Remember the old saying that warns us to be careful what we wish for?
The anti-development group named Save Malibu Canyon might do well to keep that old admonition in mind. Why? Because if they get what they wish for – halting an already approved building project in Calabasas – they may end up with a bigger development than the one they stopped.
In case you missed it, here’s the background: An Orange County developer named New Home Co. owns property on Las Virgenes Road just south of the 101 Freeway. The parcel was zoned by the city to allow up to 180 residential units and 155,000 square feet of commercial space. The developer figured the commercial space was no longer needed because there’s already a fair amount of retail nearby. What is needed is a hotel, New Home figured, so the company proposed a hotel to go along with its housing plan. Since the hotel would require a zoning change, New Home had to get approval from the city.
Through a long process – three years, the developer said – the plan went through the official process. Meetings were held and objections raised. Changes were made, new plans were proposed, followed by more meetings, etc. In the end, New Home’s plan called for a scaled-back development of 67 houses plus two duplexes along with a 111-room hotel. As a result, new traffic would be a fraction of what was originally allowed. The Calabasas City Council approved the plan in May.
Then, suddenly, the Save Malibu Canyon group popped up. The group apparently objects to any development at all. The group gathered enough signatures to put the matter on the ballot in November’s election.
There are two problems with this. First, it’s unfair. The time to raise objections was two or three years ago, or even one year ago. Not now. Not after all the good-faith bargaining has been done by the developer, the city and the community and a compromise had been wrought.
The second problem? The Save Malibu Canyon group might get what it is wishing for. If the project is voted down by the citizens of Calabasas, the developer apparently would be free to build what the zoning law allows: more than twice the number of homes plus a sizable retail complex that would pressure nearby shops and restaurants and create more traffic than under the voted-down plan. The developer has indicated that is what it plans to do.
The old saying warns us to be careful what we wish for because, if we get it, we may be worse off. And that’s exactly what Save Malibu Canyon may get.
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Is Disney growing out of its ESPN problem? It’s starting to look that way.
To be sure, ESPN is still surrendering subscribers faster than Donald Trump is losing poll numbers. But when the Walt Disney Co. earlier this month reported quarterly earnings, it underscored how well the rest of the company is faring.
Revenue for the movie business was up a whopping 40 percent with four of the year’s top-grossing films all coming from the Mouse House. What’s more, the Burbank company’s theme parks and resorts division showed a better-than-expected gain.
Overall, Disney reported earnings per share were up 10 percent from a year earlier. Investors seemed to nod. At least, the company’s stock went up a buck or so on the announcement.
Think of what a contrast that was to a year ago. That’s when the company revealed vicious cord-cutting was starting to cause ESPN’s subscriber numbers to really drop – they’ve since fallen to the same level of about 10 years ago. Disney’s stock plunged more than 20 percent, dragging down a number of other media stocks as a kind of ESPN-led panic over the fate of cable set in.
ESPN remains very important to Disney. It is, after all, the biggest contributor to the company’s biggest division. But the point is this: Disney’s other divisions are growing so quickly that the festering sore of ESPN seems to be shrinking by comparison.
More non-ESPN growth seems inevitable. Disney has a promising slate of upcoming movies including some from its Star Wars franchise. And if there were any doubts about the popularity of Disney’s new park in Shanghai, China, they were settled when the park reported that it hit 1 million visitors in only a month after opening in mid-June.
But even more intriguing was Disney’s announcement that it had made a billion-dollar investment to get a one-third stake in what’s called BAMTech. Created by Major League Baseball, BAMTech streams baseball games over the Internet. It’s clearly an attempt by Disney to counteract the issues facing ESPN by gaining access to technology that will allow it to distribute sports content in a non-cable way.
Disney’s deal gives it the option to buy controlling interest in BAMTech in the future. Couple that with its ownership stake in Hulu, and you can see a platform from which Disney can deliver its content – including sports – without cable.
Disney still faces challenges (including the fact there’s no clear successor for the soon-to-retire Chief Executive Robert Iger). But it’s starting to look like the big problem of ESPN is becoming a smaller one.
Charles Crumpley is editor and publisher of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.