Council Approves $220K Malibu Bluffs Park Environmental Study

Pictured, from left: Council Member Skylar Peak, Mayor Pro Tem Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner, Council Member Laura Rosenthal, Mayor Rick Mullen and Council Member Lou La Monte

Two members of Malibu’s anti-growth city council slate voted to go along with a $220,000 environmental study on a vague set of plans for possible additional fields and other parks facilities at Malibu Bluffs Park.

Monday night, Skylar Peak and Rick Mullen voted to go along with the study, which was opposed only by their fellow slate member, Jefferson Wagner. 

Before the vote, the plan had been opposed by the same set of open space advocates—from Malibu and out of town—that had secured a 3-2 vote against the park development last spring. That is when the new slate of city council members elected last fall decided against preparing construction-related plans for the 83-acre plot.

The land is owned by the state of California and leased to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy with the requirement that it remain used for passive recreation only. 

Malibu, however, would not be bound by that restriction if it were to control the land, City Attorney Christi Hogin told the council Monday night.

The city and Conservancy Director Joseph Edmiston have a deal to trade his agency’s interest in the vacant land, which is across Pacific Coast Highway from Pepperdine University and west of the city’s existing Malibu Bluffs Park. 

In exchange, his agency would get ownership of the city’s 525 acres of wilderness and trails called Charmlee Park in Encinal Canyon.

For more than an hour, parks advocates and open space advocates implored the council to follow their preferred images of what Malibu should be. 

Some open space advocates said they opposed the study as a waste of money. Others, like city parks commissioner Suzanne Guldimann, said go ahead, see what could be built, but then please don’t build anything.

“There are threatened birds and reptiles that make Bluffs Park open space their home,” she said. “They have no voices except our voices, and there is no way that building roads, ball fields, parking lots and other infrastructure will not have a negative impact on them.”

But parents challenged that and rebutted city council member Rick Mullen. He had chided them last spring when he said parents may want parks, but do not need parks.

“I know that some of you deny that need exists … well tonight, I brought some empirical evidence: my son Moe,” Michael McDonald said. “Last year he was on the Malibu U-16 soccer team … even though Malibu had a really good team … and they beat all those teams across the hill, they didn’t play a single home game because they don’t have a home field.”

But Mullen said again last night that the lack of development is what makes Malibu special. And he holds grass fields to be development. 

Council Members Laura Rosenthal and Lou La Monte, who have been working on the Bluffs Park expansion for the seven years each has been on the city council, restated their support.

“This piece of land is not in the rain forest in the Amazon,” La Monte said. “This is in the middle of Malibu. There are ball fields there already. There are parking lots there already; there is traffic there already. “

But Wagner said the inevitable Coastal Commission appeals and legal action would delay Bluffs park expansion hopelessly.

“There’s not one council member here that doesn’t want to provide the convenience of parks for the children,” Wagner said. “This plan won’t be achieved and you can guarantee it, put it in print, [it] won’t happen while we’re on the council.”

The matter had been brought up for consideration after parks advocates pressurized Peak, who eventually gave them the third vote to put it on the agenda. The mayor seemed to be ready to approve the parks study before the hearing began and voted for it.

But Mullen did not explain his “yes” vote, which came after he peppered city staff with questions about the study. 

In other action, the council voted to punt a decision on a zoning change request from the owners of four large plots of land in Tuna Canyon.

The landowners want a “public open space” zoning categorization for their land removed, and said that designation was a zoning error.

But eastern Malibu residents said the land had in fact at one time been publicly dedicated as a park, but fell back into private ownership when a foundation defaulted on a mortgage.

In the end, the council voted to let the Coastal Commission and the courts sort out that legal tangle.