City council unsatisfied with Heathercliff committee findings

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The City Council was unimpressed with findings by the Blue Ribbon Property Use Committee it designated last June to collect community input on the potential uses of the proposed municipal purchase of a 9.8-acre property located at Pacific Coast Highway and Heathercliff Road. Council members at Monday night’s meeting rendered the committee’s feedback redundant and, some with hints of hostility, announced their views on the prospective purchase. The only thing they could all agree on was the need for more public input.

Previous suggested uses for the property in question included open space, dog park, a demonstration/community garden, neighborhood park, athletic facilities, skate park, Sheriff’s substation, teen center, senior center, community room, library, City Hall and senior housing.

Dusty Peak, whose residence overlooks the Heathercliff property, urged the city to purchase the land. “My feeling is the city would be foolish not to purchase this property,” he said. “You’ve got a piece of open land that one day will be treasured by grandchildren and great grandchildren. I realize these are tough times and there are opportunities to spend money everywhere else, but vacant land is disappearing and won’t be around forever.”

Planning Commissioner John Mazza, who heads the blue ribbon committee, said, “Although no conclusions were made on the property itself, the general thought of the commission was that we didn’t want any light pollution in the [Heathercliff] area.”

He added that there is a need for more public services “at that end of town.”

Council member Sharon Barovsky said she was “extremely disappointed” that Mazza’s report did not include any recommendations, and announced she had conducted her own public polling of 12 Malibu residents, half of which opposed the purchase of the Heathercliff property, and the other half of which supported the purchase on the condition that the land remain open space.

“I want to listen to what residents want,” Barovsky stated. “If we are serious about purchasing land, we have to know what to do with it. I would not support this until there was a use, or prices went a lot lower.”

Mayor Pamela Conley Ulich disagreed. “No, we can purchase a piece of property and then decide what to do with it,” she said, adding that issues such as property price can be discussed in a closed session.

The opposing views ignited a spark of animosity between the two, with Barovksy asking Conley Ulich if she wanted to build a hotel on the property, and with Conley Ulich retorting that she did not, demanding that Barovsky “be nice,” before continuing to illustrate her long-term goals of providing western Malibu with library services and of keeping in mind that it contains the majority of the city’s senior population. Conley Ulich described her vision of the Heathercliff property as a place in which services can be provided for the community and its future residents, one in which families can gather to watch the sunset. “Children will appreciate that we took a chance on the future and didn’t take the easy way out,” she said.

Councilmember Jefferson Wagner agreed with Conley Ulich and proposed additional low-impact ways the property could be utilized, such as making it the site where weekly farmer’s markets can take place or where a garden could be planted for the Cornucopia Foundation, which provides educational services to local schools. Wagner also said the land acquisition would be especially valuable because Malibu doesn’t have a city holding between Trancas and Bluffs Park.

“Part of my job is to think about the future,” Wagner said. “We have to think of people beyond us… It’s a tough thing to donate money to something that doesn’t have immediate use.”

If the city did purchase the land, it would have to be inspected by the California Coastal Commission and, depending on its decided usage, possibly rezoned. The property is zoned Rural Residential, implicating a minimum lot size of five acres.

John Sibert, who was physically absent but attended the meeting via speakerphone, requested more input from the community. “Overall, I would have little problem saying ‘go ahead and look at purchasing the property,’ but I’m looking at the current economic situation and where to place money,” he said, adding that at this point in time he is not in favor of a purchase.

Mayor Pro-tem Andy Stern is adamantly opposed to purchasing the site. “I think the enormous cost to buy it is a misplaced source of funds,” Stern said. “I’d rather see the money spent on something else. I’m against buying it and pursuing this any further.”

In the end, most council members agreed that the focus of the potential purchase should depend on what can actually be done with the property, rather than on individual visions.

“I can’t go forward to negotiate buying land when I don’t know what it’s going to be used for,” Barovsky said. This city doesn’t have money to throw around. I want to know what I’m buying.”

The Council members agreed to form an ad-hoc committee composed of Conley Ulich and Sibert to find potential uses for the property.