Malibu Issues Today

A bulldozer works on the shoulder of Malibu Canyon Road, a symbol of progress or toxic development depending on your point of view.Copyright
A bulldozer works on the shoulder of Malibu Canyon Road, a symbol of progress or toxic development depending on your point of view.

Malibu Real Estate Price Pressures

The unique blend of attractive characteristics of Malibu has made the City of Malibu and its surrounding areas the epicenter of the Southern California real estate price spiral. The general California pressure of growing population from internal growth and immigration is magnified in Malibu by the natural scarcity of beach or beach-view property and a slow-growth, environment-protective policy on zoning and building permits. By 2005, these factors have combined to push prices beyond numbers ever expected or even dreamed in earlier days.

While sky-high prices are good for the balance sheets of Malibu property owners, the overall trend worries many residents. A split has developed between residents who have lived in Malibu for decades and those who have arrived in the last 8-10 years. The older residents appreciate Malibu for its rural setting along with its natural beauty and dislike the idea of developing the hillsides and increasing the population density. The newer residents appreciate Malibu for similar reasons as the older residents, but have the ability to build larger homes and consider these homes a good investment in an increasingly desirable location.

Real estate costs today dictate that the only people who can afford to move to Malibu are those who already have a significant amount of wealth. These people desire large homes and can afford to build and maintain them. But this runs counter to the established ambiance of Malibu, the feeling of a small rural town. Must Malibu become an elitist town where large homes litter the hillsides and ruin the aesthetic appeal and beauty of the Santa Monica Mountains?

Zoning cannot solve this problem. If zoning specifies large lots, in an effort to maintain a rural atmosphere, the resulting lots are so expensive that only mansions will be built. When zoning requires smaller plots of land, ostensibily to keep prices down, the greater density is unattractive, as you can see along PCH. And prices are hardly suppressed on the beach -- you have unattractive density and still only the wealthy can afford it.

Prices have already passed levels where ordinary middle class people can become homeowners in Malibu. Teachers, police officers, fire fighters, City administrative personnel, and other middle class professionals cannot afford Malibu, and far less so the personnel who work in Malibu's retail shops and service establishments. Some residents lament these changing demographics since it means people who are vital to Malibu's daily life must be imported and are not rooted in the community. If they can't live near where they work in Malibu, that also means they have to commute, increasing traffic congestion. Finally, writers, artists and other creative talent just starting out must start elsewhere, a break with Malibu's past and tradition as a place where such people come to be inspired.

Malibu Creek Watershed

Concern with the Malibu Creek Watershed is on the front burner for many environmental groups. Ever since pollution in Malibu Lagoon became an issue in the 1970s, there has been an on going struggle setting off traditional watershed activities like horse ranching and the impact of development against the perceived need to restore and protect the watershed as a natural habitat.

In Feb 2004, the Santa Monica Mountains Regional Water Quality Control Board passed new, more restrictive requirements regarding wastewater treatment, horse stables and agricultural runoff. The effect, critics charge, is to practically push horses and agriculture out of the Malibu mountains to make way for large, expensive mansions. They say this will also force Malibu homeowners to make unnecessarily expensive upgrades to their septic systems. Environment activists counter that Malibu Creek and Malibu Lagoon are becoming increasingly more polluted and that these measures are essential to restore the watershed.

The Malibu Creek watershed is the largest and has the most focus, but this same conflict applies in some degree to Topanga, Trancas and all the other streams and lagoons of Malibu. This battle will continue.

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