Poll may point way to more parks and ball fields


While the results of a recent poll indicate that most Malibu voters are not willing to finance wetlands restoration and the purchase of parks through higher property taxes, the same survey also found a slim majority of the local electorate supports the city acquiring open space and ball fields through a development agreement. Under such an agreement, the city would approve a proposed commercial development in exchange for a donation of vacant land from the developer.

The city commissioned the telephone poll — which was conducted over a five-day period last month by the polling firm Godbe & Associates — to test support for a $30 million bond measure the City Council had planned for next year’s ballot. The measure, if passed, would have financed the purchase of parkland and ball fields and the restoration of wetlands.

But because only a small percentage of those surveyed said they would be willing to face a hike in property taxes to secure more open space, the council dropped its plans for the bond measure.

According to the results of the poll, only 20 percent of the registered voters questioned said they would “definitely” support the bond measure, while 19 percent said they “probably” would. But weighed against the 42 percent questioned who said they would “definitely vote no” and the 11 percent who would “probably vote no,” the bond measure would have very little chance of passage, especially because it requires the approval of two-thirds of voters.

While the City Council was most keenly interested in testing support for a bond measure with the poll, the council also approved a question for the survey regarding a possible development agreement between the city and a developer.

Councilman Tom Hasse, who will likely hold a key vote should a development agreement come before the council, said in an interview last week that a development agreement might be a way for the city to get more parks and ball fields. “But the devil is in the details,” he said.

The question on the poll asked respondents whether they would support or oppose a development agreement that “could allow the property owner the legal right to develop their property at a higher density and/or speed approval of the project in return for providing a public benefit such as property for sports fields or the construction of a community center.”

Of those surveyed, 24 percent said they would “strongly support” such an agreement between the city and a developer, while 27 percent said they would “somewhat support” such an agreement.

The slim majority, 51 percent, who would support such an agreement, Hasse said, probably based their support on the option that permitted a speedier approval of the developer’s project, rather than the option that permitted the property owner to develop at a higher density.

He said that after years of opposition to large commercial development, he doubted the sentiments of the community had changed.

“In 1998, and in four out of five city elections, the candidates who won specifically campaigned on a slow-growth platform,” he said.

Hasse said he would personally not support a development agreement that provided a bonus density to developers, but he would consider one that included an expedited permit process.

“But there would have to be some preservation of open space,” he said.

In February, the Malibu Bay Company proposed a development agreement with the city that provided for a donation of land in return for the right to develop its properties throughout Malibu. The offer is currently stalled before the City Council’s Land Use Subcommittee.

Mayor Pro Tem Walt Keller, a member of the subcommittee, said recently that the Bay Company’s offer was “too vague. They never say anything definitive.” He also said he did not like that the Bay Company’s offer was contingent on the city approving development on all its properties. The company owns the Chili Cook-Off site, as well as properties at Trancas and on Point Dume.

David Resnick, of the Bay Company, said he was “encouraged” by Hasse’s remarks. Resnick said he would like to see a senior or community center and ball fields incorporated into a development agreement with the city, but he declined to address other, more controversial provisions, such as bonus density, that the Bay Company may place on the table.

“[That] will get worked out in the future,” he said. Meanwhile, he said, “We’re waiting for the city to give direction.”