City negotiates for Chili Cook-Off site


Little is known except that the Malibu Bay Co. has said it is willing

to listen.

By Jonathan Friedman/Staff Writer

With rumors circulating throughout the city, Mayor Sharon Barovsky acknowledged that city officials have approached the Malibu Bay Co. about the city purchasing outright the Chili Cook-Off site, a coveted 20-acre property that stretches along Pacific Coast Highway from Cross Creek Road to Webb Way.

Malibu Bay spokesperson David Reznick said the company is “listening to what the city has to say.” That is a sharp contrast from Malibu Bay President Jerry Perenchio’s November letter to then mayor Councilmember Ken Kearsley, in which he wrote in reference to any further deals involving the city and the company’s Malibu properties, “We see no point in reopening the matter.”

The councilmembers interviewed for this story were short on specifics as to who exactly was meeting with whom and when, or if any deal could be reached. It was announced at the May 11 City Council meeting that the council had discussed “price and payment terms” for the Chili Cook-Off site during closed session, a portion of the meeting during which lawsuits and land negotiations are discussed with only city councilmembers and necessary city staff in attendance. Since then, that item has been listed on the closed session portion for every City Council meeting agenda. This could mean city staff members and no more than two councilmembers have been meeting with Malibu Bay officials and reporting on the meetings during the closed sessions. It is against state law for more than two councilmembers to conduct city business without the public being allowed to attend.

“Everything is so delicate right now,” said Kearsley, who refused to even refer to what is going on as a negotiation. “They’re [Malibu Bay] willing to listen. I assume that Perenchio’s going to sell that property. So we thought that we could talk to him.”

The city’s potential purchase of the Chili Cook-Off site had been part of the Malibu Bay Co. Development Agreement, which voters rejected in November. In that deal, the city would have had three years to come up with $25 million to purchase the property. But those opposed to the agreement, including Malibu CAN and former Planning Commissioner Richard Carrigan’s “Citizens Against Measure M,” said the deal was risky because had the city not come up with the money after three years, the company would have been allowed to build 185,000 square feet of development on the property. That is more than allowed by the zoning code. Also, they opposed the agreement granting the company variances to build more than the zoning code allows on some of its other Malibu properties. Still, others spoke out against the proposal for a wastewater/stormwater treatment facility to be placed on a city-owned Chili Cook-Off site, with many fearing it would smell of the old Malibu enemy, sewers.

But Kearsley said a new agreement with Malibu Bay would probably not be a citywide deal, but rather a “straight business deal” on the purchase of the Chili Cook-Off site.

Ozzie Silna, who was the leading voice and largest financial contributor in the campaign to defeat the Malibu Bay Co. Development Agreement, said it would be terrific if Malibu Bay were willing to sell the property. But he declined to say much further.

“I’ve got to know what the details are of what’s happening and what their [the city’s] intentions are for using the property before I can make any significant comment,” Silna said.

Carrigan, who boldly predicted the day of the agreement’s defeat that Malibu Bay would begin renegotiating with the city within a week, said in response to the news the city was speaking to the company, “If we’re able to pull this off, I honestly believe this could be the most significant event in the history of Malibu.”

How Malibu could come up with the money to buy the property could rest in the hands of Santa Monica voters. The Santa Monica College District has proposed a $175 million bond measure to pay for capital projects. Included in its proposal are plans to spend about $25 million on purchasing land and possibly building an educational facility in Malibu through joint purchases by the city and the college district.

The SMC Board of Trustees must vote on the measure for it to be placed on the November ballot. If it makes it to the ballot, the measure must receive 55 percent approval for passage. Since the population of Santa Monica is more than six times greater than Malibu, even a near-unanimous Malibu support for the measure would not be enough if there were little interest in Santa Monica.

Barovsky said she and Mayor Pro Tem Andy Stern had recently met with college officials to discuss “their vision and our vision of how we could partner for the good of both the college district and us [Malibu].”

However, Kearsley said the city’s ability to buy the Chili Cook-Off site is not dependent on the fate of the proposed bond measure. He said there were other options. During the Malibu Bay Co. Development Agreement campaign, city officials said they would be able to get enough money to buy the property through grants and loans that various agencies would be more than happy to give away. They said this was because of the proposal to build the wastewater/stormwater treatment facility, which they said would help to clean the Malibu watershed.

In addition, two other negotiations could be going on with the city and landowners. The city has made no secret that it hopes to work out a deal with Roy E. Crummer to acquire his property on which it would build ball fields. Also, the negotiation for the “price and terms of payment” for the two Civic Center properties owned by the Yamaguchi Tokiye Trust appeared on the closed session agenda for the June 28 council meeting and the upcoming meeting on Monday.