Council takes courageous step on MBC deal

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    From the Publisher/Arnold York

    In a 5-0 vote, which was an incredible show of unity, the Malibu City Council passed a new modified and somewhat more complex Malibu Bay Company Development Agreement on Monday night. The central prop of the new agreement is that the city has a three-year window to try to raise the $25 million necessary to buy the Chili Cook-Off site, which the city wants to turn into a park and water treatment plant to help clean the creek, lagoon and surf line. If the city succeeds and buys the Civic Center land, the tradeoff is the Malibu Bay Company (MBC) gives up the Chili Cook-Off site but is allowed to go ahead and develop its Point Dume site, which borders Pacific Coast Highway, in accordance with the city’s existing general plan and interim zoning ordinance (IZO). The sweetener in the deal is that the MBC will donate $2.5 million, of which a minimum of $1.5 million goes toward ball fields and the other $1 million for either capital facilities for an urgent care center or, again, ball fields. The choice belongs to the city. MBC also agrees to build a 5,000-square-foot community center on Point Dume and rent it to the city for $1 per year. Everything else remains the same.

    The problem in the deal, with which both MBC and the city struggled, is that there are three major factors they can’t control. The first is the deal must go before the voters of Malibu, which means there will probably be a knockdown, drag out battle over the plan at the ballot box in November.

    If Malibu voters turn it down, then any deal is over and MBC goes back to developing whatever it’s allowed by the IZO, limited by site restrictions. If, on the other hand, Malibu voters approve the deal, the city has three years from certification to raise the money and jump through a number of hoops.

    One major hoop is the California Coastal Commission, which must approve a modification of the recently approved Malibu Local Coastal Plan for the development agreement to go forward. Since Malibu is currently suing the Coastal Commission over the Malibu LCP and the citizens’ referendum passed by the Malibu voters, it would be fair to say that the commission has been something less than warm and receptive to anything proposed by the city. But things could change. For one thing, we could have a new governor in a couple of months with four new appointments to the Coastal Commission. In addition, the California Supreme Court could also decide that the governor is entitled to a majority on the Coastal Commission, so it’s altogether possible the Coastal Commission, as we know it, may be gone within the next year or so, which would change everything. Still, if the Coastal Commission turns the development deal down, or decides to delay it past the three years, it’s possible that might be the end of it.

    The other factor the city can’t control is the litigation that most certainly will be filed opposing the development agreement. A number of usual suspects, including Efrom Fader, Lucile Keller and Marcia Hanscom, appeared at the council meeting and made it clear that this was all going to court. Certainly they, and some of the other more radical enviros, will try to block or delay the agreement beyond the three-year, drop-dead date and essentially filibuster this to death. That three-year date can, however, be extended if both the city and MBC agree, which they probably would do if they think the deal can be concluded.

    At worst, in three years or so, the city will either have a Coastal Commission and court-tested plan, or it will be back to where it is today, with the potential of a number of people trying to build out the Civic Center piecemeal, and with probably a major sewage problem in the Civic Center, creek, lagoon and in the surf line.

    One of the interesting factors is that this battle is splitting the environmental community. Some of the larger, more responsible organizations, along with some of the state government, see the Civic Center plan as a possibility for cleaning up the city’s local water. Some of the more radical enviros are just flat out against anything happening.

    The council has taken a courageous step. To my mind, government has to try and solve problems, and that’s what ours is trying to do.

    Whether everyone agrees is something that will show at the ballot box.

    P.S. I’ve simplified the deal in this column. In the weeks to come I’ll try and take it apart more analytically.