Malibu landowners sue city to block Measure R enforcement

The scenic drive up Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

A group of property owners filed a lawsuit Monday asking a federal court to bar Malibu from enforcing a ballot measure that regulates chain stores in the seaside city.

Measure R, which won 59% of the vote in the November election, gives the public the power to approve or deny commercial developments larger than 20,000 square feet and limit the percentage of so-called formula retail stores in new shopping centers.

But in an 18-page complaint filed in U.S. District Court, plaintiffs argue that Measure R violates both the U.S. and California constitutions in several ways, such as discriminating against chain stores in favor of local small businesses.

“Measure R fails the most basic requirement of lawful legislation. It is arbitrary, discriminatory and lacks a reasonable and rational relationship to a proper legislative purpose,” said David Waite, an attorney who filed the suit against the city on behalf of the Park at Cross Creek LLC and Malibu Bay Co. “Under the provisions of this misguided measure, developments are no longer subject to any standards other than the whim of the electorate.”


City Atty. Christi Hogin said she was not surprised by the lawsuit, “just a little sorry the measure opponents didn’t give the law a chance.”

“There’s no reason to go running into federal court,” she said. “I have never seen a developer happy with the rules as they currently exist. … Malibu is on the cutting edge of land-use regulations. We have every intention of implementing the measure in a way that’s constitutional. We think we can pull it off.”

The initiative campaign drew heavy local media attention because it pitted director and Emmy-winning actor Rob Reiner against Los Angeles Police Commission President Steve Soboroff. Reiner spearheaded the Measure R campaign; Soboroff, a developer, was a leader of the opposition.

Soboroff, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said property owners were left with “no choice” but to litigate.

“This lawsuit raises fundamental questions about how far a law can go in constraining the rights of a select few property owners,” Soboroff said in a news release.

Reached by phone Monday, Reiner said: “They’re throwing everything at this, including the kitchen sink, and hoping that something sticks. We feel confident that we’re on solid footing.”

The lawsuit marks the latest salvo in a years-long battle between residents pushing for slow growth, developers and, sometimes, City Council members. Years of discussion in town forums and planning meetings led to an ordinance regulating chain stores that the council passed in July 2014. But some backers of Measure R said the ordinance came too late and was not stringent enough.

At a debate last fall, exchanges between Reiner and Soboroff sometimes grew testy. At one point, co-moderator and Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez asked whether Measure R rang of “not-in-my-backyard” sentiments. Reiner embraced the Westside stereotype, and the lawsuit quotes part of his reply as evidence that the measure is flawed.


“Measure R is promoted as ‘nimbyism writ large,’” the lawsuit said.

Twitter: @MattStevensLAT