City receives major Legacy Park Project donation

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City Manager Jim Thorsen says the project is more complex than what anybody originally foresaw.

By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor

The city of Malibu’s Legacy Park Project received a huge boost at Monday night’s City Council meeting with the announcement of a $2 million matching grant from the Annenberg Foundation. The awarding of the city’s largest-ever private donation came less than a week after it was revealed the city’s plan for a wastewater/storm water treatment program is more complex than originally envisioned, and will essentially be divided into two separate projects.

Pennsylvania-based Annenberg, which also has an office in Los Angeles, agreed to the grant following a private presentation by city officials and Malibu developer/philanthropist Richard Weintraub. Mark Eiduson, Annenberg’s senior program officer, called the plan “impressive.”

“When the Annenberg Foundation trustees consider a project of the scale and scope of Legacy Park, they tend to look at three things,” Eiduson said at Monday’s council meeting. “One is the merits of the project itself; second is the caliber of the project’s leadership; and third is the degree to which the community supports the project as well. Clearly, with Malibu Legacy Park you excel in all three areas.”

The foundation, which gives money to a range of programs throughout the country, was begun in 1989 by Walter H. Annenberg, a billionaire media mogul who died in 2002. His daughter, Wallis Annenberg, is the foundation’s vice president, and recently became a part-time resident of Malibu.

“She’s hoping that this gift that the Annenberg Foundation is giving will inspire the rest of the part-time and all the full-time residents to do something extraordinary; to clean up our water and create this soul of the city and our central park,” Weintraub said, encouraging others to contribute toward matching the grant.

Led by public relations officer Susan Shaw Noble, the city has raised more than $350,000 through private donations other than the Annenberg grant. City officials had set a goal of collecting $2.5 million through private donations for the project, but now that target has risen to at least $4 million following this grant. The plan will cost approximately $12.5 million for the storm water element alone. The city is seeking the rest of the money through grants and loans.

At a public scoping session last week in preparation for the creation of an environmental impact report, residents learned the planning for the storm water portion of the project is much further along than it is for the wastewater. A draft EIR for the storm water element is expected to be ready in March. The document will include the wastewater portion, but not as analyzed, city officials say. Further study of the wastewater element will either be included in a second EIR, or in a supplement to the storm water one. This is in contrast to the original plan, which involved an EIR being ready for both portions by the end of this year.

“I don’t think everybody realized how big of a project this is,” City Manager Jim Thorsen said this week.

The storm water component is the portion most focused on Legacy Park. A two-foot deep pond on the land would capture excess storm water runoff when the nearby Civic Center treatment facility is filled to capacity, preventing runoff into the Malibu watershed. During the dry season, the pond area would remain unfilled.

By July (although Thorsen said he is trying to make it earlier), a proposal will be in place for both the storm water project and the landscaping plan for Legacy Park. City hearings could begin at that time, and construction could begin before the end of 2008 if everything goes smoothly.

City consultant Steve Clary said at last week’s scoping session that the wastewater element, which involves a treatment plant on another property collecting water from various sources, is further behind in the planning stage because it is still being determined who would pay for hooking up to the facility and how much they would pay. Thorsen said this week, “It is a little more complicated than that.”

As much as 10 acres will be needed to disperse the treated wastewater. A small portion of it could be used as irrigation on Legacy Park, but the rest will need to go elsewhere. Those receiving the dispersal could include owners of future developments. But Thorsen said this week that no new land will need to be purchased by the city for the project.

Staging site dispute

There has been some concern over whether the Civic Center area’s use as the staging area for fires would be a problem after Legacy Park is constructed. Clary said at last week’s scoping session that he did not know how it would work. But at Monday’s City Council meeting, City Manager Thorsen said it would not be a problem, and if it was, there were other places nearby that could be used. Maria Grycan, the community service representative for the local fire region, said on Tuesday she did not see a problem.

During the recent two fires, Legacy Park has been used as the parking area for various fire trucks and other equipment, as well as for temporary shelter and mess tents for firefighters. The county courthouse property across the street was used as a headquarters, with trailers located there.