwide brand, a shopping destination for the rich and famous, and a name that every international brand wants to put on their list of locations. This change has come with a high price for most of us. For one thing, the traffic, which before was just in the summer but has now become a permanent feature of our lives — and in both directions. Intersections, like PCH and Cross Creek Road, which would be occasionally backed up in the past, are now part of one long line, from Las Flores Canyon into the Civic Center. Many of the stores serve the shopping destination crowd and are of little interest to the local community.
The prospect of additional development, although the number, size and amount is greatly overstated and intended to scare, still seems like it wouldn’t provide much incentive for residents. Knowing all this and feeling the way I do, why am I against Measure R?
It strikes me that Measure R, though well intentioned, won’t work, will cost a great deal and ultimately produce the almost opposite effect of what people want. What the measure does is try to slam the door on new projects. Although some of the center owners aren’t talking about it, it means that the existing commercial buildings become infinitely more valuable. The shortage of retail space becomes greater, rent competition lesser and rental rates go up. It’s simple supply and demand and it’s an absolute goodbye to all the mom and pops shops.
You also cannot slam the development door shut and not know that you are going to be engaged in some major litigation. Recently, the Malibu Village sold for $120 million. That means the centers owned by Michael Koss and the City of Malibu are probably worth, I’m guessing, in excess of $500 million, and anything affecting Civic Center land that valuable is going to be litigated long, hard and expensively.
There is also some language in Measure R that appears unclear, even muddled, and leaves considerable uncertainty about how some of the provisions of Measure R will play out. Somewhere downstream, some court is going to have to interpret them. That is always risky because you never know how you are going to end up.
Most of all, ballot measures are rigid and future councils can’t change them, or fix problems that no one could foresee.
A much better way would be for the council to bring back their own measure after the election, give it a harder and tougher look and make some changes. The council knows what the problems are, they just need to muster the guts to confront them.
There is a letter in this week’s Malibu Times from eight past mayors urging a “no” vote on Measure R. The hard reality is that there is a significant segment of the Malibu population that doesn’t trust the council to fix things. To a degree, this development problem — both actual and potential — got away from all eight of them and the current council is going to have to show they can improve the situation, assuming of course the proposition fails. The eight ex-mayors are all sensible, competent people, but they grossly underestimated the impacts of the Civic Center development. I must confess, so did I. It sort of crept up on all of us and if they get the opportunity again to fix it, they need to act, and act with more urgency than they have in the past.
No matter what the results of the Measure R election, if the present council doesn’t deal with the Civic Center development problems in a way that satisfies more of Malibu, I suspect in 2016 a much more radical council could get voted into office.
P.S. I’ll deal with the water bond, judicial races, county board of supervisors and other county offices in next week’s column.