Malibu ball players keep Bluffs fields debate alive


Coastal Commission’s land use plan could affect Bluffs Park development agreement, leaving Malibu children without playing fields.

By Sylvie Belmond/Special to The Malibu Times

The battle to keep fields for Malibu soccer and Little League players at Bluffs Park, or at least somewhere in Malibu, took a desperate turn a few months ago.

Frustrated by the California Coastal Commission’s effort to rid the park of the playing fields and return it to a vistor-serving only area, the Malibu Little League and the Association of Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) urged children to conduct a letter writing campaign to Gov. Gray Davis, asking for help.

The fields have been at the bluffs for almost 10 years, but it is owned by the California Department of State Parks. State Parks wants the 93-acre park back, but the agency is working with the city to find an approach that will preserve the playing fields, explained Paul Adams, Malibu Parks and Recreation director.

The city currently leases the park from the state and the lease will expire in May 2002. However, the state agreed to renew the lease for at least one more year.

Although the city has been working on a development agreement with State Parks and a private land owner to keep playing fields at Bluffs Park, it became an even hotter issue when Malibu children spoke about the city’s need to keep ball field space at the park at a Coastal Commission hearing last November, said Jack Evans, Malibu Little League president.

“The Coastal Commission was hiding this matter and we made it an issue,” he said. “If the park is taken, we don’t have alternative fields.”

Evans reasoned that both the state and the city want to see the park maintained, and that the ball fields serve both visitors and residents alike.

“The park is open to the public and highly utilized,” he said. “We feel there is no reason we can’t keep the bluffs.”

The development agreement the city is working on would involve Crummer Trust, a nearby property owner that wants to build eight houses on the east side of the bluffs. A 6-acre property right next to the park, owned by Crummer, would be given to the city. It could contain one soccer field, one baseball diamond and some parking spaces. To preserve the necessary number of fields, the agreement states the city could keep one ball field at Bluffs Park. This deal could also involve a three-way land swap, where Crummer would give some land to the state, and in turn, the state would give the city land on Bluffs Park, according to Russ Guiney, superintendent for the Angeles State Parks District.

What is holding back the finalization of this agreement is an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), said Guiney.

Also, the Coastal Commission’s draft Land Use Plan for Malibu may affect the development agreement.

“There are two issues,” said Adams. “The important issue is to make sure people understand there is a difference between the State Parks issue and the [Coastal Commission] matter.”

The Coastal Commission is bringing the Bluffs Park matter up through the coastal plan and is attempting to possibly place a limit on what can be done on the land, which could have an impact on the ball fields, explained Adams.

“In the LUP (Land Use Plan) draft, the CCC (California Coastal Commission) puts several revisions of language that make it appear that they are against the ball fields being here at all,” he noted.

Yet, Coastal Commission staff said they are aware of the agreement and will support it, he continued.

And that is where government entities begin to pass the ball along. Representatives from the Coastal Commission say it is not the commission that will decide what to do with the park.

“It’s up to State Parks,” said Gary Timm, district manager in the Ventura office of the commission. “They support conversion back to state park use, meaning a more natural use.

“We agree with State Parks, and the commission supports its desire to have the property used as a state park,” he continued. “That would mean moving the ball fields.”

“The issue gets hung up too much on whether this is the only place in the city for ball fields,” noted Timm. “While there might be some circumstances where ball fields have a visitor-serving function, they would have to be available for anyone who visits the park,” he concluded.

Meanwhile, the letter-gathering drive was not as successful as Evans had hoped. The organizations gathered about 150 letters, mostly from the students at Our Lady of Malibu School, because the school participated by making class projects.

“I think the instructions weren’t clear and people mailed their letters individually to Gov. Davis,” said Evans. “The original intent was to gather all the letters and have one of the Little League parents, who is friends with Davis, deliver them personally.”