A walk in the parks


It was billed as a familiarization tour for Rusty Areias, the new California director of Parks and Recreation, but he really didn’t need any familiarization.

He knew Malibu well from his years as an assemblyman, arriving in Sacramento in the same class as our now Gov. Gray Davis, and later as a member and chair of the California Coastal Commission, where Malibu agenda items are all too familiar.

He’s visiting all the California parks. But probably near the top of the lists, both for scenic beauty and for problems, are the state parks and properties here in Malibu.

During the tour, the group stood at the whale-watching station atop Bluffs Park and listened as a somewhat heated debate went on with the state and federal officials on one side and the city of Malibu on the other. The message from the state was very, very clear, delivered unanimously by Areias and the Coastal Commission contingent: Chair Sara Wan and Executive Director Peter Douglas. The message was, the state owns Bluffs Park and wants it back, and Malibu better find another location for its ballfields, sooner rather than later. City Councilwoman Carolyn Van Horn, City Manager Harry Peacock, the city lobbyist and a few citizens who had some other ideas argued the lack of alternatives, the absence of flat land, the environmental constraints, but seemingly to no avail. The state message stayed the same: It will work with Malibu, for a while, but it wants its park back because ballfields are not an appropriate use for state parks.

And then to punch up their message a bit, the State Parks crew piled us into a bus and took us to look at some of the potential flat-land sites in the Malibu Park and Trancas areas that could easily hold more ballfields.

I couldn’t quite figure who the tour was for. Was it for the benefit of Areias, so that the local parks people could make clear to him that Malibu’s reservations were not environmental but really political, or was it for the city? Sort of a warning that said, “Get your act together, because there are many alternatives to Bluffs Park and we know it.”

The next stop was the state park at the Point Dume headlands. If Bluffs Park was a point of contention between the city and the state, this was the equivalent of the 38th parallel. I could practically see the shells flying overhead. When we drove up to the headlands park, there were the “No Parking” signs alongside the road, and to show the city meant business, they had placed great, big boulders, which made it impossible to park a car close to the headlands park. To add insult to injury, not only had the city failed to get a permit from the Coastal Commission, claiming it didn’t have to, but it actually placed the boulders on state land, which turned Douglas apoplectic. There was no question in my mind that, given the OK, Douglas was prepared to immediately call in an air strike and deal with those boulders once and for all time.

Van Horn talked about traffic hazards, and emergency lanes, and the council’s decision to put in a shuttle bus up to the headlands as a substitute, but it was falling on deaf ears. Finally, Areias, apparently waiting until everyone had spent their spleen, took Van Horn off to the side for a private chat. Areias, reputed to be one of the capitol’s better deal makers, said, as they passed by me, “Carolyn, do you really want to go to war over this?” He was apparently referring to the previous deal for 20 or so parking spaces around the headlands park, about which the city had originally negotiated and then changed its mind.

After a while, we all piled back into the bus, and, although no one said it outright, it appeared that both sides might have compromised somewhat on the number of parking spaces and a deal was closer.

Finally, the good news of the day, announced earlier at the barbecue lunch at the Adamson House, was that the state had put the repair of the Malibu Pier out to bid, and had gotten back a low bid for the first phase, which is expected to be about $1 million. The state expects to sign contracts soon, work is to begin July 1, and the Stage One repair could be completed in a year or even less. After Stage One, the pier would be reopened, and people would once again be able to walk on the pier and fish. The full overhaul, including repair of the Alice’s Restaurant site and its reopening as a new restaurant, and including building repair on the seaward end, are still expected to take 2-1/2 years and would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $4.5 million for the total job. The state, county and city are still talking about how they’re going to come up with that money, and, until they agree, that part of the repair remains on hold.