The real choice


    As a City Council member, I attended two very different but sincere community events [March 5]: the annual Little League parade and opening day ceremony, and a protest by wetlands activists down on PCH near Webb Way.

    At first glance, it seemed like a tale of two cities. The little leaguers, their parents and coaches were extremely positive about a new community center and three sports fields on the Malibu Bay Company’s 19-acre Point Dume property. Everyone recognizes how crowded Bluffs Park is now that Malibu’s population of children has doubled over the past decade. The kids need more ball- and soccer fields and our seniors and others need a community center to replace the old one which is now a school again.

    The wetlands activists were not happy. The 40 people there (about 15-20 from Malibu) believed that the proposed development agreement with the MBC is a “sell-out,” to use their words. They believe the entire Civic Center is a “historic” wetlands and that nothing should be developed there. Most of the activists were polite and, I believe, all were sincere in their beliefs. But I want to tell your readers what I told them.

    The proposed development agreement with the MBC is an alternative to the city’s current laws regarding the potential development of MBC’s 40 acres of vacant property in the Civic Center, 19 acres at Point Dume and 33 acres at Trancas. The proposed development agreement allows the MBC to develop 122,000 square feet of commercial development and 20 single-family houses. The city’s current laws (the IZO and General Plan) allows the MBC to develop 486,028 square feet of commercial development and 28 single-family houses.

    Under the proposed development agreement, the city gets the entire 19-acre Point Dume property (plus $5 million to construct a 15,000-square-foot community center and three sports fields); 26 acres of permanent open space that can never be commercially or residentially developed, including 10 acres at Trancas; four acres on Malibu Road next to Ralphs; four acres across from the condos along Civic Center Way and seven acres including the two-acre wetland on Civic Center Way next to the condos. The proposed development agreement also enacts a 10-year moratorium on any development of the 19-acre Chili Cook-off property and the small one-acre Island property at PCH and Webb Way.

    Under the city’s current laws (the IZO and General Plan), if the city wished to secure any of the public amenities listed above, the MBC’s development potential on those same properties could go as high as 660,913 square feet The only exception is the two-acre wetland, which, as confirmed by the Army Corps of Engineers, now falls under federal jurisdiction.

    That means that the proposed development agreement cuts the MBC’s potential commercial development by 75 percent and secures the public amenities requested by Malibu residents for years. In most development agreements, a city must give the property owner more development potential to secure public amenities. That’s what makes this proposed agreement so unique.

    The 10-year moratorium on the Chili Cook-off property gives those Malibu residents who’ve wanted to purchase the property a chance to raise the $14 million in appraised value over the next decade and to make a credible offer to the property owner. The alternative is to move forward with the MBC’s 1998 application to develop the property with 140,000 square feet of commercial space, which is now scheduled to be heard by the city Planning Commission this summer.

    Some of the wetlands activists did not want to hear the legal choice facing the community and the City Council. It is not a choice between no development and 122,000 square feet of commercial development and 20 single-family houses. No development on any of the MBC’s 93 acres of vacant property is not a legal option. That would be, in the opinion of many attorneys, a regulatory taking, which, if MBC litigated, could place the city in a financial disaster given the values of the properties involved. (The city’s annual budget is $13 million.) And legally it does not matter how wealthy the MBC owners are or whether they are popular or not.

    The clock is ticking and time is running out. The city has already exhausted numerous options including a building moratorium (1991-93); the preparation of the General Plan (1991-95); the preparation of a Civic Center Specific Plan (1996-98) and polling the voters on a bond issue (1998) funded by a property tax increase to purchase some of the vacant property. We have hired a scientist recommended by the local Surfrider Foundation chapter and the Wetlands Action Network whose determination of a small two-acre wetlands near the condos has been confirmed by the Army Corps of Engineers.

    The wetlands activists I spoke with [March 4] may be right — the proposed development agreement may not be Malibu’s greatest answer. But given the lack of legal lifelines available now, it may turn out to be, to quote Regis Philben, our final answer.

    Tom Hasse

    city councilman