Future of Malibu Bluffs Parkland Project Thrown Into Uncertainty

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Several plans for amenities at Malibu Bluffs Park were shown to city council in spring 2017, including the above, which shows a full build-out of amenities on the property — an aquatic center, dog park, several ball fields, soccer fields, a tot lot, skate park, community center and amphitheater.

The people of Malibu voiced their concern for future plans of the open land on Malibu’s bluff at Monday’s city hall meeting, which drew a line down the middle of the audience — and the council. 

With a 3-2 vote, city council hasn’t closed out the idea of new amenities at Malibu Bluffs Park yet, but more work needs to be done before they can come to a conclusion.

The majority of the council agreed an Environmental Impact Report be considered and other pricing to be laid out before any decision is made about the future of the park.

In 2014, the City of Malibu entered into an agreement with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy that would take the form of a “land swap.” In that agreement, the City of Malibu would assume responsibility of approximately 83 acres of the open space neighboring Malibu’s Bluffs Park and, in turn, the Conservancy would receive 532-acre Charmlee Wilderness Park in Western Malibu. 

The question before council Monday night was which of the many alternatives — if any — council would choose to move forward on.

Children in their baseball uniforms filled the seats with signs in hand requesting a place to play, a place to skateboard or a pool to swim in. Some even approached the council in public comment, voicing their opinion about what should be done with the vacant land.

Presented by Lisa Soghor, assistant city manager,  and Jesse Bobbett, community services director, the updated Malibu Bluffs Parkland Project included plans for the following amenities:

• Four baseball/softball fields

• All purpose field

• Basketball court

• Aquatic Center

• Skatepark

• Multigenerational Community Center

•Parking Lot

•Amphitheater

•Dog Park

 

According to Bobbett, these facilities were based on several focus groups and online surveys that were conducted through a community outreach program.

“There were six focus group meetings, which were city staff and the consultant met with various stakeholders in the community, such as youth sports organizations, other businesses in town and people that would be severely impacted or benefit from this project,” Bobbett said. “The online survey had 600 responses and 1,000 comments and essentially gathered the feedback of what would you want at this park if you were to put things there.”

Mayor Lou La Monte and Council Member Rick Mullen exchanged words regarding the future of the park project. 

The initial motivation behind the land swap, according to La Monte, was to create more sports fields for the community. 

“The reason to do the swap in the first place was ball fields,” La Monte said. “That’s why we decided to do it. And if we’re not gonna have ball fields here, maybe we should reconsider it all.”

Mullen, voted into council in November in what many saw as a referendum on the previous city leadership, fired back.

“That was then and this is now,” he said. The majority of people in Malibu, according to Mullen, “are more interested in keeping this place in its natural state than they are in putting in a new parking lot and a new ball field”

Mullen also said that he is interested in accommodating the needs of the parents in a more timely manner, referring to land that the city might be purchasing in the future.

With public comment filling the bulk of Monday’s six-hour meeting, many had something to say to the council about the lack of sports facilities in Malibu.

Malibu High School currently remains the only community pool in town. With only 10 hours of operation available to the public with such a high demand of the facility, the condition of the pool is deteriorating and many people get turned away due to the limited amount of space.

“The people have spoken and for once in our community, we have a place centrally located where we can provide all of the amenities that we have asked for, that we deserve,” Parks and Recreation Commissioner Justine Petretti said.

The council agreed that more parks are necessary in the City of Malibu, but the key issue of the evening was the fact that the parks plans crossed over protected areas of the bluff, also called Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas, or ESHAs.

While many who attended the meeting spoke in support of park amenities, a good number were there in opposition to the plan.

“The Coastal Commission will never approve this use and years will be lost and no amenities will be acquired,” Patt Healy, who represented the Malibu Coalition for Slow Growth, said.

ESHAs occupy the space where some of the amenities are intended to go and because the California Coastal Commission and State of California are required to approve any plans to the area, there is to be expected resistance in the process.