College Bond Measure S wins

Malibuites including Ralph Erickson (left), president of the Malibu Democratic Club, Laureen Sills (center), and SMMUSD elected board member Kathy Wisnicki (center, background) anxiously await election results Nov. 2 at the Sunset Restaurant. Although many were disappointed with the presidential election, they were satisfied with passage of Measure S and Wisnicki's election. Photo by Cathryn Saks

Although former opponents united in support of the $135 million measure, discordant rumblings on how to spend $25 million of that money in Malibu are beginning.

By Jonathan Friedman/Assistant Editor

Santa Monica College District voters approved Measure S, the $135 million Santa Monica College bond measure. The vote tally was 23,744 in favor (58.02 percent) and 17,177 opposed (41.98 percent). The measure needed 55 percent approval for passage.

The Measure S victory means $135 million in capital projects will be conducted on SMC District land, including $25 million in Malibu. College district residents in Santa Monica and Malibu will foot the bill, paying about $18 per $100,000 of assessed value of their homes, according to the district.

According to an agreement signed by the city and the college district prior to the election, the $25 million designated for Malibu projects will be used to purchase property in the city, on which a 25,000 square foot educational facility will be built. A wastewater/stormwater treatment facility could also be built at the site, and possibly ball fields and a park. Although no specific property is mentioned in the agreement, many hope it will be the Chili Cook-Off site, the treasured property located along Pacific Coast Highway from Webb Way to Cross Creek Road. The owner of the property, Malibu Bay Co., has offered to sell it for $25 million. Three other Malibu landowners have put their properties on the market with the city as a potential customer. The city could use some of the bond money to buy a few of the properties, with the rest of the funds possibly coming from private donations and grants.

Measure S received support from most of the Malibu community leaders, including the entire City Council and its usual opponents. Former Planning Commissioner Richard Carrigan and environmental philanthropist Ozzie Silna, who opposed the council in last year’s Malibu Bay Co. Development Agreement election (Measure M), supported Measure S. The measure did not even receive vocal opposition outside of anti-tax regulars until former Mayor Joan House and architect Ed Niles spoke out against it in mid-October.

“The hard work paid off,” said Carrigan, who led the Malibu S campaign with Mayor Sharon Barovsky. “Most importantly, this is the first step to eliminating or reducing commercial development in the Civic Center area, and the community, on balance, came together.”

House said the passage of Measure S was not a great day for Malibu. She was opposed to the measure because she said the educational facility could lead to a large number of students coming to Malibu to attend classes, while there had been no traffic study done to determine the effects. House said, prior to the election, that many other questions were left unanswered by the joint powers agreement, and said an environmental impact report should have been done on an educational facility.

“There was a lot of spin on this measure of what it will accomplish,” House said. “I don’t think what the measure fully does is understood by the community.”

Despite most of the Malibu leaders and activists uniting behind the measure, it has been much less than a romantic love affair. During the campaign, Silna gave what can be best described as lukewarm support. He refused to actively campaign for the measure or donate any money to the cause. In contrast, Silna helped to defeat Measure M last year by spending $41,000 on the campaign. Following the election, Silna said he would try to gather $10 million worth of private donations to help the city buy the Chili Cook-Off site, but he said he would not support the purchase if it meant a wastewater/stormwater treatment facility would be built there.

“If you have it there, then you don’t have the ability to put a wetlands on the property,” Silna said. “I wouldn’t want to have a water disposal facility in the middle of the city.”

Barovsky said the city is pursuing clean water grant money from the state to purchase a wastewater/stormwater treatment facility and give the city further money for property acquisition. Barovsky said, based on the information she has heard from those in the scientific community, the Chili Cook-Off site would make the most sense for placement of such a facility. But she said discussions and public hearings would take place to determine what property would be best. In response to Silna’s comments, she said, “I would hope that Ozzie would hold community meetings to find out what the residents want, not just what the council wants or what he wants. It’s quite possible this community would rather have a central park than a wetland. I have no idea, and I don’t think he’s ever held a public hearing to find out.”

The Malibu Coastal Land Conservancy, of which Silna and many of his allies are members, was scheduled to hold a meeting Wednesday evening after The Malibu Times went to print to discuss issues involving the Measure S bond money.

Several properties are in the mix as possibilities for municipal purchase. The Yamaguchi Family Trust has offered to sell its 17 acres of Civic Center properties to the city for $20 million. In addition, the Crummer property, located next to Malibu Bluffs Park, has been put on the market for $26 million, although no letter has been sent to the city. Also, Pepperdine University sent a letter to Silna stating it would “entertain offers to sell” its 9.2-acre property located behind the old City Hall on Civic Center Way “in the $11 million range.”

When Measure M failed last year, several supporters said the opponents had forever destroyed Malibu’s chance to put the Chili Cook-Off site out of the commercial development marketplace. Carrigan, who put thousands of dollars into the anti-M campaign, said he would get an extra feeling of satisfaction if the city were able to purchase the property with the Measure S bond money.

“Yes, most assuredly [I would feel extra satisfied], Measure M was not a good deal,” Carrigan said. “The risks were too great and the downsides were too extreme, both in terms of commercial development and residential development.”