City officials meet with State Parks for ball fields’ solution

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Mayor says ideas might be proposed at special council meeting Tuesday.

By Laura Tate/Editor

Malibu city officials met last week with California Department of Parks and Recreation to further discuss possibilities of a land swap or other ideas to have permanent ball fields in Malibu.

Mayor Jeff Jennings and City Manager Katie Lichtig met with Hayden Sohm, acting superintendent of the Angeles District of State Parks, April 2, and Lichtig met again with Sohm on Friday, April 4.

The Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) has leased land at Bluffs Park to the city for more than 20 years and now wants to use the land for visitor-serving purposes. The department has been accused of being a bully, not caring about the city children’s needs for sports fields. However, parks officials say they have been working with the city to find alternatives, such as finding funds for the Crummer Trust deal, a complicated deal that would have entailed moving the fields to land purchased by the city, adjacent to the bluffs. Landowner Roy Crummer would have then been allowed to build luxury homes on part of his property. The offer was recently withdrawn when Crummer decided he did not want to do a costly environmental impact report.

And DPR says it wants to continue to work with the city to find alternatives.

Sohm had indicated at a March 24 City Council meeting that the state wanted to work with the city “to solve this problem.”

When the city received a letter from the department asking for a timetable of the city’s departure from the bluffs, and the Crummer deal was withdrawn, Mayor Jennings sent a letter to the DPR last month proposing a land swap of 527 acres of land at Charmlee Wilderness Park for the six acres of Bluffs Park land. This land swap, said Sohm in an interview last week, is one of several ideas that are being discussed with the city.

“A potential land trade is in the mix,” Sohm said. “We would like to be able to identify parcels that would make sense to both parties.”

However, Sohm stressed that, at this point, everything is “pure conjecture.”

“We want to look at that (the proposed Charmlee land swap) and other alternatives.”

Jennings said of last week’s meeting that no definite proposals are in the works yet.

“State Parks wanted to find out what our attitude was … for solutions they would propose,” he said.

Jennings did not know what Sohm and Lichtig discussed on Friday, and said he has not yet seen the letter that Sohm mentioned would be coming from DPR Acting Director Ruth Coleman regarding Jenning’s land swap proposal. Lichtig was unavailable for comment for this story.

Another complication in the Bluffs Park matter is the Malibu Little League’s assertion that it is entitled to have fields at the bluffs, a view that Jennings voiced in his letter to Coleman.

In 1982 the Little League was forced to move from fields at Malibu Lagoon, which the DPR wanted to convert to wetlands. A legal settlement granted the league a permanent home at Bluffs Park, according to attorney Paul Shoop in an interview last year.

Jennings, in his letter, said he researched court files and found “a certain amount of support for the Little League’s position, and none at all for that of the Department.”

Nonetheless, it seems both parties are striving for a solution.

Sohm stressed that the “important” and “newsworthy” thing is “that there has been a fundamental shift in approach by both parties” to find a solution.

“[State] Parks has a new appreciation for what we face,” Jennings said.

The mayor said that possibly whatever ideas they discussed would be presented to the City Council at its special meeting Tuesday night, April 8.

Other ideas for fields that are being circulated are to locate fields at Point Dume at Portshead Road and Pacific Coast Highway, or at Trancas Canyon.

Jack Evans, president of the Malibu Little League, is lobbying for the Point Dume location, in addition to being able to keep some at Bluffs.

Evans said even if a deal with the state goes through for the bluffs, “we still don’t have enough fields.

“One team in every division doesn’t’ play a second game each week … and one team loses a practice each week.”

The proposed Malibu Bay Company Development Agreement includes a donation of 18.87 acres at the Point Dume location as well as $5 million for development of the fields, a community center and a possibility of a dog park.

However, some in the community vehemently oppose the deal. Ozzie Silna insists that a better area to build fields would be at the Trancas Canyon area (west of Trancas Canyon Road and north of PCH).

And despite accusations that State Parks is the bad guy by kicking off Little Leaguers at Bluffs Park, state official Steve Treanor, Southern Division chief of the state department, in an interview last year, said, “Interestingly enough, the community doesn’t want ball fields in the neighborhoods. There’s a lot of NIMBY (not in my backyard) stuff going on.”