First official doubts aired over flood plan

When FEMA officials last month announced a $150,000 grant to the city for a flood mitigation plan, the members of the City Council said little about the grant beyond the obligatory niceties.

But the relative silence has now been broken by Councilman Tom Hasse, who recently circulated a memo to city staff that reveals his skepticism about whether a flood mitigation plan could save the Civic Center from major new development.

The memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Malibu Times, is an exhaustive set of questions dealing with the possible hurdles that may be encountered in the development and execution of a flood mitigation plan.

“I can’t make decisions about the future of Malibu without answers to these questions,” Hasse said this week.

The $150,000 grant will pay for the technical assistance necessary to develop a mitigation plan, which will include identifying the flood-prone areas in the city and the appropriate methods for reducing the risk of damage from flooding. While a variety of mitigation measures are available, FEMA officials have suggested that restoring at least part of the land in the Civic Center to its presumed former status as a wetlands would be the most appropriate method for reducing flood damage from Malibu Creek.

Officials from FEMA said federal and state money could be available to help pay for the purchase of Civic Center land — both vacant and that already developed — as part of the wetlands restoration. The land would then be held as open space for the public’s benefit.

In his memo, Hasse asked city staff to explain how the purchase price of vacant and developed land would be determined. He also asked about the eminent domain process, under which the government would purchase the property, and whether the federal flood mitigation program would continue after President Clinton leaves office in 18 months.

In an interview, Hasse said since the awarding of the FEMA grant, he has received calls from residents asking him to suspend his and Councilwoman Joan House’s ad hoc negotiations with the Malibu Bay Company over a possible agreement trading development rights for park space. He said those callers told him because of the grant, the federal and state government will fund the purchase of the Bay Company’s 90-some acres of vacant Civic Center land. The Bay Company owns the Chili Cook-off site and a parcel at the northeast corner of Stuart Ranch Road and Civic Center Way. The company has proposed developments for both sites.

“People are under this impression that the federal government and the state are going to come in here and buy all this property,” said Hasse.

He said by his estimation, the Bay Company’s land is probably worth $500,000 to $1 million an acre, and he said he is skeptical taxpayers would cough up perhaps as much as $90 million to fund the purchase.

“It’s a mistaken impression, but I can hear the people in Washington, D.C., saying, ‘This is Malibu, California, where everybody is a gizzillionaire — why are the people of the United States going to spend money to bail out Malibu, California?'” said Hasse.

But Marcia Hanscom, a member of the board of the Malibu Coastal Land Conservancy, an organization that played a pivotal role in the awarding of the FEMA grant, said far larger tracts of land have been placed in public ownership for less money than Hasse estimated. Hanscom, who was involved with the public acquisition of 880 acres at the Bolsa Chica wetlands in Huntington Beach, said the Bolsa Chica property was purchased for $25 million raised from a combination of federal, state and local funding sources.

Because, she said, the Bay Company’s property is on a flood plain and in a liquefaction zone, its fair market value, she said, is probably lower than most people generally think.

“It should be relatively easy to put together the funding sources,” said Hanscom.

But Hasse said he is not willing to put the negotiations with the Bay Company on hold until a flood mitigation plan is developed and possible funding sources are secured.

“I can’t govern Malibu with a Magic Eight Ball and a Oujia board,” he said.

The City Council is likely to discuss Hasse’s memo at its Sept. 13 meeting.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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