Council gives up battle over parkland, for now

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Council members are trying to show the Coastal Commission that Malibu is not just a wealthy area that does not want outsiders.

By Jonathan Friedman / The Malibu Times

The City Council on Monday decided not to battle with the California Coastal Commission on whether a ballpark could be built on a 1.75-acre property next to Malibu Bluffs Park. City officials will wait for the developer who is offering the donation to go through the application process on a residential development associated with it, and then deal with the issue during the development approval process.

Steve Ackerman, owner of the 24-acre Crummer site wants to build five luxury homes on the property. He is in negotiation with the city for a development agreement, which includes a proposal to donate a portion of the land next to Bluffs Park to the city as a park.

Earlier this year, the Coastal Commission was asked to vote on changing the zoning of the project property from visitor-serving to residential, even though the proposed development had not even reached the permit application stage. During that meeting, the commission approved the zoning change, but also said the land proposed for donation could only be used for passive recreation. Coastal Commission Executive Director Peter Douglas and several commissioners said this would guarantee the property would be used by many people and be true to the Coastal Commission’s philosophy of promoting visitor-serving opportunities. A ballpark, they said, would mostly service locals. This decision infuriated city leaders.

Since that time, an ad-hoc committee of Mayor Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner and Mayor Pro Tem John Sibert has been meeting with commissioners throughout the state. Although no specific project is discussed during these meetings, the Crummer issue sparked the decision to have them. Wagner and Sibert have described these meetings as positive, and a chance to show Malibu in a different light than its reputation of a wealthy area that does not enjoy visitations by outsiders.

At the recommendation of City Attorney Christi Hogin, the council voted unanimously not to challenge the Coastal Commission’s ruling on the donated property. Rather, it will give no official response, and then the application for the zoning change will expire (the city was asked either to accept the ruling or challenge it with a proposed modification, which would have had to get Coastal Commission approval).

With this decision, Ackerman can begin the application process for his residential project, and issues such as the zoning change and the designation of the land proposed for donation can be taken up once the project goes before various government bodies, including the Coastal Commission, for permit approval.

“It seems to me the right thing to do is to carry this forward with a CDP [coastal development permit] process,” Sibert said. “Then we can go to the Coastal Commission, hopefully with a project that everybody will be happy with. And we can make the case for an active park.”

He added, “I think we are going to get all our goals. We just aren’t going to do it real fast.”

The vote was unanimous, but Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich said she would like to look at turning the land proposed for donation into a parking lot, which, she said, Bluffs Park needs. Then the city can look elsewhere for properties to purchase for ballpark construction. She said she wanted to do this as part of a greater long-range vision plan for Malibu regarding things such as park use.

“I really would love for this city to take a step back and see if we can make lemons into lemonade,” Conley Ulich said.

Ackerman purchased the Crummer site in 2005 from the Crummer family for an undisclosed sum. The property had long been sought after by city officials and park advocates as a site for ball fields and other recreational development. During its extended conflict with the State Department of Parks and Recreation about Malibu Little League’s use of Bluffs Parks, it was proposed several times that the ball fields would be moved to the Crummer site. Even after the city brokered a deal in early 2005 to purchase the 10-acre portion of Bluffs Park containing the ball fields, the Crummer site still remained on people’s minds because of what they considered a need for more local ball fields.