Why buy if you can’t build?

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Several properties are up for sale that the city could buy, the Chili Cook-Off area, the Crummer property, and property owned by Pepperdine University. (Note, certain areas of the map are incorrectly marked, however, the Cook-Off, Crummer, Yamaguchi and Pepperdine properties have been verified.)

Some question why the city would want to buy the Chili Cook-Off property if not even a park is allowed to be located there.

By Jonathan Friedman/Assistant Editor

As the saga continues with the Malibu government and local activists trying to raise the necessary $25 million to buy the Chili Cook-Off site, some have questioned why the city would want to buy a piece of land on which it would not be able to build anything except a wastewater treatment facility.

Leaders in the drive to raise the funds say the best reason to buy the property is because in public hands it means no commercial structures can be built there. They say this is satisfactory even despite the fact that the current Chili Cook-Off site owner will not even allow picnic facilities to be placed on the property.

Last fall, the Malibu Bay Co. offered to sell the Chili Cook-Off site, a 20-acre property that stretches along Pacific Coast Highway from Cross Creek Road to Webb Way, to the city for $25 million if Malibu can come up with the money by Dec. 31 of this year. With its offer, Malibu Bay listed a series of sales terms, which it updated in December. Included among the terms are that after a municipal purchase, nothing can be built on the property other than a wastewater treatment facility, although the city can replace the three buildings currently on the property-Malibu Lumber, Malibu Animal Hospital and Coldwell Banker-as long as the new structures do not exceed certain height and square footage requirements. However, no educational facility can be built on the property. Additionally, the terms sheet states the Chili Cook-Off site “shall not be used for picnic facilities or for athletic fields or facilities for sporting activities of any kind, including but not limited to jogging, soccer, baseball, football, tennis or basketball.”

“It’s [Chili Cook-Off site] not going to be a ball fields park, nor will there be any lacrosse games going on there,” Malibu Coastal Land Conservancy President Steve Uhring said. “But I’m not aware of any of the restrictions by the Malibu Bay Co. preventing a park; something people can walk through.”

Former Planning Commissioner Richard Carrigan said the most important feature of the city buying the site is not what it would then be able to build there, but rather what it would be preventing from being built there under private ownership: office buildings and other commercial development.

“If you purchase it and do nothing with it, and it remains a field of weeds; that’s still better than commercial development,” Carrigan said.

There has been discussion that the Chili Cook-Off site would be a location for a wastewater treatment facility. The facility would help to curb the years of pollution to Malibu’s watershed. Currently, a city-funded study is being conducted by Santa Barbara-based Questa Engineering to determine whether the Chili Cook-Off site would be the best place for a wastewater facility, or if one of the other Civic Center sites that have been offered for sale to the city-the Yamaguchi Family Trust’s two properties totaling 17 acres that are located near City Hall and the Malibu Knolls residential area, or Pepperdine University’s 9.2-acre Wave property, which is located behind the old City Hall on Civic Center Way-would be best to place such a facility. Yamaguchi has offered to sell its properties for $20 million and Pepperdine has put an $11 million price tag on its site.

The Crummer property, the 22-acre site located adjacent to Malibu Bluffs Park that has been put on the market for $26 million, has also been the talk of city acquisition. But that property is not a likely candidate to house a wastewater facility. Rather, the city would want to buy it so it could build more ball fields.

Mayor Sharon Barovsky said the fact that there are several properties for sale makes her less concerned about the restrictions placed on a Chili Cook-Off site purchase.

“If we didn’t have the opportunity to purchase land for those purposes [parks, community center and an educational facility], I would also wonder why we should spend the money to buy the property [Chili Cook-Off site],” she said. “But I’m hoping we can clean up the pollution, build a park and purchase land for active recreation.”

The city is trying to obtain the money to purchase some or all of the lands that are available through various methods. It already has $25 million available after voters approved Santa Monica College’s Measure S in November. But that money must be used at the discretion of SMC, likely meaning an educational facility would have to be built on any land purchased with that money. The city is also seeking grant money, including funds that would be connected to the building of a wastewater facility. The state has a desire to see a wastewater facility built because it has an interest in Malibu cleaning its watershed.

Also, private donations to the cause will be needed. The MCLC had previously said it would raise $15 million toward the purchase of the Chili Cook-Off site. But Uhring said the organization has called off its fundraising efforts because the city will not guarantee a wastewater facility will be placed somewhere other than that property. Uhring said Barovsky made him that promise if the organization were to raise $15 million toward a Chili Cook-Off site purchase. She has denied saying that.

Another group has also formed with the intention to raise money for municipal land purchasing. Barovsky acknowledged the group exists, but would not reveal its members. Actor/producer Mel Gibson, who lives in Serra Retreat, is rumored to be one of them.