Malibu Yankees in King Rusty’s Court


    Last week, Malibu sent an official delegation to Sacramento, led by Mayor Walt Keller and Mayor Pro Tem Carolyn Van Horn, to meet with the Director of the state Parks and Recreation, Rusty Areias. Their mission was to try and work out a compromise over Bluffs Park. They came back from Sacramento figuratively waving a sheet of paper promising peace in our time with the state Parks and Recreation Department, although some might wonder if all they brought back were some meaningless assurances in return for which they had agreed to abandon the ballfields on Bluffs Park.

    For several years now, the city has been on a collision course with the state of California over a couple of issues. One is Bluffs Park, which is owned by the state but leased for use by kids’ sports like Little League and soccer. Lately, the state has been making noises that it wants its land back for what it considers regional uses. Recently, the heat has really turned up, and the California Department of Parks and Recreation, the California Coastal Commission and our own local Sen. Tom Hayden have said the city is going to have to get its kids off the state’s lands. The city, in its inimitable style, has pretty much covered its eyes and made believe if it ignored it, the problem would go away. Needless to say, it hasn’t. So Keller and Van Horn, who in the past have opposed any kind of a deal, found themselves in the very uncomfortable position of having to go out and find, buy or steal at least six acres for ballfields, or they’re going to have a bunch of very unhappy parents and voters.

    A special City Council committee of Joan House and Tom Hasse has been meeting with the Malibu Bay Co. to try and work out a large-scale deal that would include land for the ballfields. But, for reasons that are not yet clear, that negotiation seems to be stalling, which increases the urgency that the city strike some sort of a deal with the state.

    Unfortunately, what no one explained to Carolyn and Walt was that, even though they only wanted to talk about Bluffs Park, they were going up against Areias, a former state senator, a former chair of the California Coastal Commission and a very smooth customer with a justifiable reputation for being one of the Capitol’s better negotiators. He wasn’t about to let Carolyn and Walt control the discussion agenda, and control it they didn’t. Before they knew what happened, they were in a wide-ranging discussion about Bluffs Park, Point Dume Headlands and the soon-to-be-negotiated Local Coastal Plan, none of which were they authorized to negotiate, other than Bluffs Park.

    The upshot of it all was, they made a deal on behalf of the city, which some critics say exceeded their authority, gave away much and got back little. In the process, they managed to enrage the other three on the City Council, who had effectively been cut out of the decision loop.

    What they gave away was this: On Point Dume, instead of just agreeing to the 33 parking spots the state wanted originally, at or near the headlands park, and just ending the dispute forever, they agreed instead to allow eight to 10 parking spots, a shuttle to be called a nature bus at the city’s cost of at least $50,000 per year and some studies that conceivably could lead to the state wanting more parking spots downstream. In return, they got a few goodies that arguably the state might have provided anyway.

    Then, they linked the deal to the Bluffs Park issue. Keller and Van Horn agreed to get the ballfields off Bluffs Park when the lease expires in two years. I’m sure to Areias’ great relief that he wouldn’t have to be throwing a bunch of Little League kids off their fields, he in turn agreed to give them a year’s extension. But to get it, they must be actively seeking a new location for the fields, report the progress to him regularly and put the entire deal in writing, which, considering Malibu’s past history of changing its mind, was probably not a bad idea.

    The other three members of the council are now in a dilemma. If they turn down the deal, the already strained relations with the state will surely worsen. The Coastal Commission will probably reinstate its enforcement action against the city relating to the unpermitted boulders and “No Parking” signs on Point Dume near the headlands, for which the city could be fined if convicted. Or, they can grudgingly go along with a bad deal.

    So far, no final decision has been made, but look for the headlands deal to be discussed in closed session, because of the pending Coastal Commission lawsuit, and the Bluffs Park issue to be soon on a City Council agenda.

    Keller and Van Horn have also placed themselves in a difficult position. Since they’ve agreed to a departure from Bluffs Park without having an alternative site in place, the city has lost considerable negotiating leverage with Malibu Bay Co., the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and even some private landowners from whom they’re ultimately going to have to buy some land for the ballfields. If they don’t find a solution fast (and that probably means expensive), it’s likely sayonara to Walt and Carolyn in the next election in April 2000.

    Their clock is also ticking.