Malibu officials assess Bluffs Park amid swap talks

City Manager Jim Thorsen (second from right) talks with Mayor Pro Tem Joan House (left), former Malibu Mayor Pamela Conley Ulich (second from left) and resident Hans Laetz (right) during a walk-through of Bluffs Park last week. 

In one of several planned public walk-throughs, Mayor Lou La Monte and Mayor Pro Tem Joan House were joined by city manager Jim Thorsen and a few locals on a trek around state-owned acreage at Malibu Bluffs Park last week. 

The tour, which was one of three announced at a Malibu City Council meeting last week, invited concerned residents to join city officials in assessing the type of land and uses the City of Malibu could be on the cusp of obtaining if a proposed and controversial swap happens with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC). 

House and La Monte mingled with about 10 people on the tour, including a few residents, local reporters and representatives from local youth sports leagues. The mayor stressed the importance of site visits like this one to make sure stakeholders are on the same page about the possible trade.

“It’s so important for people to get out here and be informed rather than sit at Starbucks and talk about this deal without having all the facts,” La Monte said.

In exchange for 83 acres of Bluffs Park, the City of Malibu is considering trading away its jurisdiction over Charmlee Wilderness Park to the SMMC.

A walk-through of Bluffs was especially timely last week after it was revealed that the city might be able to develop up to 35 acres of land at Bluffs into athletic fields and recreational facilities. Previous estimates said approximately 10 acres would be developable. 

With the afternoon sun and vast Malibu coastline serving as his backdrop, Thorsen didn’t shy away from his thoughts on the potential development at Bluffs.

“There’s definitely a lot of opportunity out here,” Thorsen said. “If you built a park out here, this park would become probably the most beautiful park in the country.”

Thorsen answered questions along the way and pinpointed what areas were developable, according to current estimates, and how much land would have to be leveled if the middle portion of Bluffs becomes a focal point of athletic fields.

“It’s a 40 to 50 foot grade difference from Pacific Coast Highway to the Bluffs edge [closest to Malibu Road],” he said.

Some participants on the walk-through said that certain plants in the developable parts of Bluffs looked like native plants, which would designate an area as Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area (ESHA), and make it non-developable. 

Thorsen shook off those concerns, saying current non-ESHA estimates would be honored by the California Coastal Commission. 

House said it was the first time she had visited the park. 

“This would be a beautiful site,” she said. 

City Councilmembers Laura Rosenthal and John Sibert are also planning to walk through and lead town hall meetings at Bluffs Park and Charmlee on Feb. 23 and March 9, respectively.