Council wavers on more dollars for schools

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The City Council approved the budget for the 2003-04 Fiscal Year at Monday’s meeting of $19,058,787. It includes General Fund revenues of $13.6 million and expenditures of $12.8 million. Although the council unanimously passed the budget, it could still be amended to provide more money for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SM-MUSD), and the council will look at it again in October when it has a better idea of what the state will be doing with its budget.

At the meeting, Kathy Wisnicki, co-chair of the Yes on Measure S campaign, asked that the council look for a way to give more money to the SM-MUSD. She pointed out that the district still has a $7.5 million shortfall for next fiscal year, despite the passage of Measure S.

“I would argue that we are now faced with an emergency,” she said. “Our school district is in the worst situation in more than 40 years.”

But most of the council was not willing to guarantee money for the district. Councilmember Joan House said it would prevent the city from fulfilling its duty of protecting the health and welfare of its citizens.

“We have so much on our plate that I cannot go to some guaranteed funds (for the district),” she said.

But Councilmember Jeff Jennings said he agreed with Wisnicki, and proposed the city designate $1 million from its reserve to the district over the next five years. Also, he said he would be looking to get an additional $500,000 when the Windsail Restaurant development agreement comes to the council on June 23. He said that money would also be directed to the district in the same manner.

Mayor Ken Kearsley said he also felt the city should be helping the district with additional funding, but he did not want to do it just as a statement that it was trying to be as good as Santa Monica in its support for the district.

“I don’t want to get in a tug war with the city of Santa Monica,” he said. “It’s not in the school district’s interest and it’s not in our interest at all.”

Kearsley also suggested there was a possibility that a half-cent sales tax bill going through the state Legislature could be used for the city to share with the district.

The Administration and Finance Subcommittee, which includes House and Councilmember Sharon Barovsky, will meet to discuss Jennings and Kearsley’s proposal. It will then bring its conclusions back to the council at the next meeting.

Also at the meeting, City Attorney Christi Hogin announced that the City Council unanimously voted for Malibu to appeal the recent court decision that said the city could not let the voters decide on the Local Coastal Plan (LCP) drafted by the California Coastal Commission. She said the city was also looking to get a court order that would allow it to grant coastal permits to applicants who had already received coastal approval in concept, without affecting the city’s appeal.

But several architects and others associated with planning in Malibu spoke about the frustration of waiting for coastal permits.

“I’d like to believe that the city attorney will be able to get the court to issue a rule with regards to processing applications,” said architect John Kilbane. “But based on what has already happened, I don’t have a great deal of confidence that will occur. What I see coming down the road is that we are going to be looking at a year-plus more of waiting.”

The council also voted to give the Malibu Labor Exchange $15,000 as part of the General Fund Grant Application program. It had not previously been included, but Barovsky said it was so low on money it was in danger of closing.

Also at the meeting, Jennings announced that he had met with California Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) officials, including acting-Director Ruth Coleman in Sacramento last week to discuss the Bluff Parks situation. He said the city will begin meeting on a bi-weekly basis with DPR officials, and he hopes there will at least be an outline for a solution within the next two to three months. Kearsley also said he has met with representatives from the SantaMonica Mountains Conservancy and DPR officials. All three entitities and perhaps more are attempting to work out a multi-swap land deal.