Land purchase committee debates its purpose

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The possibilities of what could be built at the site were not discussed in-depth. Planning Commissioner John Mazza was voted chair of the committee.

By Nora Fleming / Special to The Malibu Times

The blue ribbon committee appointed by the City Council to make recommendations on the potential municipal purchase of a 9.8-acre property on Pacific Coast Highway off Heathercliff Road held its first meeting on Monday.

The property, currently owned by Kristi DeWind, is zoned residential. If the city were to buy it, a zoning change would be needed before any municipal facilities could be built there. A senior center, ball fields, library, Sheriff’s substation, teen center and a city hall are some of the possibilities for the property that have been mentioned at previous City Council meetings.

Mayor Pamela Conley Ulich, who first proposed the idea, has been the leading proponent of making the purchase. Mayor Pro Tem Andy Stern opposes the plan because of the need for a zoning change. The site, which currently contains nothing more than a private nursery, is on the market with a $4.9 million asking price. The city could legally pay no more than the appraised value of the land.

The committee members spent most of the evening debating how they should go about their assigned task and what their exact purpose is.

“I don’t think we should overstep what we’re here for,” said Lester Tobias, appointed to the committee by Councilmember Jefferson Wagner. “When these committees try to do too much, they end up doing a lot less. The city said we should come up with a wish list. I think that’s all they’re looking for.”

Jo Ruggles, appointed by Mayor Pro Tem Andy Stern, said she could not begin to offer suggestions without examining the ramifications of the potential uses, such as the amount of sound, traffic concerns, money and space.

Elaine Rene-Weissman, who is not on the committee but spoke during public comment, said doing a bit of research might be helpful in offering suggestions to the council; otherwise, the feedback from the committee would probably be too vague.

A debate between Ruggles and John Mazza, a planning commissioner who was elected chair of the Blue Ribbon Committee, emerged at the meeting over how detailed the process needs to be. City Clerk Lisa Pope told the committee the city would be spending money to examine potential uses in detail.

“All we are providing is guidance on possible uses and recommending to the council if it’s worth spending some money and entering escrow [on the property],” Mazza said. “It would be way above the pay grade to tell the City Council what they can do.”

It was agreed that the committee was designed in lieu of public workshops and as a backup for the City Council to ensure it did not receive public flack about not asking for community input on what to do with the property.

Some committee members, however, expressed frustration and questioned if there was even a legitimate purpose to having the committee meet.

“Why don’t we just write a list now and hand it to them?” asked Alan Berliner, who lives near the property and is openly opposed to the city purchasing it.

Committee member Susan Tellem said no uses could be discussed until the zoning of the property was changed. Mazza said zoning should not be an issue, as the City Council has the ability to change the property’s zoning with approval from the California Coastal Commission.

Carol Randall, appointed by Councilmember John Sibert, voiced concern over the lack of balance on the committee between the east and west sides of Malibu. Randall, who lives on the eastside, said she and fellow Malibu East residents would be “adamentally opposed” to having the City Hall move to Point Dume and be so far from the center of the city.

The City Hall topic was the only property use that was mentioned more than listing the current suggestions, and it was not delved into.

Both Mazza and Tellem discussed ways of receiving more public input on the process. Mazza cited the low turnout at Legacy Park meetings as an example of the need for a different strategy. Only one Malibu resident was present at the meeting on Monday.

“We almost need to beg for public comment or find other ways to get the word out there,” Tellem said.

The committee will meet again on Sept. 4 at 6 p.m. at City Hall to continue the discussion. Committee members agreed to visit the property individually, as not to violate the Brown Act, before the next meeting to get a better sense of land and topography.