Monday, September 28, 2015

Monopolizing Malibu

I learned a lot from playing Monopoly as a child, but one major thing I didn't realize is that many games in the real world are played on this board, but with the rules from the Queen of Heart's croquet game in Alice in Wonderland, not the ones that come in the box.

They told me you had been to her,
And mentioned me to him:
She gave me a good character,
But said I could not swim.

He sent them word I had not gone
(We know it to be true):
If she should push the matter on,
What would become of you?

I gave her one, they gave him two,
You gave us three or more;
They all returned from him to you,
Though they were mine before.

If I or she should chance to be
Involved in this affair,
He trusts to you to set them free,
Exactly as we were.

My notion was that you had been
(Before she had this fit)
An obstacle that came between
Him, and ourselves, and it.

Don't let him know she liked them best,
For this must ever be
A secret, kept from all the rest,
Between yourself and me.

—Lewis Carroll

Here at The Malibu Post, we thought we might be the only ones who find the entire Measure W debate bewilderingly reminiscent of the White Rabbit's song from Alice in Wonderland. Apparently, we aren't the only ones.

“I don’t understand,” a friend said recently. “How did Whole Foods get on the ballot?”

 The answer is, Whole Foods isn’t on the ballot. 

Although the 38,425-square-foot shopping center planned for the 5.88-acre site on the corner of Civic Center Way and Cross Creek Road that is on the ballot as Measure W has been called “Whole Foods in the Park,” and “Whole Foods and the Park,” and it is wonderfully fortuitous for the developer that he was given the letter W for the ballot measure, what the people of Malibu will be voting on in November is neither a Whole Foods nor a park, it’s whether the developer should be allowed zoning variances to build a bigger project.

Any development over 20,000 square feet automatically triggers a community vote. Measure R mandates that if a developer wants more than 20,000 square feet, the project must be approved by the people.

However, even if Measure R never passed, city code would still have restricted the amount of development to much less than the developer is seeking approval for. The only way this project gets to be 38,425 square feet is through voter-approved variances.

The code-complying alternative provide by the developer in the Environmental Impact Report for the project is described as:

The proposed project site totals approximately 256,168 square feet. Development under the Code Complying Alternative would consist of a supermarket (28,879 sf) and 129 parking spaces. Pursuant to the Malibu Municipal Code and the Local Coastal Program, a total of 166,509 sf of landscape area and open space are required to be provided. The total landscape area and open space provided under the Code Complying Alternative would be 166,719 sf. Therefore, the Code Complying Alternative would meet the requirement.

The development proposal on the ballot this November definitely doesn't meet that requirement. Malibu voters are being asked to give this developer permission build on 70,494 square feet of the property's landscaping requirement—that's almost two acres of extra concrete. 

Here's an aerial view of the proposed development for scale. The large gray building is comparable in size to the two-story Malibu County Mart building, shown with the red roof in the foreground. 

The developer is proposing five buildings on the site, with 220 parking spaces. As the "Code-Complying" version of the project described above indicates, the 24,549-square-foot main structure could technically be built under the city's existing land use restrictions, but even that would trigger the Measure R vote requirement for projects in excess of 20,000 square feet. 

This building is described as a Whole Foods in the developer’s campaign materials, but is not identified as such in the actual ballot measure. Malibu City Attorney Christi Hogin has said on record that if the plans are approved, the developers are free to put anything they wish in the space. It may become a Whole Foods. It may not. 

Here's the actual ballot measure. It doesn't say Whole Foods, because that's not the point. Measure W is asking if Malibu residents want to approve extra entitlements for a shopping center. It's not asking if we want a Whole Foods, and it certainly doesn't guarantee that the community will get one, if the measure passes. That promise is being made by the developer, a man who is currently suing the city to overturn Measure R.

The developer is also proposing four smaller buildings, each about the size of a family home: 3,015 square feet, 3,086 square feet, 3,592 square feet, and 4,183 square feet. This space, and additional hardscaping, including the parking lot to accommodate the restaurants and shops that will occupy the four extra buildings, is really what we are voting on in November.

While the developers are advertising this...

...they seem to have somehow forgotten to add the parking lot, the fast food restaurant, the sit-down restaurant, and the shops, so we fixed that for them.

Perhaps the easiest way to visualize the Measure W issues is with a little help from the Monopoly game. Let's dig out all of the pieces (except maybe the iron. Nobody ever wants the iron) and take a look:

Here's what the developer could build on the property without variances.

All of those beautiful glossy ads appear to be trying to convince Malibu voters  that the project is much smaller than it is. Like this.

Here's a more accurate representation of the square footage: the green pieces are the extra four buildings, which will house restaurants and shops.

And here's the full build out, with the La Paz shopping center next door, the Santa Monica College satellite campus that will be built next to the library, and the proposed Malibu Bay Company development on the lot currently used for the Chili Cook-Off.  

The developer is also offering three small park areas, described in the developer’s proposal as: "Shane’s Inspiration Playground, a fully accessible playground with facilities for children with special needs"; a "Sensory Garden"; and a "Kitchen Community Learning Garden," which will "provide learning opportunities for children and adults interested in growing sustainable organic food, and including school classes."

These are lovely ideas, but critics of the project point out that they are a small part of the plan. According to the project's specific plan, the playground is 6200 square feet, the sensory garden is 3000 square feet, and the community garden is 2500 square feet.

Here's a visual from the project's specific plan, showing the ratio of buildings and hardscape (driveways and parking areas) to park space. 

To facilitate all of this extra development, the developer is asking the voters to approve variances that would allow the open space requirements for this property to be greatly reduced. This would permit the developer to substitute walls with plants on them— “vertical” landscaping—for a large portion of the landscaping requirement. 

Malibu residents are being asked to approve a plan that substitutes walls for open space. The developer is proposing to meet the city's 40 percent landscaping requirement by planting things on the walls of the buildings. A total of 22,000 square feet of the landscaping requirement will be made up of "living green walls." In contrast, the designated "park" portion of the The Park, LLC, comes to just 11,700 square feet. The quote marks around "green" in the infographic, above, seem to denote deliberate sarcasm. One suspects the line about "vertical landscaping lends itself to greater visibility and creation of a parklike environment" does, too. A parklike environment for squirrels, maybe, and snails, definitely, but not for people. 

At The Malibu Post we like to think of this idea as Escher’s Malibu Garden, since a vertical garden is only practical for residents of one of M. C. Escher’s dimension-defying illustrations. We wrote about that issue at length in an earlier post, available here

Another thing Malibu residents are being asked to approve, to accommodate more development on the site, is a change to the setback requirements: 20 percent on the east: from 63.37 feet, to 50.70 feet; 20 percent in the rear, from 107.55 feet, to 86.04 feet; and almost 40 percent along the front: from 143.4 feet, to 88 feet. Most of that is going to end up being driveways and other hardscaping.

Ultimately, the biggest park at “The Park, LLC” is the parking lot, and while it will be landscaped with trees, it doesn’t change the fact that this is a mall—an expensive, high end, nicely landscaped mall, but a mall all the same, and not a park, or even necessarily a Whole Foods.

Anyone who thinks there’s a 100 percent chance that Malibu will really end up with a full service Whole Foods market needs to take a look at Silverlake, where promises of a Whole  Foods have diminished into a promise of what some are calling a “Half Foods”—Whole Foods smaller, millennial-oriented (whatever that means) new “365” market chain.

Journalist Helaine Olen at Slate wrote, “Hell hath no fury like an upscale urbanite who’s been promised a Whole Foods only to see it yanked away,” and she points out the fact that Whole Foods doesn’t care.

“The outcry offers lessons in everything from how not to manage public relations (Whole Foods, I’m looking at you) to the promise and perils of marketing to millennials to, finally, what happens when people come to define themselves according to where they shop only to discover that corporate behemoths don’t necessarily reciprocate their love,” Olen wrote.

Here's HBO's John Oliver's take on the infamous $6 asparagus water incident.  

Other critics point to Whole Foods' tanking stock, and the seemingly unending series of scandals ranging from the silly: the infamous $6 asparagus water that was a goldmine for comedians like HBO’s John Oliver, to the serious: overcharging Los Angeles and New York customers for packaged food, and  grisly claims by the animal welfare organization PETA in a recent lawsuit alleging that the company’s “humane” meat is a sham. 

The latest Whole Foods PR disaster. Image: PETA

It's interesting that the handy shopping bag some Malibu residents were sent, while kind of a Whole Food-ish green color, doesn’t use the actual color or logo of the grocery chain. One has to ask why not, if the store is a given. 

The bag is sort of green, but that logo doesn't look anything like the real Whole Foods logo. 

If that bag was really about Whole Foods, wouldn't it look like this? 

Regardless of whether it is ever home to Whole Foods, will the world end if this shopping center is built? No. But there is no way this project won’t impact traffic, and combined with the behemoth La Paz shopping center already approved next door, these two malls will permanently change the character of the Civic Center area. 

This is weekday afternoon traffic at PCH and Cross Creek Road without the new 38,425-square-foot shopping center. There is no way this development isn't going to have an impact on traffic. Whether that impact is adequately offset by the amenities offered by the developer remains to be seen.

La Paz is already approved and will happen regardless of whether the people of Malibu want it or not.  This time, thanks to Measure R, Malibu residents have an opportunity to directly weigh in on a portion of the Civic Center’s future. 
Malibu residents can either approve this project or turn it down and ask the developer to come back with something that requires fewer variances.

More than anything else, this vote is a test of the city’s mission statement, which declares, in six-inch letters on the wall at Malibu City Hall:

Malibu is a unique land and marine environment and residential community whose citizens have historically evidenced a commitment to sacrifice urban and suburban conveniences in order to protect that environment and lifestyle, and to preserve unaltered natural resources and rural characteristics. The people of Malibu are a responsible custodian of the area’s natural resources for present and future generations.

A billboard for the Rainbow Grocery, Malibu's original organic grocery store, rises out of a sea of mud covering Pacific Coast Highway during the El Nino storms of February, 1980. The photo is from a Malibu Surfside News article carefully clipped and saved by my mom. It's a reminder of two Malibu constants: nothing, no matter how loved or iconic, lasts forever; and Mother Nature, not developers or conservationists or anyone in between, ultimately determines the shape of the land and the fate of everything on it. 

We won’t know until November if the desire for chia seeds outweighs the willingness to forgo urban and suburban conveniences that is a traditional part of Malibu’s character, or if the play park and demonstration garden provide a community benefit that is great enough to make up for the loss of open space and higher building density that the variances for the project grants.

It’s a decision Malibu residents will be weighing carefully.

This would be a prettier scene if it wasn't cluttered with over development, but that doesn't change the fact that it's still a beautiful moonrise. The people who call Malibu home are incredibly blessed and fortunate to do so, no matter what the future holds. Photo © 2015 S. Guldimann
[This post was edited on 10.06.15, to clarify some data and include the quote from the City of Malibu's EIR for the project, and on 10.14.15 to correct several things that, even after reading a stack of reports that could easy be mistaken for a pile of phone books, works  The Malibu Post, apparently still struggled to comprehend. We apologize for any confusion.]

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Pomegranate Season

The pomegranates are ripe early this year. They bring to drought-parched Malibu gardens and the prosaic ordinariness of the grocery store or farmers market a jewel-like glimpse of something ancient and wondrous.

The pomegranate tree, Punica  granatum, is a tough desert survivor that seems to thrive in the drought and heat. And this year, in gardens and backyard orchards all over Malibu, trees are bowed under the weight of red fruit, weighed, too, with myth and story. 

Rembrandt Van Rin's version of the abduction of Persephone, painted c. 1631, depicts Hades carrying off Persephone in a golden lion chariot.

You remember the story, don’t you? The one about Persephone, the daughter of Demeter and Zeus, who strayed too far from her mother’s watchful eye while gathering flowers and was caught by the grim king of hell and taken to the land of the dead?

Artist Susan Seddon Boulet's interpretation of Persephone and Demeter. The pomegranate becomes a heart, the symbol of the bond between parent and child.

In grief for the loss of Persephone, the sun grew cold and the plants withered and died. Demeter, the harvest goddess, begged Hades to release her daughter, and at last he agreed, but Persephone had unwittingly bound herself to the underworld by tasting the pomegranate offered to her by the king of the dead. 

Persephone turns away from Hades' servant who has brought her the fateful pomegranate in this art nouveau-era illustration by American artist Virginia Frances Sterrett.

Because of this, she is allowed to return to the sunlit lands in March, bringing Spring with her, but must return again ever autumn to the underworld. 

That’s why, according to the storyteller, the pomegranate ripens in the fall—to remind the goddess of her promise. And it's why the bright orange flower blooms so early, a reminder that winter, unlike death, is not eternal. Perhaps these natural characteristics are why this ancient fruit, thought to be one of the earliest cultivated plants, is associated in so many other cultures with death and rebirth.

A grave marker depicts a young man holding a pomegranate, Greek, archaic period, c. 530 BC. Image: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The pomegranate is said to have originated in what is now Iran and Pakistan. It spread through trade deep in antiquity across Asia, the Mediterranean, and North Africa. 

The exquisite gold filigree pomegranate necklace of Queen Tausret was excavated in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt in 1908, and dates to Egypt's New Kingdom, c. 1200–1186 BC Image:  Metropolitan Museum of Art

Although separated from ancient Egypt by thousands of years and thousands of miles, the Navajo squash blossom or pomegranate motif is remarkably similar. Image: Wikipedia Commons

There's a popular myth that says the Romans brought the pomegranate from North Africa to Italy, based perhaps on the source of the Latin name Punica—the Roman name for the City of Carthage (granatum, the other half of the Latin name, means full of seeds, and it gives us the words grenade, from the shape of the fruit, and garnet, for the color). However, there are depictions of pomegranates in Etruscan art, proof of its existence in mainland Italy during pre-Roman times.

This Etruscan bronze of a woman holding a pomegranate dates to the the 3rd or 4th century BC, and is proof the fruit was grown in Italy before the Romans. Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art

 The fruit also has a long history in Greece, Turkey and Sicily. In fact, the Sicilian town of Enna has long been identified as Persephone's home. And the pomegranate was already being cultivated in Sumeria, Egypt and the Indus Valley for at least a thousand years before it arrived in Europe.

This tiny Assyrian pomegranate—it's just an inch and a half tall—is carved from ivory. It dates to around 900-800 BC, and is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Here's another example of pomegranates in Assyrian art, this time on a  3000-year-old cylinder seal. Here, the pomegranate is a symbolic representation of the tree of life. Some researchers hold that the tree of knowledge in the Old Testament was a pomegranate, not an apple, which would certainly be consistent with the Assyrian tree of life motif, and the Greek theme of temptation and consequence attached to this fruit.

The pomegranate has witnessed the rise and fall of the Egyptians, Sumerians, Assyrians, Minoans, Myceneans, Carthaginians, Greeks and Romans. This tree is mute witness right now to the destruction of Syria. In more stable times, many varieties of pomegranate would have been sold in market places that are now rubble, and enjoyed by families who once had homes and are now scattered and broken.

This ancient Syrian pomegranate seal is carved from steatite and dates from 3500-3000 BC. Image: British Museum

By the sixth century, the pomegranate and its ancient symbolism had been absorbed by the Catholic Church. The fruit became a symbol of the resurrection of Christ instead of the goddess, and it was now an emblem of hope.

Almost two thousand years after the Assyrians, the pomegranate was still a symbol for the tree of life. This is the most famous panel of the Unicorn Tapestries, housed at the Cloisters Museum in New York.  It was created in the Netherlands between 1495–1505. Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Here's a closer look at the tree: the fruit are definitely pomegranates, even if the leaves are strange. The artist may never have seen the plant, only the fruit, which was a trade item throughout the Western world.

The Spanish brought the pomegranate to the Americas in the 17th century. It arrived in California in mid 18th century, with the missionaries, and has remained to become both a commercial crop and a much-loved garden plant. 

The only point of contention this fruit causes is how to eat it without ending up looking like the survivor of a horror film.

This sleek and elegant pottery pomegranate from China's Qing Dynasty, 1736-1795, is a reminder that the pomegranate's history isn't exclusively rooted in the Middle East and the West. Image: The British Museum

If it is left on the tree long enough, the fruit eventually bursts open on its own, but for impatient pomegranate eaters who would rather not wait or risk sharing the treat with wasps or ants, there are a variety of techniques, some so complex that it would be easy to imagine they are some kind of ceremonial holdover from the days when Persephone was worshiped as a goddess.

This Chinese silk painting from the early Yuan Dynasty, c. 1200–1340, shows a pomegranate that has burst open. Image: Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Anyone who has tackled a pomegranate the wrong way will not be surprised to learn that the flowers, rind and juice are a traditional source of fabric and leather dyes. 

The L.A. Times recently featured a video with the basin-of water approach to pomegranates, which definitely works better than the wack-it-x-number-of-times-with-a-wooden-spoon school of thought, but the traditional Mediterranean technique is arguably the easiest and least messy:

With a sharp paring knife, gently cut all the way around the blossom end, being careful to score the skin of the pomegranate but not cut into the arils—the official term for the juicy seeds.

The blossom end should now be like a cork in a bottle. Pull it out and remove any of the white pith that is attatched to it. 

Look for the white membrane that separates the sections of seeds and carefully score the skin along every section, not cutting too deep and stopping before you reach the stem end of the fruit.

Pull the pomegranate apart. It should open like a flower.

Once you remove the paper-like bits of membrane, the pomegranate is ready to eat. Just be careful who you eat it with, especially if the person offering you the fruit is a kingly but dour stranger...

We have four kinds of pomegranates in the garden: "Wonderful," the large dark red commercial type shown in the demo photos, which my dad and I planted together nearly 20 years ago; "Ever Sweet," the pale pomegranate by the knife; "Utah Sweet," the greenish fruit in the middle; and a miniature type called "Nana," but there are dozens of varieties in a rainbow of colors from pale yellow to dark purple. Coastal Malibu is not always warm enough for pomegranates to set abundant fruit—the hot weather is the secret to this year's amazing—and early—harvest, but even in a year that doesn't produce many fruit it's an ideal Malibu garden plant, with bright orange flowers, leaves that turn yellow in the autumn, a compact shape that is somewhere between a large shrub and a small tree, and a good tolerance for poor soil and limited summer water. 

The Romans transformed Persephone into the goddess Proserpine, but she had already made the transformation in Greek mythos from Kore, the maiden, into the powerful queen of the underworld. 

According to Homer, Persephone enforces the curses of the living upon the souls of the dead, but she also sometime intercedes with compassion in the weighing of souls, and she grows the poppies that confer the gifts of sleep and forgetfulness to mortals.

English Pre Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti envisioned Persephone's Roman persona, Proserpine, not as a child goddess, but as a darkly brooding empress, only the pomegranate offers the key to her identity.

Persephone has dwindled from a powerful goddess to a story for children, but pomegranates are enjoying a surge in popularity in this country, due to their reputation as a "miracle food."  To me, the miracle is the history and mythology, bitter and sweet as the fruit itself, that continues to be rooted in this living link to the past.