Council ‘Pumps Brakes’ On Sale of Civic Center Parcel

The city was considering the sale of a two-acre parcel (in green) of the Ioki Lot to the LA County Fire Department.

An odd assortment of recreation advocates, open spacers and local Realtors gathered at City Hall Monday evening to attack all sides of a city staff proposal to sell prime Civic Center real estate to the Los Angeles County Fire Department. 

Though not the first time political adversaries have found common ground fighting a city plan, the suggestion on Monday to sell two front-facing acres of the 9.65-acre Ioki Lot (often referred to as the Chili Cook-Off Lot) on Civic Center Way was met with overwhelming negative response. In fact, not one person—including council members themselves—seemed to have a nice thing to say about the proposal. However, most people had nothing to say at all.

“There [are] very few people here, for something that’s very large,” Council Member Mikke Pierson mentioned during discussion over the item. “It is very noticeable.” 

A total of eight members of the public spoke during the hearing on the sale, which potentially would impact the annual Chili Cook-Off and Carnival and alter the types of recreational amenities that could be constructed in the Civic Center, while relieving some of the city’s debts, which have become more pressing following the costly Woolsey Fire.

The debate took place before a visibly empty council chamber Monday night, but that did not cool the resolve of those who did attend.

“The Ioki property is our only opportunity to have the amenities in the center of town that our Malibu residents, our community, has requested for years,” Parks and Recreation Commissioner Suzanne Guldimann said. “The second we hand over the best part of the property to the fire department, that dream vanishes.”

To Realtors Andy Lyon and Paul Grisanti, the “fair market value” offer of $4.3 million for two acres of a 9.65-acre lot the city paid $21.1 million for was far too low.

“I’m pissed that you guys are even thinking about selling this to the fire department, unless they’re going to build a skate park there and give it to the Point Dume bombers that actually fought the fires—then maybe that makes sense,” Lyon said.

“The ‘fair market value’ is, basically, they figured out, what you paid per acre and doubled it, came up with that price for two acres,” he added. “So, you’re giving it to the county for what you paid for it, which is just so stupid, and it doesn’t say anything about what that does to the property behind, that’s left over … What are we going to have left? We’re going to have a flag lot. Everyone knows a flag lot’s not worth anything.”

Grisanti, who spoke after Lyon, agreed, describing the portion of the parcel the city wished to sell off as the “best two acres.”

“The price is way wrong,” Grisanti said.

So, why sell the parcel? Savvy financial maneuvering.

City Manager Reva Feldman’s famously well-balanced budget was hit hard by the Woolsey Fire and, although not explicitly stated in the city-prepared council staff report, the money from the sale would help balance the city’s budget.

“Sale of two acres at the appraised value would reduce the annual amount of the city’s debt service by approximately $300,000 a year from $1,200,000 to $900,000 and would also reduce the city’s annual payment for the wastewater treatment facility by approximately $50,000,” the report describes.

But that alone was not enough to sway council members, who took Planning Commissioner Kraig Hill’s advice to “pump the brakes” on the plan.

“I think that the thing that’s rushing us is paying more debt for a longer period of time, and I think we need to understand that and discuss that,” City Council Member Rick Mullen said, after praising staff for securing the property in 2018.

Mullen’s solution was to call together a meeting of community members and stakeholders.

“I think we should have all those big meetings and have that public input, because this property really belongs to the people of Malibu and they should be heard,” he said.

Council Member Skylar Peak suggested a joint hearing with the Malibu Public Safety, Parks and Recreation and Cultural Arts commissioners in attendance. That meeting is set to take place on or before Thursday, May 30.