Malibu chain stores

Shoppers walk past Sephora, a chain of perfume and cosmetic stores, at the Malibu Village. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

After years of debate and discussion, the Malibu Planning Commission recommended the City Council oppose a law that would make it more difficult for additional chain stores to open in the city's central district.

In a 4-1 vote late Monday night, the commission said certain parts of the proposed ordinance required more study. The decision surprised some attendees who assumed the proposal would sail through the commission only to be bitterly debated in front of the City Council.  

City staff had recommended the so-called “formula retail ordinance,” saying in a report that about 25% of the stores in Malibu's civic center are chains, and that number was expected to grow.

Under the proposal, the vast majority of new chain stores in the city's civic center would have had to go to the city's Planning Department for a full review process before they could open.

The plan has heightened debate about Malibu's changing identity, pitting some longtime residents against property owners. Some locals decried a loss of Malibu’s rural character due to an influx of chain stores, while developers contended that the free market was deciding the retail mix of the city and maintained that the proposed chain ordinance was not necessary.

City officials said Monday’s meeting lasted at least four hours with about three hours of public comment. Some of the discussion centered around Planning Commissioner John Mazza, who cast the lone dissenting vote.  

David Waite, an attorney representing civic center property owners, alleged that Mazza wrote an email to leadership of a coalition supporting the ordinance that showed intent to “sabotage future commercial development in the city.” Mazza could not be immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

In issuing its decision, the Planning Commission recommended that city staff review and clarify parts of the proposed ordinance such as the definition of “formula retail,” the exemptions included and the methodology used to make certain calculations about retail space.  

City officials also said that the Planning Commission’s recommendation will move to the City Council, which can accept or deny it -- probably sometime in late August or early September.  

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Twitter: @MattStevensLAT

matt.stevens@latimes.com