City gets $2.5 million for Cook-Off land

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A local governmental agency approved the $2.5 million grant last week. Malibu needs to gather a total of $25 million to purchase the Chili Cook-Off land by Dec. 31.

By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor

The Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission voted last week to approve a $2.5 million grant for the city of Malibu to go toward the municipal purchase of the Chili Cook-Off site.

The city now officially has $4 million in the bank for the land acquisition, and officials say another $14.5 million will be made available in the coming months.

Chili Cook-Off site owner Malibu Bay Co. has offered to sell the land, a 20-acre property located along Pacific Coast Highway from Cross Creek Road to Webb Way, to the city for $25 million if it can come up with the money by Dec. 31.

Many community members want to see the city buy the site to eliminate the possibility of any commercial development on it. Also, the Chili Cook-Off property is proposed to be part of a wastewater/storm water treatment system that will help to clean Malibu’s watershed.

The city recently learned that the heads of the California State Coastal Conservancy and the Wildlife Conservation Board have recommended to their state agencies that they approve separate $2 million grants for Malibu. The voting bodies of those agencies will vote on whether to approve the grants in October.

“The [Santa Monica Bay Restoration] Commission’s support today, along with the [California State Coastal] Conservancy’s and Wildlife Conservation Board’s commitments earlier this month, affirms that the environmental benefits of our Civic Center water quality project will extend beyond the borders of the city,” read a statement from the city.

The city is expecting to receive an additional $8.5 million for the Chili Cook-Off site acquisition through a financing plan the City Council approved in July. The plan involves Malibu hiring an entity to issue bonds. The city would then pay off the bond money over time through rent money it receives from the tenants of the three buildings located on the Chili Cook-Off site. Coldwell Banker and Malibu Animal Hospital occupy two of the buildings, while the third building has been vacant since Malibu Lumber closed earlier this year. Malibu has begun the process for the financing plan and City Manager Katie Lichtig said she expects everything to be completed by November.

Also, the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission will vote on another $2.5 million grant request from Malibu. And Malibu has already received $1.5 in Santa Monica College Measure S money. If all goes as city officials and activists hope, then it will accumulate $18.5 million by November. But an additional $6.5 million is needed for Chili Cook-Off site acquisition. Malibu is looking for more grant money from the county, Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and State Water Resources Control Board. The city is also seeking private funds and has hired a consultant to raise that money. Councilmember Sharon Barovsky said about $3 million will have to be raised from private donors.

“Now we have to go to the community,” she said. ” It would be a tragedy to lose this opportunity because we couldn’t raise $3 million.”

The reason Malibu needs far less than $25 million in private donations and is able to spark the interest of state agencies to help the city is because the Chili Cook-Off site is proposed to be part of a sophisticated wastewater/storm water treatment system that will help to clean Malibu’s watershed.

The treatment system would involve the construction of a wastewater treatment plant on the Pepperdine University-owned property behind the old City Hall, which the university has agreed to donate to the city in exchange for development benefits. The plant would operate as a sewage collector for nine areas in Malibu considered “high priority” by the city. The wastewater would then be treated and sent to the Chili Cook-Off site, where it would be dispersed into vegetation and groundwater. The Chili Cook-Off property could then be used for storm water management through the creation of wetlands, a small pond and other habitats.

While state agencies would like to see a clean Malibu watershed because they want all California’s water to be clean, Malibu has an additional interest in the matter. It wants to treat the wastewater and manage the storm water by curbing the amount of water runoff to limit the amount of pollution entering the Malibu watershed. With new rules coming down from the Regional Water Quality Board about the amount of nutrients that are allowed to enter the watershed under the threat of severe fines, the city must find a way to clean up the water.