City feverishly working to raise $25 mil

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With less than two and half months away from the Dec. 31 deadline, city officials and activists are scrambling to raise enough money to purchase the Chili Cook-off site.

By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor

Malibu city officials and activists are working around the clock to raise $25 million by Dec. 31 so the city can buy the Chili Cook-Off site, the 20-acre property that has been called the Crown Jewel of Malibu.

Malibu Bay Co., which owns the piece of land that stretches along Pacific Coast Highway from Cross Creek Road to Webb Way, offered in the late summer of 2004 to sell the Chili Cook-Off site to the city for $25 million if it can come up with the money before the end of 2005. Many in the community would like to see a municipal purchase of the property to eliminate the possibility of any commercial development there and so it can be included in a proposed wastewater/storm water treatment system that could curb pollution of the Malibu watershed.

So far the city has secured $1.5 million dollars from the Santa Monica College Measure S fund and a $2.5 million dollar grant from the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission. Also, Malibu will issue $8.5 million worth of bonds that will be repaid through the rent money it receives from the three structures on the Chili Cook-Off property: Coldwell Banker, Malibu Animal Hospital and the recently vacated Malibu Lumber building.

The city has received tentative approval for $8 million dollars worth of grants from other state agencies. It will learn over the next month whether the boards of those agencies will approve the grants. Additionally, the city has requested money from the State Water Resources Control Board, the county and Civic Center landowners.

Malibu must get the rest of the money through private fundraising. The city has hired former Malibu political consultant Susan Shaw to help with acquiring money from the public. She said she has been speaking with several prominent people about making significant donations; additionally, smaller sums of money are being collected from others in the city. Shaw said she had no major donations to report, but an announcement could be coming in the next 10 days.

The city has set up an escrow account for the private donations. If the necessary money is not raised, then all that was collected will be returned. The city has made a goal of early December to reach the $25 million mark, giving enough time for the transaction to be ready to go on Dec. 31.

“This is an urgent, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Councilmember Sharon Barovksy said. “If on Dec. 1, we can’t go into escrow with the money, [the] Chili [Cook-Off site] will be a shopping center.”

The Chili Cook-Off site is zoned for more than 100,000 square feet of commercial development. However, the argument that either the city must buy the property or the development process will begin was raised in 2003 by city officials and Malibu Bay when the company offered to sell the property as part of the Malibu Bay Co. Development Agreement. That agreement was rejected by voters and the development process was never pursued.

In addition to the city seeking private donations for the acquisition, the Malibu Coastal Land Conservancy is lobbying people to donate money for the cause. Member Ozzie Silna said this week he has received more than $2 million in commitments. He said he has not opened an escrow account. Also, Silna said some of the money he has received has come from people who made donations on the condition the city purchase additional Civic Center property.

Silna said if in early December it appears the city needs the money he has raised, he would give it to Malibu to help it reach the $25 million goal. If the city does not need the money, he said he might keep it in the fund he has created, with the money being used in an effort for the city to buy additional Civic Center land. So far, the only other properties that have been offered to the city are the two owned by the Yamaguchi Family Trust, a 17-acre package located near City Hall and the Malibu Knolls that has been offered to Malibu for $20 million.

If Malibu is able to acquire the Chili Cook-Off site, then a process can begin to create a sophisticated wastewater/storm water treatment program that could be ready for operation by 2010. No set proposal has been made but the concept would involve the construction of a wastewater treatment plant on the Pepperdine University-owned property behind the Old City Hall, which the university has agreed to donate to the city in exchange for development benefits. The plant would operate as a sewage collector from Civic Center properties. The wastewater would then be treated and sent to the Chili Cook-Off site, where it would be dispersed into vegetation and groundwater. The Chili Cook-Off property could then be used for storm water management through the creation of wetlands, a small pond and other habitats.

The most significant reason for the desire by Malibu to treat the wastewater and manage the storm water by curbing the amount of water runoff is to limit the amount of pollution entering the Malibu watershed. With new rules coming down from the Regional Water Quality Board about the amount of nutrients that are allowed to enter the watershed under the threat of severe fines, the city must find a way to clean up the water and landowners must find a way to stop polluting it.