Snack shack restoration efforts met by zoning challenges

Siblings Lincoln and Hazel Campbell sit at the empty unused snack shack at Malibu Bluffs Park. Zoning restrictions are preventing the Parks and Recreation Department, and local youth leagues, from reopening the concesssion stand. Photo courtesy Becky Michieli.

Progress for restoring or replacing the Malibu Bluffs Park snack shack continues at a standstill due to zoning restrictions. 

The issue of the restoration or replacement of the snack shack was addressed in a Parks and Recreation Commission meeting on Oct. 18.

Despite support from the Parks and Recreation Committee, Malibu Little League and Malibu AYSO, the future for the snack shack remains unclear.

As it stands, the shack is considered existing nonconforming under current zoning restrictions, which limits what could be done with the existing structure. Under current restrictions, the only replacement use for the structure would be as a storage container.

Due to the park being zoned as public open space, zoning restrictions prohibit refreshment stands and other fixed-location outdoor food vending stands.

The shack last served the park during the spring 2019 Little League season. The shack was operated by parents of the Little League and served hot foods such as hot dogs, pretzels and burgers.

However, after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the 2020 Little League season, the shack went without maintenance and fell into disrepair. 

Since the return of Malibu Little League and Malibu AYSO to Malibu Bluffs Park, food is now served by food trucks parked on Winter Mesa Drive within the park. 

Malibu Little League President Nick Shurgot said the loss of the snack shack has hurt revenue that used to support Little League programs in the park. 

“We’re a nonprofit and we need to make money for uniforms, field rentals, and umpires,” Shurgot said. “We prefer to have the snack shack open at 100 percent capacity to make a little bit of money to help our league continue to grow.” 

He also explained that the snack shack is part of the Little League experience and he believes food trucks can not recreate the same experience. He described the snack shack as a place to congregate right off the field and said it was like a social event, and standing in line at food trucks on the street is not quite the same social event for the children.

Malibu Little League board member Jake Lingo said the Little League community does not want to lose the snack shack. He hopes to be able to utilize the structure to raise funds to improve the current structure. 

“I think you have a world-class designation and ball field with very subpar facilities,” Lingo said to the commission. “We’re committed to raising money and doing what it would take to make it a premier place to host soccer and baseball.”

Proposals made by the Parks and Recreation Commission for either restoring or replacing the shack have been met with challenges.

During its Aug. 16 meeting, the commission voted to replace the snack shack with a like-for-like structure with a retrofitted three-compartment sink and outdoor grilling area. The recommendation prompted the staff to meet with the planning department, which educated the commission on the challenges of restoring the facility. 

According to the Parks and Recreation staff report following the meeting with the planning department, the first step toward the restoration of the shack would require the commission to inquire about a zoning change through a zoning text amendment (ZTA) and local coastal program amendment (LCPA). This zoning change would reverse the prohibition of sales of food and beverages at the park.

This process would require the commission to hire a planning consultant, which could cost an estimated $20,000 to $40,000, according to Community Services Deputy Director Kristin Riesgo. The ZTA proposal would require the approval from the Malibu Planning Commission, Malibu City Council and California Coastal Commission and would take an estimated two to three years.

If the commission decided to move forward with the project, the project would be submitted to the city council and added to the 2023-24 Council Work Plan. The commission would then begin funding efforts for the planning consultant.

If approved, the project would begin in the fiscal year 2023-24. 

Alternative options for the snack shack include food trucks or vending machines. 

The commission also proposed an alternative fundraising possibility for Little League or AYSO in the form of a Temporary Use Permit (TUP). The permit secured by a youth league would allow the league to sell food and drinks for a maximum of 14 consecutive days. However, the permit would cost the league up to $700 in fees.

Parks and Recreation Commissioner Suzanne Guldimann expressed concern of moving forward with the project due to the difficulty of obtaining the required ZTA.

“I know how much the snack shack means to the kids and everything, but the entire city of Malibu to my understanding only gets four zoning text amendments a year. We’re seriously backed up,” Guldimann said, “I just don’t see us getting it. This is a really thorny, difficult situation.”

Community Services Director Jesse Bobbett urged the commission to consider the importance of the snack shack project compared to other possible projects being considered by the City Council. 

“While our role to serve this commission and the items that are on our work plan is something we can do, it’s not something that’s technically on the planning commission’s work plan,” Bobbett said. “To prioritize this over other items, I don’t know what other zone text amendments they’d have on their plate to go forward.”

After weighing the pros and cons presented in the staff report, Parks and Recreation Chair Dane Skophammer proposed a motion to replace the snack shack with a like-for-like structure. The commission passed the motion in a 3-2 vote. The recommendation was made to the council to add the project to the 2023-24 work plan.

Meanwhile, the park will continue to host food trucks during sporting events.

Shurgot said he hopes the snack shack will return to serve the families at Malibu Bluffs Park.

“Kids obviously love to play the games, but the snack shack is where they go to have a little treat after the games, catch up with their buddies, and catch up with their families,” Shurgot said. “It’s a really big part of the Little League, not only in Malibu, but across the country.”