Group shelves plan to raise millions for Chili Cook-Off purchase

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The Malibu Coastal Land Conservancy says mayor backed out on guarantee not to install wastewater facility at the site, if the group raised $15 million toward purchase.

By Jonathan Friedman/Assistant Editor

The brief alliance between the Malibu Coastal Land Conservancy and Mayor Sharon Barovsky has come to an abrupt end.

MCLC President Steve Uhring, who just last month announced his organization’s plan to raise $15 million toward a municipal purchase of the Chili Cook-Off property, said the group is shelving its fundraising plan. Uhring said the decision is due to Barovsky backing out of a guarantee that a wastewater treatment facility would not be built on the Chili Cook-Off site if the MCLC raised the money. Barovsky said she never made that guarantee.

However, there may be a group replacing the MCLC in the municipal land-purchasing quest. Barovsky said a group has been formed by local citizens with plans to raise $15 million, to be put toward purchasing three of the private properties that have been offered for sale to the city, the Chili Cook-Off site (22 acres along Pacific Coast Highway between Cross Creek Road and Webb Way), the Crummer property (25 acres along Pacific Coast Highway adjacent to Malibu Bluffs Park) and the Yamaguchi properties (two sites totaling 17 acres located in the Civic Center).

Barovsky would not say who is in the group, although she acknowledged she has spoken with some of the members. Actor/director Mel Gibson has been rumored to be involved. When asked about this, Barovsky said, “Every time money needs to be raised in this city, there are four names mentioned, and he’s one of them.”

Barovsky and Uhring agreed they have met several times during the past month with Councilmember Ken Kearsley and MCLC member Ozzie Silna, with former Planning Commissioner Richard Carrigan in attendance on several occasions. But Uhring and Barovsky disagree on what was said at those meetings.

“In every meeting we have ever had, we have always agreed that the best science and environmental superior choices [should] dictate our plans,” said Barovsky, insisting she never made any promise that a wastewater facility would not be built on the Chili Cook-Off site if the MCLC raised $15 million.

Currently, Santa Barbara-based Questa Engineering is conducting a study on where the best location is for a wastewater facility, only taking environmental issues into consideration. Barovsky said Questa officials are expected to give an update on its progress at the Feb. 14 City Council meeting. She said the intention had always been to wait to hear the final results from Questa, which are expected to be made public in April, prior to deciding where a wastewater facility should be constructed. But Uhring said, last month, Barovsky and Kearsley made the wastewater guarantee that the mayor said was never made.

“We [MCLC] believed we had an agreement with the City Council that if we raised the funds, they would assure us that would happen [the wastewater facility would not be built on the Chili Cook-Off site],” Uhring said. “That agreement has fallen apart.”

Former Planning Commissioner Carrigan, who has sat in on several meetings between council members and MCLC officials, said the latest incident is disappointing.

“It is a failure of communication,” Carrigan said. “It reminds me of the Palestinian/Israeli dispute. And it’s highly unfortunate. No one has worked harder than the mayor and no one has worked harder than Ozzie Silna to acquire the three properties.”

But Carrigan, who has sided with Silna and Uhring before on land-use issues, said he did not agree with the MCLC’s latest decision.

“I know that emotion has taken over here, and frustration is the rule of the hour, but never ever quit and walk away from something that is dear and close to your heart and important,” Carrigan said. “I’m hoping once there’s a little distance hereā€¦the situation will change.”