SMMUSD Board votes unanimously to approve Malibu High School Project

After a brief face-off between the Planning Department and SMMUSD Operations, construction can now begin 

At a Special Meeting of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) Board of Education on Jan. 26, a resolution to certify the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the $160 million Malibu Middle and High School (MMHS) campus remodel passed unanimously. The district is now cleared to begin construction on the massive project, funded by the 2018 voter-approved Measure M bond. 

At the conclusion of the meeting, a smiling SMMUSD Chief Operations Officer, Carey Upton, said, “This will allow us to go forward with creating a great new high school and a great new campus and middle school for Malibu and Malibu students.”

This was the happy ending to a riff that started at the Jan. 13 school board meeting, when the EIR resolution was originally scheduled for a vote.

At that meeting, Malibu Planning Department representative Reneka Brooks read a letter from Planning Director Richard Mollica requesting a delay due to insufficient time for review, saying they had received the final EIR just three days before the meeting— on Jan. 10. 

SMMUSD staff disputed that, saying they had electronic proof the document had been received and read in Malibu back on Dec. 28.

Upton opposed the delay, saying delays were one of the challenges the district has with the Malibu Planning Department, and it could cause them to miss the planned opening in August 2024 by as much as a year.

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The resolution was continued to a Special Meeting on Jan. 26, and in the meantime, SMMUSD staff met with the Planning Department and managed to work out their differences.

“We put together a very productive meeting last week,” Mollica told the school board on Jan. 26. “Our consultants and specialists met with their consultants and specialists in a virtual room and reviewed our comment letter line by line. We believe it adequately addresses what we’re looking for in an environmental document with the changes I know your team made this past weekend.”

SMMUSD developed the proposed MMHS project as a means to “create unique and separate identities for the Malibu MMHS campuses” through redevelopment and modernization of the existing campuses and the former Juan Cabrillo Elementary School campus. Three distinct areas will be created: Middle School Core, High School Core, and shared facilities. 

The project will be built in four phases, involving the demolition of all seven buildings and nine portables on the former Juan Cabrillo campus and six buildings and associated amenities on the MMHS campus, totaling 154,904 square feet of demolition. 

The existing Building E and Buildings A/B at the MMHS campus will remain, with all other structures removed. No changes will be made to the existing main football/track sports field, baseball, or softball fields, except for new field houses and additional parking by the softball field.

When completed, the project will have constructed 32 classrooms, eight labs, and a total of 173,595 square feet of building space, providing the MMHS campus with a total of 51 classrooms, 12 labs, and a total of 222,425 square feet of building space. 

The project also includes relocating the existing on-campus bus barn to a “previously disturbed location” on the adjacent Malibu Equestrian Park and restoring an Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area.

Placeworks was the project’s environmental consultant to conduct an environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  

The District followed all of the required steps for EIR approval, starting last August with a Draft EIR and ending Dec. 28 with the Final EIR. 

The Proposed Project will cause some environmental impacts when it comes to pool lighting and construction noise, which cannot be completely mitigated. It appears that the state’s requirements for pool lighting in a public pool don’t quite mesh with Malibu’s upcoming Dark Skies Ordinance. Despite these impacts, the EIR still went forward due to the project’s overriding positive impacts on public education.

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