Multi-year triathlon and half marathon contracts proposed by Malibu

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Writing campaign raises questions concerning city’s proposed award for triathlon and half marathon contracts

By Barbara Burke

Special to The Malibu Times

​For 39 years, the Malibu Triathlon has occurred at Zuma Beach, with participants and citizens providing donations to fund pediatric cancer research at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Now, the city is in the business of selecting what organization has the right to run a triathlon and a half marathon in Malibu every year.

“We’re the subject of a letter-writing campaign concerning the proposed triathlon and half marathon contract awards,” said City Councilmember Paul Grisanti, who along with City Councilmember Marianne Riggins served on a Road Race Ad Hoc Committee tasked with evaluating the four proposals timely submitted by interested vendors hoping to host non-motorized racing events in Malibu.

Grisanti noted that the evaluation process included interviews with representatives of all the entities who submitted contract proposals.

​“At the council meeting, we’ll see whether the residents think we are correct regarding one or both of the proposed contract awardees and whether they are happy with them.” Grisanti added, noting that the request for proposals issued by the City on Aug. 30 stated that the city retained the option to award only a triathlon contract, only a half-marathon contract, to select both options, or to not award any contracts. The matter is slated for consideration at the Dec. 11 City Council meeting.

The triathlon’s decades-long history

​A bit of background assists in understanding the current triathlon contract situation. On Dec. 11, 2012, the council adopted City Council Policy #47 entitled the Road Race Policy, which provides that the city may grant a maximum of two temporary use permits for non-motorized racing such as marathons, triathlons, and cycling events per calendar year. 

​On Aug. 12, 2013, the city entered into a 10-year agreement with Michael Epstein Sports Productions Inc. to host the Malibu Triathlon through Nov. 1, 2023. However, in 2017, that right was transferred between two other organizations, Motiv Running and Nautica Malibu Triathlon, until Super League Holdings PTE LTD assumed the right to organize and operate the triathlon from 2020 through 2023. 

Readers may recall that the event almost did not occur in 2023 because Super League’s application for a temporary use permit was initially denied by the Planning Commission at staff’s recommendation, which was based on area residents not being timely provided with notice about the race. At the commission hearing, city staff stated such notice to residents was attributable to Super League not timely submitting a proposed map depicting the boundaries of the cycling portion of the event, which had to be reconfigured because the Zuma underpass remained closed due to intense rains in Malibu this spring. 

At the commission hearing, there was much discussion concerning alleged miscommunications between various agencies having jurisdiction over the Zuma underpass and the fact that federal officials stated that the lagoon fed by Malibu Creek holds tidewater gobies, a threatened species whose habitat cannot be disturbed. On Sept. 18, Planning Commissioners Kraig Hill and John Mazza voted to decline Super League’s application for a temporary use permit. 

Commissioner Dennis Robert Smith was unable to cast a vote due to technical difficulties he encountered when he tried to attend the meeting by Zoom, resulting in a 2-2 deadlock, which meant the application was denied.

Super League timely appealed and, on Sept. 25, the City Council conducted a thorough de novo review of the entire record before a full house of concerned citizens, most of whom urged the council to find a way to let the triathlon proceed. The council approved Super League’s application for a temporary use permit by a vote of 4-1, with Councilmember Bruce Silverstein objecting. 

The triathlon occurred on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, raising nearly $1.25 million for CHLA, monies which many of those who testified before both the commission and the council noted helped CHLA to conduct cancer research and provide treatment to pediatric cancer patients, some of whom are from Malibu. Thousands of athletes, ordinary people, families with pediatric patients, and CHLA physicians and staff participated in the race.

The status of the triathlon and half marathon contracts

On Dec. 11, the council will consider whether to award the contracts for a triathlon and a half-marathon to the ad hoc committee’s proposed awardees, Malibu Race Series, LLC for the half marathon and Zuma Foundation, Inc., a new entity created by Malibu local Michael Epstein, who used to operate the marathon under the auspices of Michael Epstein Sports Productions Inc. 

“Malibu Race Series, LLC and Zuma Foundation, Inc. demonstrated a commitment to minimizing road closures and community impacts,” a staff report dated Nov. 9 stated. “The organizations will incorporate programs and partnerships with local organizations.” 

The report continues, “In addition to coordinating the adult races, each organization will plan a children’s race that will encourage fitness, goal setting, and the race experience. Fundraising opportunities will be prioritized for local, nonprofit organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club of Malibu and Malibu schools.”

Not everyone is happy with the proposals. Super League, which also sought the triathlon contract award, seeks to change the council’s mind.

The Malibu Times chatted with Kristin Riesgo, the city’s community service director, who oversaw the procurement process. 

“Councilpersons Grisanti and Riggins served as the procurement evaluation committee, reviewed the four submitted proposals, and decided to recommend awarding contracts to Malibu Race Series, LLC and Zuma Foundation, Inc.” Riesgo stated. 

Grisanti noted that “There was a keen interest in ensuring that local nonprofit organizations benefited from the events.”  

Super League Director Brendan Lindner disagreed with the decision.

“Super League Triathlon is extremely disappointed by the decision of the ad hoc committee to recommend that a permit be issued to Michael Epstein, who has sold the triathlon in the past for commercial gain,” he said. “We would only urge the full City Council to consider all the facts in their deliberations. Super League remains the owner of the event and its intellectual property, and this decision would set a very dangerous precedent for the industry in general and all who want to invest in sporting events.” 

Lindner elaborated, stating, “Super League Triathlon has owned Malibu Triathlon since 2020 and steered it through the challenging times of COVID, raising substantial funds for CHLA as well as revitalizing a race with a tremendous history and legacy in the sport. If this decision is made to award a new permit, it will be the end of 38 years of the Malibu Triathlon as we know it and its proven substantial fundraising for CHLA, which as so far brought in $18 million for pediatric cancer research, as well as being an important part of the community and delivering support for a significant number of local charities and businesses.”

Lindner stated, “We believe that we are the only operators in the process that can deliver events on this scale and with this level of impact for the community and charity.”

Most notably, Linder stated that he inquired about the ad hoc committee’s proposal evaluation process. 

“Super League is disappointed with the lack of clarity around the decision-making process and will be closely monitoring the final remarks,” he said. 

Linder noted that he was told by city staff that Super League did not win the proposed contract because it is owned by an out-of-country entity. 

“However, Malibu Race Series LLC, the proposed awardee for the half-marathon is also owned by a non-US entity.” Lindner noted. “The other reason staff provided for not awarding Super League the contract is that we suggested offering a two-day event, not a one-day event.”

That dog doesn’t hunt, Lindner maintained, as the proposed triathlon contract award also provides for a two-day event. 

“We have asked the City Council several times for a meeting to discuss the criteria used in the process, but have not received a response,” he said. “We are eager to engage in conversation about the future of the event and hope our continued requests to do so will be answered.”

Summing up, Lindner said, “Above all, Super League Triathlon remains committed to our partnership with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and to raising money to support some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and we will take all necessary measures to robustly protect and defend this.”

Providing some perspective, local resident Will Gelner, who has participated in the triathlon several times, noted “The triathlon is for the good of the community and there are not that many things in Malibu that bring people together for a good cause.” 

Gelner added, “The triathlon is also good for people’s physical and mental health — it’s a win-win for the community and the participants. It’s Malibu at its best.” 

The Malibu Times reached out to Epstein, but has not received a response. We will keep readers informed about the council’s decision regarding the awards of the non-motorized race event contracts.