Residents of Malibu, California, approved a measure to require a vote of the people for many new retail projects, prompted by a plan to build a Whole Foods market in the beach getaway for billionaires and celebrities.
The ballot item, Measure R, spearheaded by actor, director and producer Rob Reiner and backed by entertainment-industry figures including Barbra Streisand, Tom Hanks and David Geffen, passed with 59 percent of the vote, according to election results released today.
The measure’s passage “is a major victory for the residents of Malibu, all of whom now have a stronger voice over the future of our community,” Reiner, a Malibu homeowner for 21 years whose directing credits include “The Bucket List” and “The Magic of Belle Isle,” said in a statement. “Measure R will help preserve the unique character of Malibu and combat increased traffic and the destruction of open spaces.”
Development restrictions have been popular in California beach cities such as Malibu, 28 miles (45 kilometers) west of downtown Los Angeles, where well-heeled homeowners are able to use their wealth and influence to limit growth. The median price for a home in the 27-mile-long coastal city was $2.35 million in September, according to CoreLogic DataQuick, and the median household income is about $136,000.
Malibu voters backed incorporation in 1991 to fend off Los Angeles County plans for a sewer system that would have allowed more development. Geffen, the billionaire music and entertainment mogul, fought to block access to the public beach near his estate, while Streisand tried unsuccessfully to get Google Inc. to remove photos of her Malibu home from its mapping applications.
Ken Sunshine, a spokesman for Streisand; Bert Fields, an attorney representing Geffen; and Michelle Margolis, a spokeswoman for Hanks, didn’t respond to requests for comment on the new initiative.
The measure pitted preservationists against developers, who argued it will drive up costs by adding an emotionally driven hurdle to regulatory approvals. Limiting commercial development will worsen congestion on Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu’s main artery, because it will force residents and visitors to continue to drive as far as 20 miles to shopping centers outside the 13,000-resident city, said developer Steve Soboroff, whose plans call for a Whole Foods store and an adjacent park.
“It’s a disaster,” he said of the initiative in a telephone interview before the vote. “It’s hurtful to Malibu and its future from an environmental perspective, from a planning perspective and from a public-services perspective.”
The measure will require voter approval for commercial projects exceeding 20,000 square feet (1,860 square meters) and limit chain retailers to 30 percent of shopping-center tenants. The proposed Whole Foods would be 25,000 square feet. Chain supermarkets, pharmacies, medical services and banks are among the retailers exempt from the 30 percent restriction.
The election probably won’t be the last word on the topic, said Douglas Kmiec, a 10-year resident of the town and professor at Pepperdine University School of Law in Malibu.
“There will be, I’m sure, litigation,” Kmiec said in a telephone interview before the vote. “It’s quite natural for developers to want to be heard by elected officials rather than individual voters who are casting ballots with far less information.”
Soboroff, through his development entity Whole Foods and the Park LLC, donated $85,000 as of Oct. 18 to oppose the measure, according to filings. His partnership spent more than $12 million on the site and signed a lease with Whole Foods Markets Inc. worth $50 million, he said.
Whole Foods had no position on the measure, said Marci Frumkin, a spokeswoman for the Austin, Texas-based company.
Pro-measure contributions included $12,500 from CBS Corp. Chief Executive Officer Leslie Moonves, $10,000 from Streisand, $10,000 from “Titanic” director James Cameron, $5,000 from Geffen, $5,000 from DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, $2,500 from director Steven Spielberg, $1,250 from Hanks and $100,000 from actress Victoria Principal.
There were no contributions reported from Oracle Corp. Chairman Larry Ellison, one of Malibu’s largest property owners.
While Reiner, who played the son-in-law nicknamed Meathead on the 1970s television series “All in the Family,” said he has nothing against Whole Foods as a company, he takes pride in describing the measure as a “not in my backyard” effort to retain Malibu’s small-town character.
“This is 100 percent NIMBYism,” he said in an interview before yesterday’s election. “Everybody here is a NIMBY. It’s all in their backyard.”
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