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    On Being a Malibu Architect: The Malibu Bay Co. & Measure M

    Lester Tobias
    Jul 27, '13 4:18 PM EST

    As I briefly explained in a prior post, just because the Malibu zoning code says that you may build something, does not mean that you can build it. This became evident in the fight over Measure M in 2002.
    The Malibu Bay Co. was the largest landowner in the city. Most of its holdings predated the fight to become a city. Eventually, the company owners felt that the recently written zoning code was not being interpreted in a manner that gave them much certainty with regard to the development potential of their numerous commercial properties. They came up with a progressive idea to master plan all of their holdings, essentially ignoring the zoning code, and enter into a customized development agreement with the City of Malibu. The result was Measure M.
    The benefit to the Bay Co. from Measure M was it would be guaranteed a 20-year approval period on numerous projects that circumvented many aspects of the zoning code. The benefit to the city was the total amount of square footage allowed to be built by the Bay Co. would be greatly reduced, the company would pay for several civic projects, and a comprehensive design for a large portion of the Civic Center would be achieved.
    The Malibu City Council was unanimously in favor of the project. Their appointees on the Planning Commission were unanimously opposed. The old-timers were opposed. The progressive transplants were in favor.
    In the end, the vote to approve the development agreement failed, and the city ended up buying a large part of the Bay Co.’s Civic Center land for about $25 million.
    However, the Bay Co. put so many deed restrictions on the use of the property, that by the time the deal was done, grants were obtained and donations were compiled, the land could only be developed as a park, of which its primary use is as a storm water runoff collection pond, with the only allowable public use being walking footpaths.
    So we gained a footpath, but we lost the historic site of the Chili Cook-Off, which is the biggest annual event in our town.
    But the Measure M development was the most exciting, large-scale design proposal in the history of Malibu. It was master planned and designed by Ed Niles, an internationally recognized architect who has lived in Malibu for at least forty years.
    A large-scale model was constructed and put on public display. During one presentation an environmental activist ran up and dumped a bucket of mud on the model. It proved, at the time, that Malibu was not ready to entertain such a large project.
    And it probably still isn’t.
    In the past year, most of the properties surrounding Legacy Park are in the permitting process for hotels, office parks, and retail centers. Many of these projects have received tentative approvals, but the fight to stop them is being waged at the fringes of the code. Traffic studies, State Lands encroachment, and sycamore tree preservation have all been used a foils for these developments, in lieu of actual zoning code requirements. Time will tell whether these projects, if deemed code compliant, will withstand the scrutiny of public opinion, regardless of the laws.
    Stay tuned.

    This post is part of a series devoted to the life and work as a Malibu architect. The distinct geography and topography of Malibu, in addition to the customary governmental regulations, affect how an architect will tackle design challenges when building in Malibu. In addition, its unique citizenry that fight to keep the Malibu Way of Life intact, sometimes with opposing views on development, also impact how we build here. With this series, I will address these topics and nuances involved that affect Malibu architecture. 

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A blog on architectural design, and thoughts and ideas on the process of design, from the unique perspective of a Malibu architect, who must deal with severely restrictive zoning codes.

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