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Traffic Dominates Discussion Over Proposed Whole Foods Project

Developer Steve Soboroff said he believes the project’s plans will stand up to the scrutiny.

Many residents called into question on Tuesday the impact of traffic on Malibu's Civic Center if a proposed shopping center with a Whole Foods and other planned projects are developed in the city.

The comments came during a two-hour public scoping meeting held as part of the creation of an environmental impact report (EIR) for the project, which would be located on the corner of Cross Creek Road and Civic Center Way in Malibu. About 40 people attended the meeting.

The city of Malibu brought on a consultant, Impact Sciences, to generate a draft EIR for the project, which envisions the Whole Foods market, plus several other businesses, a park and a clock tower.  

Developer Steve Soboroff, who attended the hearing but did not speak publicly, told Patch that he believed it was a good meeting.

“I think the things that people brought up are things that I’ve considered from the very beginning,” Soboroff said.

He added that he is proud of the project and believes it will move forward.

“All the things that would have stopped the project were not correct in what people said and this wasn’t the time to correct them,” Soboroff said of comments made by activists and residents during the meeting.

During the hearing, Malibu’s Senior Planner Bonnie Blue said a conditional use permit and a coastal development permit are needed for the project. Blue added that changes are also needed for the city’s general plan and the municipal code zoning map because of a conflict with the Local Coastal Program.

The project includes two parcels, one of which is zoned for a higher commercial use that needs to be downgraded to match the other parcel, she said.

"It’s basically a cleanup to bring things into consistency," Blue said.

Traffic

Jeff Fuller, a resident of Serra Canyon, said that many owners of the 110 homes in the canyon oppose the project because of its possible impact on traffic on Cross Creek Road.

"All the truck traffic will come off our private Cross Creek roadway. It’s not a public road, it’s a private road," Fuller said.

He added that he is concerned about the ability of emergency vehicles to access Serra Canyon and of residents to evacuate during a fire.

"We are deeply concerned about the impact of the traffic of this particular project. We’re concerned about the overall cumulative impact of this project and all the commercial projects within the civic center," Fuller said.

Ozzie Silna, who also lives in Serra Canyon, said he is concerned about the impact of future traffic from projects in the pipeline in Civic Center.

"I can't imagine that you can even do an EIR that would show the impact of all of those parking spots after they are built," Silna said. "... This is virtual insanity."

Steve Uhring requested that new technology is used "to make sure we have accurate counts" in the project’s traffic study.

Malibu Planning Director Joyce Parker-Bozylinski said that new traffic counts will be required for the study. She added that a traffic consultant will be hired by the developer, and it will be peer reviewed for accuracy. In response, several residents called on the city to do its own study.

Planning Commissioner John Mazza asked that parking be looked at closely, especially with the plan for a restaurant with outdoor eating.

Brian Eamer asked that an independent firm does a peer review of the EIR to make sure that the cumulative effect of future development on traffic be analyzed.

Open Space

Jae Flora-Katz, of Preserve Malibu, said she wants the EIR to examine the proposed amount of landscaping for the project, adding that it should not be lower than what the city’s general plan calls for.

"We will vigorously protest that," Flora-Katz said.

Alessandra Di Carlo also called the project’s design into question.

"It looks really jolly to have this little thing," Di Carlo said, pointing to the project's design on a nearby wall. "This to me looks more like a Beverly Hills or a Hollywood. It doesn’t really fit into the Malibu way of life."

Water, Fire & Sewer

Activist Cindy Vandor called on the city to examine the site’s water issues.

"You must provide proof that you will have as much water as you will need as well as what water will be necessary for a fire," Vandor said.

Attorney Frank Angel said he is concerned about water runoff.

"I request that the runoff flows be very carefully studied," Angel said.

Andy Lyon, who recently ran for Malibu City Council, said he is concerned that there is no backup plan beyond the project tying into the proposed sewer in the Malibu Civic Center, which is in the planning stages.

"I’m just curious about getting rid of all of the water. It seems like we are putting the cart before the horse," Lyon said.

Former City Councilman Jefferson Wagner said an easement should be dedicated for emergency vehicles behind the property to tie into a similar easement on the La Paz property nearby.

He also asked that the project keep a water storage tank on site to help firefighters protect the center's structures during a wildfire.

Jae Flora-Katz also expressed worry about wildfire sweeping through the Civic Center.

"It will come. It is going to come. There are lives that are going to be at stake. I hope the city takes this all into consideration and at some point says no," Flora-Katz said.

'Take Back Malibu'

A few residents expressed disapproval of the project and called on the city to put a stop to it.

Pamela Fink said she wants a list of all projects within two miles of California's coast that have been halted during an EIR process.

"It seems like we go through a process we do all these tests and studies and they get built. It’s frustrating and against the will of the people. No one wants it," Fink said, adding that she believes Malibu residents should put all the proposed development in Malibu up for a vote.

Carla McCloskey also asked if attendees of the hearing were open to supporting a ballot initiative that would allow Malibu residents to vote on whether the project can move forward.

"Take back Malibu," Andy Lyon called out as other residents applauded.

Many more people spoke during the two-hour meeting. If your point of view was not included, please share it in the comments section below.

steve soboroff May 25, 2012 at 07:03 PM
Cindy. Call me and come over I will show you the signed lease Not lying :) have a nice weekend
steve soboroff May 25, 2012 at 07:05 PM
Up to 40 years.
Carla May 25, 2012 at 07:36 PM
Thank you for responding. Has Whole Foods looked at the number of customers that are likely to frequent their store? One more question. The project is called 'In the park." Where is the park? Malibu requires 45% open space in developments. You are asking for a variance to 12%. This is a huge variance. Why should the city give this to you?
hellwood May 25, 2012 at 07:37 PM
Mr. Soboroff, you seem like a really sincere and friendly guy. is there any reason you are opposed to scaling down the project a bit, and making it more like a park instead of a parking lot? does it make you uncomfortable when you hear how saddened the residents of this rural town are about our scenery going down the toilet? do you hike? fish? kayak? swim in the ocean? snorkel? Im sure there a lot of us who would be willing to take you on some scenic malibu adventures so that you can see first hand what the big deal is.
R Y A N May 25, 2012 at 08:01 PM
The minimum guaranteed lease duration is the key -- both to the developer (for cash flow regardless of sales/success) and the community, to ensure a big-box store doesn't end up in the square footage. Someday, Ralphs' lease will expire and that location may go upscale, and it has better-isolated parking that is essentially boxed-in from the rest of the shopping center's parking with a wide, landscaped median, slopes on two sides, and the market frontage on the other.
Mark Hayes May 26, 2012 at 01:35 PM
A review of existing parking circumstances reveals a few interesting conditions. The Malibu Country Marts parking lots have never been sufficient for the amount of visitors and employees. This results in substantial parking overflow to the streets and adjoining neighborhoods. These are developments from LA County days and really exist as our retail center of town. Present overflow goes onto the La Paz proposed project and will not be guaranteed in the future. Landlords and tenants do not like their parking consumed by employees so they are usually asked to park outside the shopping centers. When the city decides to install metered parking (?)or create additional fire lanes and the undeveloped properties stop allowing patrons to use their lots where does this traffic go? This is a real problem and is only getting worse everyday and summer is not even officially here. Even Point Dume Village has become unbearable with a parking lot full of angry and impatient visitors and no viable solutions. These parking issues must be addressed on a overall basis not on just an individual project basis. The Brentwood Whole Foods is a nice store but the parking problems it creates effects the entire neighborhood and it doesnt have additional shops to add to the woes of the residents.
Cindy Vandor May 26, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Show all Malibu a lease, Steve, now. All the details. Now. So the facts can be independently checked with Whole Foods corporate. Now. Show all Malibu who all your investors are. Now. So ownership, ROI, exit strategy, etc. can be independently checked with Whole Foods, with Fortress, or whoever. What's the truth about Fortress and Whole Foods, Steve? You say I can see the lease, you say you are not lying, I say thank you, give me all the information now and I will make it public.
steve soboroff May 26, 2012 at 05:58 PM
Hi Mark Agree that metered parking in commercial areas can be helpful! Your reference to the enjoyable Country Mart reminds me that Whole Foods project is 20% less building s/f with twice the parking, 10x the open space, and has more landscaping. Total s/f of restaurants in WFproject combined are the size of Marmalade! Whole Foods is about 60% smaller than their stores in the region! Tiny shop spaces (35' deep) will accommodate the types of goods and services that the community supports and enjoys. Have a great rest of the long weekend...l
J. Flo May 26, 2012 at 07:30 PM
Metered parking will only drive MORE residents out of shopping at Cross Creek. A very short-sighted and detrimental idea. Besides parking nightmares that already exist - look at the traffic horror that is PCH already. We don't need MORE traffic. It took me nearly 1.5 hours to drive 20 miles the other day. Residents are becoming afraid to leave on the weekends to go anywhere. Forget making a movie or dinner reservations. It is only going to get worse. Much worse. At some point our city has GOT to stop allowing more development. Someone in our city has got to wake up to the hardcore FACT that we have one road in and one road out and start making grown up decisions. At some point all parents have got to learn the NO word.
J. Flo May 26, 2012 at 09:00 PM
Leases can and are broken all the time. Whole Foods has not become a global entity by making dumb decisions - most can't imagine why they think our tiny population could ever possibly support their store. Maybe it's because the 2010 WF Market Analyst handed out from the development entity and in City records, state that the estimated annual income for households in Malibu is approximately $224,000.00. Boy, that's an impressive number! To bad the US Census Bureau states > Malibu Median household income 2006-2010 $125,202.00 Nearly half that figure. http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/06/0645246.html With billionaires included in our population how skewed is even that number? What is their criteria for opening a store? Per their own words "Most of our stores are located in high-traffic shopping areas on premier real estate sites and are either freestanding or in strip centers. We also have a number of urban stores located in high-density, mixed-use developments. In selecting store locations, we use an internally developed model to analyze potential sites based on various criteria such as education levels, population density and income levels within certain drive times." High traffic? High density? High population? High Income levels? What about this picture defines Malibu?
Susan Tellem May 26, 2012 at 10:20 PM
I sat next to the founder of Trader Joe's at a luncheon recently. He was adamant that Malibu could not support a Trader Joe's financially even if we all shopped there twice a day - I know more people would shop at TJ's than Whole Foods so I smell a rat. The numbers are all wrong. Parking meters are the beginning of the end for rural Malibu. We do not want them here under any circumstances.
J. Flo May 26, 2012 at 10:44 PM
One has to wonder - are new businesses being sold a bill of goods about how profitable they'll be? They sign these leases and quickly realize that the money and population is simply not here to support them? We see a big turn over in Cross Creek already. With a debatable population of 13,000 residents, almost half of those children and approximately 1/3 of those only living here part-time, at the most, it leaves only a couple thousand adult residents to do any sort of shopping. This tiny population already has 4 grocery stores plus a Farmers Market. Residents have been told that many of these high-end businesses are doing miserably. While a billion dollar corporate giant can write off loses, how long with that be a viable business model? Either the developers are banking on an enormous influx of tourists to shop or are simply getting leases signed to make the quick buck, while dramatically changing Malibu forever. Are businesses sold stories of wealth to locate in Malibu? While Malibu suffers from the losses of its local businesses, families going under, more land developed, vacant store fronts, traffic increases, residents continuing to leave local centers, heightened fire danger - who's left holding their ritzy (failed) bags? We are. It keeps moving in that direction - turning the clock back will be impossible. This city had better get smart, and even smarter, implement the General Plan and they better do it fast.
J. Flo May 27, 2012 at 02:20 AM
Also in the developers Whole Foods Market Analysis, recorded in the City Planning Dept, Sept. 23, 2010 - "Malibu's retail market encompasses the entire City of Malibu, primarily zip code 92065, which has a total of just under 8,900 households." The United States Census Bureau - "Malibu Households, 2006-2010 > 4,673"  http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/06/0645246.html Again - the US Census Bureau states half the numbers as stated in the developers proposals. Funny how that keeps happening . . . ? These ridiculous numbers came from an old, flawed survey that a business group (with the Chamber) designed years ago. Convenient numbers that basically double the households in Malibu and the income level. OK, let's play along - with 13000 residents and 8900 households - that would mean that every house in Malibu has  1.5 people living in it. Does anyone (with a brain) believe that?  No matter how you figure it - it doesn't. Smiley faces with fake "aw-shucks" posts don't erase hard facts. How about this is a good time to start to show residents a little respect.
Mark Hayes May 27, 2012 at 03:03 AM
Just a few thoughts. In an earlier post there was a comparison of the Country Mart established by Fred Segal under LA County rules almost thirty years ago to a 2012 development under City of Malibu rules in order to make the Whole Foods project look small and homey is somewhat disingenuous. Also make no mistake about Whole Foods analysis and ability to compete in any given market. They are considered a category killer and have every intention of dominating the grocery business in any community they come to. This includes Malibu and if they have to take business away from any and all grocery stores,pharmacies, vitamin and health oriented stores along with restaurant and catering they will put all of their resources to work in order to accomplish the mission.That is why they are an almost 3 billion dollar company and growing. They are the darling of the industry and so much more powerful than all of the rest.
Stuart McClay Smith May 27, 2012 at 04:22 AM
We already have a mass transit system in Malibu, those enormous empty orange busses that travel the entire length of PCH, Pt. Dume, all the way to Trancas.
Cindy Vandor May 27, 2012 at 05:29 PM
Soboroff: lying about a lease? Show a lease from Whole Foods. Lying about investors who care about the community? Name investors. Can you be honest?
Mark Hayes May 27, 2012 at 07:09 PM
Tenants that completely dominate a category care less about the exact median income and population because they intend to take over the majority of sales within a given area. These companies have to grow in order to feed the quarterly profits needed to improve the stock price. Untapped markets such as Malibu fit the profile of their demographic and if it takes a few extra years to gain their market position then so be it. Many businesses will feel the diminishing return in their bottom line because the "category killer" is very good at what they do.
J. Flo May 27, 2012 at 07:39 PM
True, but without the needed population and income to feed the insatiable machine - interest evaporates. This project has to find numbers to not only sell to the machine but the City. How many Malibu businesses will this giant eat? Plenty.
Mark Hayes May 27, 2012 at 07:45 PM
This might have a scintilla of merit if valuable services were being returned to its residents upon completion of any given development but the reality of any new development will be an anchor like a Whole Foods and very expensive shops as proposed with $12 to $15 dollar stores. I dont anticipate many local businesses returning at this rent level. Not one developer including the City of Malibu has decided to provide real opportunity at affordable rent levels for basic services. No, second floor corners dont count (Lumberyard). Older quality anchors like Banana Republic (affordable clothing)or Radio Shack our only electronics) will have a hard time staying in place at todays civic center rent numbers.
J. Flo May 27, 2012 at 08:59 PM
Sorry, Mark, I took off my comment, from utter frustration - it was repeating myself. Were you replying to this? Also in the submitted Market Analysis : "The retail leakage (*residents shopping out of Malibu) of $189 million represents a short term expansion opportunity for Malibu's retail base. The current retail leakage could support another 120,000 square feet in the buiding materials and home furnshigs group; another 277,000 square feet in the general merchandize retail group, another 23,000 in the grocery and specialty food retail group and 198,000 square feet in other tyes of retail." Malibu can support another 618,000 more square feet of retail stores? Approx. 5 more Ralph centers of retail? Does any Malibu resident with one ounce of sense believe that? Was this study completed at a party for' The LSD Society of Build-It-Till-It-Bursts'? From the bogus numbers presented, this entire "study" should've landed in the nearest trash can. BTW - a small group of us went across Malibu and spoke to almost every retail / restaurant business a few weeks. There was not one single business that I spoke to that (if it wasn't already gone) wasn't deeply worried about their business - or rather lack of. Vacancies abound. More on the verge. It was extremely depressing.
Marshall Thompson May 27, 2012 at 09:21 PM
Indeed, JFK. Who is going to shop at these retail palaces? From my lay perspective, the numbers are just not there.
steve soboroff May 27, 2012 at 10:10 PM
Cindy Don't think treating this like another National Enquirer piece, with your "headline screaming rhetoric, in my opinion, adds anything. ;) Once again: (a) Whole Foods long term leases is signed. Again, If you wanna bring some pals and come over to the office, I am happy to show you the signature page. (b) If you want to personally meet most of the other owners (both Cindy McAfee and MIchael Heslov have been involved with Malibu in business, community and philanthropy for more than a total of 50 years), again come over to the office and we will arrange it. The other owner, an officer of The Louvre, lives in NYC with his wonderful family. Signing off with respect.
Hans Laetz May 30, 2012 at 01:39 AM
J, you know me, and use the bus once a month or so. When I work downtown I take 534 to Santa Monica and then the 10 express bus to downtown. I get a lot of work done on the computer or read the paper on the iPad. It cracks me up how class-conscious Malibu people are. Most wouldn't be caught dead on an LA bus but think nothing of it in NY, SF, London or elsewhere. Whatever.
Hans Laetz May 30, 2012 at 01:41 AM
I resent pseudonyms and think Patch fosters deceit and foolishness by allowing them. I am not "Just The Facts" and when I speak, I use my name and stand behind what I say.
Hans Laetz May 30, 2012 at 02:27 AM
OK, back from vacation and I spent the whole day doing the City of Malibu planning department's job ... which is to say ... getting to the bottom of the proposal. It took a special request to City Hall to get the city-supervised traffic study, which should have been on the web page for all of you to see. It wasn't. If you had dug through it, way back in Amendment H you would discover the following: The market cannot be built without causing "critical" congestion at PCH/Cross Creek Road. The only way to handle the traffic jam will be to install a right turn lane from westbound PCH to northbound Cross Creek. And get this: because the Shell gas station and Malibu Village parking lot are in the way, there are two alternatives to squeeze in a right turn lane: (1) Reduce the traffic lane width and eliminate the scant room for bikes, and convert PCH to six substandard width lanes betwen Cross Creek and Malibu Creek. Caltrans hates substandard (AKA "dangerously narrow") lanes, so we have alternative (2): Widen Pacific Coast Highway on its southern side, into MALIBU LAGOON STATE PARK and its new parking lots. Brilliant. Thanks City of Malibu planners for pointing that out in the planning documents.
Hans Laetz May 30, 2012 at 02:37 AM
It gets better. The size and scope of the "critical" traffic jam out on PCH will not be measured properly in this study. Only congestion levels at six intersections in Malibu will be considered, under the City's terrible traffic congestion formula. You see, Malibu only counts congestion AT intersections, not BETWEEN intersections. There is no difference to the City if the Cross Creek intersection is backed up just to the Malibu Pier, or all the way to the Santa Monica Pier. (Or Newport Pier -- don't laugh, that happened for three months in 2004 when Santa Monica closed one of three PCH lanes at California Incline.) The City will not consider that a 10-car backup is more severe than a 10-mile backup. Of course, others have mentioned the overload of grocery store traffic on Cross Creek road itself. The City of Malibu's traffic study -- paid for by Mr. Soboroff but supervised by our highly-qualified traffic engineer -- HAS NOT EVALUATED CONGESTION ON CROSS CREEK ROAD. Remember, they only look at congestion AT intersections. Any traffic jams BETWEEN intersections, or run-over pedestrians at Howdy's, or gridlock at the Lumberyard, is NOT considered in the city's traffic analysis. I met with Steve Soboroff. He has great plans, a great track record, and a good tenant. But I kept asking about that turn lane, and was told "it's in there." Unfortunately, it's in Malibu Lagoon State Park.
Marshall Thompson May 30, 2012 at 02:42 AM
Hans, we all owe you a big THANK YOU for all the great research you are doing on behalf of us all. This is one of the reasons why I voted for and supported Hans in the recent city council election. Where were the REST of you guys? The turn-out was absurdly small.
Cindy Vandor May 30, 2012 at 04:47 AM
Who will be killed because of Soboroff's dangerous plan? You? Your loved one? A tourist? Does Soboroff care? Do city planners? Who dies when emergency vehicles can't get into or out of Serra Retreat or the Civic Center? Are residents collateral damage? When does the city council just say NO?!
Marianne Riggins May 30, 2012 at 05:02 AM
I think it does have to do with this discussion because a major concern that most are raising is traffic, if residents have some options besides driving their cars it will help solve a little of the problem. Currently, a resident has little option but to drive their cars everywhere and with that comes parking and circulation issues. How nice would it to be for residents to be able to hop on a shuttle bus from Big Rock or Trancas and be able to ride to Civic Center and either walk or ride their bikes around the area? Kids could go from one end of town to the other, enjoy one of Malibu's parks, or go to the library. Seniors and others could ride to SMC when it opens or to city hall. Even with our low population density, I believe a good shuttle system would work here, gas isn't getting any cheaper and kids here have no options and I know I would pay for a bus pass to ensure my child had a safe, realible way to get around town. Additionally, if by some miracle we could get some of the tourists to ride the bus it would go a long way to help get around town on a Saturday. If we could get a bus line over Malibu Canyon, we could be connected to the Valley and Thousand Oaks and maybe the Z traffic would use it to avoid driving through Malibu, I'm sure if WIfi was included many would use it instead of driving. .
Marianne Riggins May 30, 2012 at 05:02 AM
I think it does have to do with this discussion because a major concern that most are raising is traffic, if residents have some options besides driving their cars it will help solve a little of the problem. Currently, a resident has little option but to drive their cars everywhere and with that comes parking and circulation issues. How nice would it to be for residents to be able to hop on a shuttle bus from Big Rock or Trancas and be able to ride to Civic Center and either walk or ride their bikes around the area? Kids could go from one end of town to the other, enjoy one of Malibu's parks, or go to the library. Seniors and others could ride to SMC when it opens or to city hall. Even with our low population density, I believe a good shuttle system would work here, gas isn't getting any cheaper and kids here have no options and I know I would pay for a bus pass to ensure my child had a safe, realible way to get around town. Additionally, if by some miracle we could get some of the tourists to ride the bus it would go a long way to help get around town on a Saturday. If we could get a bus line over Malibu Canyon, we could be connected to the Valley and Thousand Oaks and maybe the Z traffic would use it to avoid driving through Malibu, I'm sure if WIfi was included many would use it instead of driving. .

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