Citizens meet at Malibu West Beach Club to discuss the future of vacant city-owned properties

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More than 40 people attended the community meeting on Thursday June 13 to give their input on the future of the City's five vacant properties for the Malibu Community Lands project at Malibu West Swim Club. Photos courtesy City of Malibu

Attendees at community lands meeting discuss options for five properties, totaling more than 60 acres

By Barbara Burke 

Special to the Malibu Times

It’s exactly what President Abraham Lincoln envisioned when he reverently discussed the aspirational role of government in our country in his Gettysburg Address — a “government of the people, by the people and for the people.”

The people — more than 40 of us — gathered together in a community meeting at Malibu West Beach Club on June 13 to learn about — and to individually and communally provide input regarding — the future of the City of Malibu’s five vacant properties which total more than 60 acres.

The meeting, the last of five outreach gatherings in this phase of the city’s engagement program, is aimed to identify residents’ top priorities for the use of the vacant parcels so as to ensure that the future uses of the community’s lands align with the locals’ priorities.

Some readers may, upon reading this article so far, experience a feeling of deja vu and wonder, “Hold on a minute!Didn’t the City of Malibu already conduct outreach meetings on this issue more than a decade ago?”

The answer is affirmative — outreach was done by the Parks and Recreation Commission from January to June 2012 when there were interviews, focus groups and stakeholder meetings conducted, all aimed at getting community input regarding parks, facilities, and community program needs.

So why inquire about all this again?

“Malibu is committed to inclusivity and equity in community decision-making and recognizes that a lot of things may have changed since the last survey that was done more than a decade ago,” a handout by the city states. “The city has developed an innovative outreach program designed to engage a diverse cross-section of the community and the city’s strategic approach is available on the website: MalibuCommunityLands.org.”

That said, the handout also explains that Malibu acknowledges that decisions regarding the vacant lands can impact those who work and play in the city and therefore the engagement process extends beyond just our residents and invites participation from all community members.

What’s at stake

The five properties vary significantly in size and configuration.  The largest tract at 6103 Trancas Canyon Road spans 29.67 acres and was acquired by the city in November 2016. The smallest, dubbed the Triangle, measures 1.11 acres and sits between Pacific Coast Highway, Civic Center Way, and Webb Way. The property used for the Chili Cookoff at 23575 Civic Center Way measures 9.29 acres. The 19-acre parcel at 29136 Pacific Coast Highway is dubbed the Heathercliff lot. The city acquired the Triangle, Chili Cook-Off, and Heathercliff lots in April 2018.  A 2.3-acre lot, located at 23467 Civic Center Way along La Paz Lane, is the final city-owned parcel. The La Paz lot was dedicated to the city in February 2020.

Possible land uses discussed

The suggestions made by residents concerning possible uses for the vacant parcels were varied and intriguing.  How about a disaster staging area? A dog-walking and hiking trail? A movie theater? A community theater with a performance space? A community indoor and outdoor pool? Tennis courts? Pickleball courts? 

Community gardens that would include providing residents of all ages the opportunity to learn about regenerative and biodynamic farming? Softball fields? A golf driving range? Athletic fields for soccer, football, and rugby, possibly with a running track, a pool and a skate park? Horseback riding areas? A parcourse, which is a trail for jogging that hasregular intervals that offer calisthenics such as pull-ups and sit-ups? A children’s environmental center? A meeting place for car clubs? Additional space for the California Wildlife Center which rescues native sea life and sea mammals?Those making that suggestion noted that the center is rapidly running out of room at its space way up on Piuma in the Santa Monica Mountains. What about a permanent tow yard?

What about a historical trail? A movie theater? A cultural center showcasing the vast history of the Chumash and other tribes, as well as possibly celebrating the surfing and beach life that Malibu embodies? Some suggested there be a place for people to park, perhaps including a shuttle service to beaches and shopping, given that our small town receives approximately 15 million visitors a year. What about providing electric vehicle infrastructure? Many queried, “What about offering affordable housing for Malibu’s workforce? What about residential assisted living facilities for seniors and disabled people?” 

Two people piqued attendees’ interest when they discussed low-impact uses that are respectful of Malibu’s precious environment as a possible use for one or more parcels.

“We could set aside one vacant lot for a dynamic ecosystem,” Biodynamic soil advocate Linda Gibbs suggested. “It would be a space that changes over time naturally.” Many murmurs indicating approval of that idea spread throughout the audience.

Bruce Schultz suggested that one publicly-owned parcel could provide, “a biodynamic composting site where all residents could get involved and take waste back to nature.” 

Pondering how that parcel usage would work in practice, Schultz added, “We could designate a time each week when people will bring their composting items, such as clippings and food waste, and we could have a worker there with a tractor to add it to a composting pile — it would be a great thing to do for the next generation!”

What about that library in Western Malibu?

Malibu’s Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner, a former city councilmember and mayor, handed out a fact sheet discussing the need to use the $21 million that has been set aside for years by Los Angeles County for a Western Malibu Library. 

“This use was originally proposed in my City Council position statement during my 2008 to 2012 term on the council,” Wagner said. “I proposed this again in my council position statement when I served on the council from 2016 to 2020.”

The Malibu Times caught up with Wagner after the meeting regarding the proposed library.

Time is of the essence in this arena, Wagner emphasized, stating that when it comes to such set aside, segregated funds, when you snooze you can lose.

“We need to get a proposal into Los Angeles County for constructing the library ASAP,” Wagner stated. “I propose that we lease two of the acres on the Heathercliff parcel to the county at a very nominal rate, and then, we can have the county use the set aside funds to build the library, which would be 34,000 square feet.” 

Wagner also noted that using one of the vacant parcels for an “experience library” was also discussed when the city conducted the survey of residents regarding how to use the vacant public lands in 2012. 

Experience libraries exist in several cities spanning both coasts, he noted. There are such libraries in San Francisco, Seattle, and Spokane, as well as in Washington, D.C., and even in Calgary, Alberta. Experience libraries provide residents with the opportunity to use electric sewing machines, 3D printing machines, and even acquire seeds for planting. Such libraries, modernized for our digital age, also provide tools for repairing home appliances, bicycles, and tires and, importantly, they offer a technology section that provides residents with the opportunity to experience robotics and use printers, chromebooks, and Macbooks as well as to use podcasting booths.

Next steps in the city’s public land use decisions

As the community conversation came to an end, attendees inquired what steps are next in the city’s deliberations regarding how to best use each parcel and in the decision-making process.

“We’ve had a very robust discussion about how to use the vacant lands,” said consultant Ryder Todd Smith of the Tripepi Smith Firm, the company the city has retained to conduct the citizen engagement. “Some attendees had never met one another before today’s meeting, so this process is phenomenal on that level.  All of the discussions are postedon our website — this is a very transparent process.” 

Deputy City Manager Alexis Brown stated that there will be an outcomes report generated concerning the five community meetings.

“We want to make sure that this is a resident-driven process,” Brown stated. “We are currently in Phase 1 of the process, gathering all ideas in these community sessions, whereupon we will review the data collected in Phase 1. Then, in Phase 2, which we anticipate will be finished by the end of September, we will get more detailed feedback and address details regarding site-specific ideas with residents. 

“Ultimately, we will provide these proposals to the city council which will decide what the best uses are for the vacant lands.”

Brown also noted that if the city needs to acquire services to execute any planning for the vacant lands or for design and construction services, the city will need to issue requests for proposals and go through the public procurement procedures. 

Further, once the City Council has decided what the best uses are for the five land parcels, a complete application must be submitted for the city’s approval processes, which can take between six and 11 months. Next, the city will need to obtain approval from the Coastal Commission. Further, if the city’s ultimate decision concerning the usage of any parcels are appealed, then the process might be delayed up to another six months, Brown explained.

The City Council will review next year’s proposed budget on June 24, and will consider the proposed allotment of $200,000 for a master planning architect, Brown added, noting that the council should receive a report regarding the first two phases of the community lands usage community engagement process by October.

If you missed the public meetings, you needn’t miss out

To promote a robust community conversation, the city is using a platform called FlashVote to collect input about land use options through short, one-minute surveys that will be distributed every few months. Readers who have not been able to join in any of the meetings can share input on the project’s website at malibucommunitylands.org/contact-us

Citizens can also view videos of the lots and sign up to vote at that site.