City’s Bluffs Park acquisition stalled

Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Jennings says he still believes it is a done deal that Malibu will get the property, but it is a matter of getting through some of the technical details to finalize the deal.

By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor

Just as it appeared the Bluffs Park saga was complete, a new chapter has been added to the more than 20-year conflict. Disagreement among state agencies over how the Bluffs Park deal that was proposed last year should be conducted could delay Malibu’s acquisition of a portion of the property for at least a few more months.

Early last year, a deal was announced that included the California Department of Parks and Recreation giving the 93-acre park property to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. In turn, the SMMC would sell a 10-acre portion of the land that included the ball fields, a running path and the Michael Landon Center to Malibu. The advantage of the conservancy’s involvement was that it had the ability to sell the land to the city without state legislative approval. Usually, when other state agencies sell land, the transaction must go through the legislative process and be approved into law. However, the state Department of Finance said the SMMC is not exempt from having to do that.

“We are very frustrated that this cannot be completed,” said Laurie Collins, the SMMC’s chief legal counsel. “It’s an example of the government not working for the people.”

The Bluffs Park deal was presented to the state Department of General Services for review. Collins said that agency should have given its approval for the agreement, but instead it passed the deal on to the Department of Finance for further review. That agency then said that the deal had to go through the legislative process like most other state land sales.

“It would be a relatively easy process,” said Fred Klaff, the Department of Finance’s program budget manager.

Klaff said every year the Department of General Services submits a list of land deals in a legislative bill. It is too late for the Bluffs agreement to be included on that list this year. So either Malibu will have to wait until next year or a new bill could be proposed only including the Bluffs deal.

Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Jennings said he believed another option could be to attach the Bluffs deal to the state budget proposal for the 2006-07 Fiscal Year. Collins said she had heard of that idea, but believed it had been determined there was a problem with the proposal.

Despite the latest delay, Jennings said he was not concerned the agreement could collapse. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s a done deal,” Jennings said. “It’s just a question of how you get through the hoops to make it happen.”

Roy Stearns, spokesperson for State Parks, also spoke optimistically about the situation. He said State Parks was looking into getting a bill proposed, but he added that there were other options. He did not specify what those were.

The dispute between Malibu and State Parks goes back to 1982 and predates cityhood, when youth sports advocates had to lead the battle without a local government’s assistance. At that time, State Parks sought a permit from the California Coastal Commission to evict Malibu Little League from its ball fields at the Malibu Lagoon, which State Parks wanted to convert to native wetlands. Following a slew of lawsuits, a settlement agreement filed in August 1982 in Los Angeles Superior Court granted the Little League a home at the state-owned Bluffs Park through 2002.

As the end of the lease approached, State Parks made it clear that it was not interested in renewing it. The city was able to persuade State Parks to allow the Little League to stay on the ball fields at the park until the problem was solved.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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