The tide might soon flow again for developers in Malibu after a state judge last week overturned a voter-approved measure limiting development of chain stores and commercial centers.

The ruling, should it stand, also allows a Whole Foods Market-anchored shopping center planned for the center of town to move forward, despite voters rejecting the project last month.

Measure R, which was put forward by actor-director and Malibu homeowner Rob Reiner and other community activists, prohibits any shopping center in the city from leasing more than 30 percent of its space to chain stores. It also requires any commercial project of more than 20,000 square feet of retail, commercial or mixed-use space to be placed before voters. Malibu voters approved the measure in November of last year by a 59 percent to 41 percent margin.

A group of property owners, including Steve Soboroff, developer of the Whole Foods project, and the Malibu Bay Co., filed suit in April challenging the constitutionality of the law. They claimed it violated their rights to due process.

State Superior Court Judge James Chalfant last week ruled the measure invalid, saying it was illegal for the chain-store cap to be based strictly on the type of tenant as opposed to the use of the space. He also said the requirement to place any commercial project of more than 20,000 square feet before voters illegally usurped the city’s proper administrative land-use role.

Moving ahead

Development interests welcomed the ruling, saying it allows them to proceed with projects for the beachside community.

“Our clients seek to build desirable, low-impact, environmentally sensitive developments that comply with the city’s land-use laws and procedures,” said Brian Lewis, a spokesman with Marathon Communications, which represents a group of Malibu property owners. “Now that the court has spoken, our clients look forward to continuing to work with the city and people of Malibu to make good things happen.”

Reached via email, Soboroff declined to comment, saying he had nothing to add Lewis’ statement.

The first project to come along after Measure R’s passage was Soboroff’s 38,400-square-foot shopping center anchored by a 20,000-square-foot Whole Foods. As required under Measure R, the project was put before voters last month; as expected, the voters rejected the project 57 percent to 43 percent. Judge Chalfant’s ruling makes that vote nonbinding, thus allowing the project to move forward.

David Reznick, president of Malibu Bay, also deferred comment to Lewis.

Reznick told the Business Journal last year that, despite voter approval of Measure R, his company planned to move forward with its plans for an 80,000-square-foot project that includes 38,000 square feet of shops, 22,000 square feet of office space and 15,000 square feet of restaurants. Presumably, last week’s court ruling further smooths the way for that project. Malibu Bay was founded by Malibu landowner Jerrold Perenchio.

Tougher city rules?

An email to an assistant for Measure R proponent Reiner was not returned by press time.

But Reiner has indicated in other media reports that he would like to see the city itself enact stricter land-use controls on chain stores and major development projects. Whether that happens remains to be seen, especially since it was the perceived reluctance of the city to act on these issues that led to the filing of Measure R in the first place.

But Malibu City Attorney Christi Hogin said now that Measure R has been overturned, the city might indeed enact stricter controls.

“The City Council could decide to fine-tune the regulations on chain stores that the city had on its books prior to Measure R,” she said.

In the meantime, the City Council, when it reconvenes next month, faces a decision on whether to appeal Chalfant’s ruling. An appeal is by no means certain, since the council had previously approved some of the very projects that prompted the filing of Measure R.

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