SMMC Board and Council Contemplate Litigation over Municipal Skatepark Plans
• Time in Court Would Delay Project
BY BILL KOENEKER
Preparations for more discussion or possibly a showdown began this week as both the board of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the Malibu City Council met separately in closed sessions to talk about potential action in a courtroom over the municipality's skatepark plans.
City Attorney Christi Hogin announced at the city council meeting Monday night the council took "no reportable action," but did meet in a closed-door session "to discuss the threat of pending litigation."
The council agenda item was tagged as "Anticipated litigation…dispute with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy over the deed restrictions for the Bluffs Park parking lot and the proposed temporary skate park."
When asked after the executive session if she could elaborate on the closed meeting, Hogin said she was not able to talk about it any further.
Conservancy officials contend they own parking and use deed restrictions at Bluffs Park where the city wants to build first a temporary skatepark and construct a new "world class" facility.
The construction of even such a temporary skatepark at Bluffs Park may be stalled for much longer than anticipated by Malibu municipal officials if the two entities cannot reach some kind of understanding or a settlement and must proceed to court.
However, there seemed to be a glimmer of hope for municipal officials after the board of Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy met to have a discussion with counsel in closed session also on Monday night "regarding consideration of initiation of litigation: Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy v. City of Malibu regarding enforcement of parking and use deed restrictions at Bluffs Park."
SMMC spokesperson Dash Stolarz confirmed the board met in closed session.
Quoting the board's secretary, the Conservancy spokesperson said, "The report out of that meeting was 'instructions were given to negotiators.'"
SMMC attorney Laurie Collins, who was not available for comment this week, had previously said the reason for the meeting was to keep the board aware of what is going on at Bluffs Park.
"When the city acquired the property, it agreed to certain uses and deed restrictions. The plans for a skatepark raises several issues for the Conservancy," said Collins, who said the agenda item will keep the board informed and keeps all options open.
Collins said because it is a closed-door matter, she could not discuss it in any further detail.
Currently, the city's plans call for the interim skatepark to be located in an existing parking lot and the conversion of vacant land into an auxiliary temporary public parking lot, according to city officials.
The permitting process has been continued since May when the city's planning commissioners were told additional time was needed for the staff to work with the Conservancy to resolve issues regarding the SMMC's deeded use of the existing parking lot.
At that time Malibu officials seemed hopeful the matter could be easily resolved.
The city's Planning Technician, Joe Lezama, at the time, said. "We hope to resolve the matter at that time and get the matter back on the agenda."
The action comes after the city council approved a license agreement for parking to allow a temporary public parking lot on privately owned land known as the Crummer site, named after a former owner of the property.
However, until a recent letter was submitted from the Conservancy, there was apparently no knowledge about a SMMC easement.
Enthusiasts and municipal officials have pointed to Bluffs Park as the ideal for relocating the skatepark, but had been initially thwarted because of a lack of adequate parking, according to city planners.
"The feasibility of relocating to this site is dependent on the use of the privately owned property adjacent to Malibu Bluffs Park to offset the loss of the parking spaces," wrote Parks and Recreation Director Bob Stallings, in a memo to the city council.
The agreement provides the city use of the property with the understanding that the landowner has plans underway to develop the land for single-family homes. Story poles on the site have shown what his tentative plans are.
A scoping session on an Environmental Impact Report was held recently for the proposed five-home subdivision.
The parking lot agreement, according to Stallings, contemplates a broad scope of indemnities and liabilities the city agrees to undertake.