City manager: 30 acres of usable land at Bluffs

City Manager Jim Thorsen presented the City Council this map of possible uses of open space at Bluffs Park. If the city trades away Charmlee for full control of Bluffs, there could be more than 30 acres of developable space available for athletic and recreational amenities. 

The controversial proposal to trade away Charmlee Wilderness Park for full control of Bluffs Park could leave the City of Malibu with 30 to 35 acres of development-friendly land at Bluffs for athletic fields, parking lots and other recreational amenities, City Manager Jim Thorsen announced at Monday’s City Council meeting. 

That would give the city three times more developable land than city staff’s previous estimate of 10 acres. 

“It opens up the whole center of the Bluffs Park swap land area for development for park and recreational facilities, whether that be a skate park, soccer fields, baseball fields, BMX, tennis courts or any number of combinations of athletic facilities,” Thorsen told the council. 

The 30-35 acre estimate comes from a 2010 biological study of Malibu parks, prepared by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC) and presented to the California Coastal Commission. The study outlines 30-35 acres at Bluffs Park biologically designated as non-environmentally sensitive habitat areas, or non-ESHA, meaning it’s developable land. 

Thorsen said local Coastal Commission staff had informed City of Malibu staff that the Coastal Commission would honor the SMMC biological assessment should the City of Malibu pursue the swap and want to develop new facilities on non-ESHA acreage. 

Thorsen also presented a visual rendering of possible uses for Bluffs showing enough space for three soccer fields, a skate park, two baseball fields and a BMX park in the center portion of Bluffs, and several tennis courts in the northwest corner of the park. It also showed space for a 150-space parking lot and two 75-space lots along Bluffs’ Pacific Coast Highway border. 

Under the proposed deal, the city, which currently owns 10 acres of Bluffs Park, would receive the remaining 83 acres from the SMMC, while it would transfer its more than 532 acres at Charmlee to the conservancy and its sister agency the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority. 

The council’s decision last month to pursue a possible park swap has come under fire from west Malibu residents who list serious fire danger and lack of trust in the SMMC as prime reasons for wanting to keep Charmlee under city control. SMMC head Joe Edmiston has already acquired approval from his board to seek a coastal development permit from the Coastal Commission for eight overnight campsites at Charmlee. 

Supporters of the swap argue that the new land would aid a glaring lack of access to recreational sports fields for Malibu children. 

Councilman John Sibert said he plans on speaking with two Coastal Commissioners this week to reaffirm that the assessment’s findings would be honored. He said he’s believed all along that there were more than 10 acres of developable space at Bluffs. 

“When I walked the land with Jim [Thorsen], it looked pretty flat to me,” Sibert said. “It actually looks like mowed grass.” 

Officials schedule town halls and tours of Bluffs and Charmlee 

City officials also announced plans to hold public town hall meetings and conduct walk-throughs of each of the parks. Many residents called for more transparency in the process after city officials met with conservancy officials to discuss the swap before holding a public meeting to talk about it. 

City Councilmembers John Sibert and Laura Rosenthal announced they would lead a town hall and walk-through at Bluffs Park at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 23, and a similar event at Charmlee on Saturday, March 9 at 10 a.m. 

“Anybody who has any thoughts or interest in this should walk through with us so we can have more interaction,” Rosenthal said. 

Mayor Lou La Monte and Mayor Pro Tem Joan House also said they planned on walking through Bluffs Park this Wednesday at 1 p.m., but did not label the walk-through as a town hall meeting.