In a signal that families with school-age children have emerged as a powerful new force in Malibu politics, a unanimous City Council Monday agreed to consider granting development rights to the Malibu Bay Company in return for land for recreational space largely for the city’s youth. At the same time, the council’s action, which would have been unthinkable even a short time ago, is likely to alienate another formidable local constituency: residents adamantly opposed to any further commercial development in the city.
For some time, local parents have been pleading with city officials for more park space for athletic fields. Members of a recently formed advocacy group, People Achieving Recreation and Community Services, or PARCS, regularly appear at council meetings to recount how the city’s current park space at state-owned Bluffs Park cannot accommodate a youth population that is busting at its seams. They have told of Little League coaches coming to blows when one team will not make room for another’s practice time, of errant balls flying into another team’s game and of being forced to schedule early morning practice games because no other time is available.
The council members have repeatedly promised, in return, to find additional park space. But after the November poll results revealed that the overwhelming majority of residents are not willing to finance the purchase of vacant land through a bond measure, the council found itself with little choice but to negotiate with private landowners who are willing to trade land for development rights.
The council’s Land Use Subcommittee, consisting of Mayor Walt Keller and Mayor Pro Tem Carolyn Van Horn, recommended Monday that city staff draft a development agreement with the Bay Company that would permit development on its Point Dume property, in exchange for a gift of six acres from the company’s holdings there. The subcommittee also recommended that local seniors negotiate directly with the Bay Company for a senior center on the company’s Chili Cook-off site, without involving city officials.
But the other council members, expressing an eagerness to tackle the parks problem once and for all rather than piecemeal, said the city should begin discussions with the Bay Company regarding all its vacant land rather than focusing on only one site.
Councilwoman Joan House said the city should cast the widest net for solutions to the parks problem.
“This is a watershed time in the city of Malibu,” she said. “Malibu is changing.”
Councilman Tom Hasse, also declaring that the city is at a crossroads, said, “I think we’re at point that this City Council . . . has to decide if it seriously wants to pursue a development agreement with the Malibu Bay Company.”
Councilman Harry Barovsky secured a pledge from the Bay Company’s Lyn Konheim that all the company’s properties are on the negotiating table. Barovsky assured Keller the council would not agree to those parts of a deal that were not acceptable to the community.
“We’re going to do an analysis, just like when you invest in a company . . . ,” he said. “And we’re going to decide which of the components of that company fit with what we want.”
Hasse joined with Barovsky in convincing Keller and Van Horn, albeit reluctantly, to vote with the majority in forming an ad hoc committee to negotiate with the Bay Company.
“We have come to a place where we have something they want, and they may have something we want,” he said. Hasse also assured Van Horn, who at this point regards the Civic Center as off-limits for further development, that the council would take no action without knowing the results of the wetlands delineation study.
City Manager Harry Peacock, asked for his opinion by Keller, pointed out that the council is only initiating a discussion with the Bay Company and is not agreeing to make a deal.
“You may think this is a gigantic risk,” he said. “But the risk is not very large at all. The destiny of the decision is in your hands, and that’s where it will remain.”
No members of the public spoke against the development, and the council’s decision created an excited stir among those assembled, including members of PARCS and key city staff members.
Konheim called the council’s decision a “win-win situation.” “I didn’t expect it.”
In other matters, the council agreed to pay an additional $30,000 to resod the fields at Bluffs Park for the upcoming Little League season; and the council delayed dissolving the Las Tunas Beach Geological Hazardous Abatement District, after City Attorney Christi Hogin requested additional time to review recent actions by the district’s board that she said raised legal questions.