Trancas Canyon Park nears completion

The grand opening for city’s new Trancas Canyon Park is estimated to be the last week of June, following two years of battles and lawsuits filed over its design and construction.

By Jimy Tallal / Special to The Malibu Times

Although a locked chain link fence still surrounds the entire site and a crew of about 15 is still doing manual labor and operating heavy equipment, trees have been planted, playground equipment and benches have been installed, and the completion of Malibu’s newest park, Trancas Canyon, is nearing after first beginning construction in October, and after two years of battles over its design.

Located a half-mile up Trancas Canyon Road from Pacific Coast Highway, the $3.9 million park is located on a 13.5-acre site in Trancas Canyon that was donated to the city in 2003. The size of the developed portion of the park is 6.7 acres, which includes parking, picnic tables, a dog park, a playground and a 1.7-acre multiuse sports field. An on site wastewater treatment system and a storm water detention basin are also included in the design. Environmental Construction Associates, Inc. of Woodland Hills was awarded the construction contract.

Richard Calvin, Public Works superintendent for Malibu, said in a telephone interview that the park should be ready for its grand opening by the last week of June. The only tasks remaining are to “put in sod, finish up with the playground equipment, pave the street, install the restroom, put in quite a bit more landscaping and hydro-seed everything.” Calvin said the heavier El Niño rainfall this winter may have slowed things down somewhat due to muddy conditions, but the contractor never asked for a rain day. Calvin said the biggest challenge of this construction project so far was that “we hit a lot of rock we weren’t anticipating,” but the project is still within budget.

The planning of Trancas Canyon Park was a long, tortuous process that began in 2007 with the initial public input meetings and didn’t end until December 2009. The park’s final form and function represent compromise by many parties, and the outcomes of lawsuits, appeals and city council votes, planning meetings with local residents and grassroots opposition efforts.

The first major controversy, which nearly resulted in the park not being built at all, was whether league sports play should be allowed. When the Parks and Recreation Commission voted to recommend league play to the city council in 2008, many nearby residents of the park became outraged. They said the “Trancas Park Fact Sheet” the city had sent to residences in Malibu West, Malibu Park and Broad Beach when the project was first proposed didn’t mention anything about league play. They said they were led to believe this would just be another “pocket park.” Many parents and their children, as well as City Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich, were in favor of sports league play at the park.

Malibu West residents, in particular, were upset by the additional traffic, noise and trash they felt would accompany league play in their neighborhood; as well as safety concerns about fire risks and the ability of fire trucks to get through traffic congestion before and after games on the narrow and windy Trancas Canyon Road. The city council voted to ban league sports at Trancas Canyon Park in June 2008.

The other major controversy in the creation of the park was that park construction would involve flattening a ridgeline. The jagged ridge, christened “Trancas Ridge” by residents, rises almost 28 feet above the flat part of the park property. The ridge and its outline comprise part of the overall view of some homes; plus its crevices and coastal scrub vegetation were known to provide native wildlife habitat. Two Malibu West residents filed appeals against the Trancas Park Environmental Impact Report. A grassroots “Save the Ridge” movement was organized. Residents discovered that ridgelines, large rock landforms, defining views and coastal scrub are actually protected by city code as well as the Local Coastal Plan.

As a result, in April 2009, the city council voted to spare most of the ridgeline and outcropping from grading, as well as preserve a knoll next to the ridge. This required a redesign of the park that resulted in a smaller overall area of development. It reduced the size of the picnic area, playground and dog park; and reduced the number of parking spaces, picnic tables and shade structures. The number of cubic yards that had to be graded was also cut significantly. In addition, because of privacy concerns from some nearby residents, a 720-foot, heavily vegetated retaining wall was added to the plan.

Later that same month, other concerns about the EIR still caused the Malibu West Homeowners Association, later taken over by the Malibu Township Council, to file suit against the city and seek an injunction to park construction. The lawsuit claimed that part of the dog park was being built on an Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area. A biologist hired by the city disputed the ESHA claim, saying the park site’s ecology was already ruined when it was graded and filled in the 1960s to accommodate residential development.

A legal settlement that had nothing to do with building on an ESHA was finally reached in December 2009. The MTC claimed that the ban on league play at Trancas Park could possibly be reversed by a future city council. To settle, the city wrote league play prohibition into the property title for the park. If a future city council ever wants to change the rule, they’re now legally required to obtain MTC’s consent.

Conley Ulich had said she was bothered that the settlement gives a rare power to an nonelected body.

“I was extremely disappointed that the elected officials decided to give the Malibu Township Council, an nonelected body, the ability to determine how to use the city’s own park that we’re spending over $3 million on,” she said.

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