Council members pledge disclosure on ball park options

Stung by neighborhood complaints that the addition of public ball parks would destroy peace and serenity, members of the City Council pledged at Monday’s meeting to have full, open disclosure of any options to build sports facilities in any Malibu neighborhoods. Expressing an apparent consensus on the council, Councilman Harry Barovsky said there would be an open forum in which residents would have their say.

“You’ll be involved in the solution,” he said, adding that there was “nothing going on at the moment,” and only “extremely preliminary discussions” taking place.

Nonetheless, to the consternation of some homeowners on Merritt Drive, the council voted 5-0 to authorize the expenditure of $3,750 for half the cost of an appraisal of land the city might lease from the Santa Monica/Malibu Unified School District. The Merritt Drive property covers some 23 acres including an existing ball park and soccer field.

Barovsky said the city would be derelict if it did not explore every possibility to acquire the land. He also reported the city will explore a possible site in Malibu Canyon and work with state authorities to permit continued use of the Bluff Park facility. “It’s not going to be done under a tent, behind locked doors at Century City,” he vowed, insisting neighbors would not be cut out of the loop.

Councilwoman Joan House said the Merritt Drive land is simply “one of the stones we’d have to turn over.” She said the city is obliged to present a cohesive report on its options, including an appraisal. The appraisal will be performed by Cushman & Wakefield.

Mayor Carolyn Van Horn said the problem is that Malibu does not have “a lot of flat, easily buildable land.” The best option is Bluffs Park, she said, warning that there is no guarantee the state parks department will agree.

City Manager Harry Peacock raised the possibility of a 25-year lease with the school district for the Merritt Drive property. Barovsky said the lease could go as far as 66 years.

Councilman Walt Keller said the issue is a “chicken-or-the-egg” question, with the city having to decide both whether the land is affordable and whether it is usable for playing fields. “In either case, we may hit a dead end.”

The council offered assurances that any plans for the land would not include destruction of an existing equestrian facility. Councilman Tom Hasse said the performance of an audit did not prejudge the final outcome. He noted there are parks that do not include sports fields. With Malibu spread out over 27 miles, facilities need to be placed in several sites, he observed

One neighbor testified he “vacillated between outrage and despair” at the prospect of more athletic fields. He lamented Malibu Park had already given “one of its lungs and one of its kidneys” to be a good neighbor to the school. It might be better, he said, for the city to place a carnival on the spot and charge attendance.

Another resident said the area of high hills and deep canyons would be suitable only for mountain climbing. Others cited the expense of grading, problems with erosion and limited potential for parking and fire turn-arounds. Another complained of gratuitous noise, litter and a general lack of respect.

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

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