Residents’ ‘Town Hall’ Meeting Generates Numerous Park Swap Plan Questions
• Project Critics Say Landslide Review Published in 1992 Indicates Bluffs Property May Be a Liability Instead of an Asset
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
More than 70 Malibu residents participated in a meeting sponsored by Preserve Malibu to discuss the proposed Charmlee Wilderness Park-Bluffs Park swap proposal currently begin discussed by the city. The meeting began at 2:30 p.m. and lasted until almost 5 p.m., as speakers and residents discussed their concerns and questions regarding the proposed land deal.
“We’re here to look for solutions,” Preserve Malibu spokesperson J.Flora Katz said at the beginning of the meeting. She asked the audience to “stay respectful.”
The land swap proposal, initiated by Mayor Lou La Monte and Mayor Pro Tem Joan House, involves trading the City of malibu’s 532-acre Charmlee Wilderness Park in Encinal Canyon, for the 83-acre portion of Malibu Bluff's Park that is owned by the state and overseen by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy/ Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority..
The City of Malibu acquired 10 acres adjacent to the Conservancy's Bluff's Park property from the county in 1998, which is developed as an urban park comprised of the Michael Landon Community Center, two playing fields that are used by AYSO and Malibu Little League, lawns, play equipment and picnic and whale watching areas.
La Monte and House state at the Jan. 14, city council meeting that they proposed the exchange to Conservancy Executive Director Joe Edmiston as a way of acquiring space for additional ball fields and a skate park. The Conservancy’s Bluffs Park property comprises an extensive area of protected environmentally sensitive habitat area, including a large canyon, which bisects the property, and an extensive landslide complex known as the Amarillo Beach landslide, but a portion of approximately 10 acres located in the far west corner of the property could potentially be used by the city for recreational purposes, according to the city staff report on the proposal.
Many speakers at the meeting on Sunday expressed concern that the first notice they received of the proposal came from the agenda for the Conservancy's Jan. 7 meeting, which appeared to indicate that the swap was “a done deal.”
City Councilmember John Sibert was not at the meeting, but he sent an email to the organizers stating that the swap was not a done deal and that he supports a city-sponsored town hall meeting on the proposal.
Many in the audience were concerned about fire risk. Others expressed anger that the city council would even consider trading Charmlee for what was described as “junk land.”
Most speakers at the Preserve Malibu meeting questioned whether any portion of the bluffs property could be used for more than passive recreation; how much actual benefit the city would be receive from trading 532 acres for a maximum of 10 usable acres; and whether the state would be willing to indemnify the city for landslide liability for the approximately 16 slide zones on the site.
Longtime Malibu resident and Malibu Township Council officer Lucile Keller brought a copy of the 1992 report that identified the site's geologic hazards.
A map released in 1990 by the Los Angeles County Safety Element placed the property a “generalized inventory of landslides,” and found that it was one of 15 major Malibu sites that “display[ed] a high propensity for landsliding.” The 1992 review of landslides conducted by Philip Williams & Associates and Peter Warshall & Associates confirmed the earlier LACSE findings. The geology at the Bluffs property is officially called the Amarillo Beach Landslides, according to the report.
“Out of 83 acres, only 7-10 are not ESHA,” John Mazza, who sits on the Malibu planning commission, told the audience.
Mazza, who stated that he had walked the site with fellow planning commissioner Mikke Pierson and former city councilmember Jefferson Wagner, said that he was concerned that the corner that was not ESHA was separated from the rest of the property by the canyon and several slide zones and is difficult to access. He indicated that the one potentially buildable area is not level and may require extensive grading and retaining walls to accommodate playing fields and parking.
“How hard will it be to develop?” asked Pierson. I'm not an engineer at all. I was caught off guard, a lot of earth would have to be moved, if [playing fields or a skate park] are to be considered.”
Wagner suggested that a better option for the city to acquire property for an additional urban park would be to seek a developer agreement for parcels in the Civic Center area that are expected to seek permits for projects in the near future. Wagner said that the housing development, which he called the Gold project, located next to the city's existing Bluffs Park property is slated to donate two acres to the city. Parking, a soccer field, a skate park, [the city] could start building in a year.” Wagner said. “We need to ask the council to reconsider.”
Wagner suggested that plans for the La Paz development could include a park for the city that would be sited on relatively flat land.
He also presented a “bitch list,” which concludes with the question: “what and where are the guarantees from the Coastal Commission to approve this city plan to develop this area for sport parks?”
Other suggestions included approaching Pepperdine University to discuss a joint use agreement and finding a way for the city to purchase the nine-acre Wave property located behind the library, which is currently listed at $12 million, according to Malibu West resident Brian Eamer.
Several members of the audience questioned the need for additional ballfields. They cited census results and a 2012 school district analysis that indicate that the population of Malibu is aging and the number of children declining, and the city's recent recreation survey results, which they said placed and senior facilities and passive recreation parks like Charmlee at the top of the list of city recreation needs.
“It’s a passionate issue,” activist Lynn Norton said, adding that ballfields were “16th or 17th in need” on the city's recreation assessment survey. “We don’t see any analysis. It’s infinite. There’s no supply or demand.”
Others said they were dismayed by plains that appeared in the Conservancy’s Jan. 7 staff report, for eight campsites at Charmlee and for additional camping outside city limits in Coral Canyon and other areas that was outlined in an interoffice memo written by Edmiston that was reported “leaked” to the public.
“We aren’t against camping, just do it in a place that is safe,” Corral resident Lori Jacobus told The News. “Corral is a box canyon. One cigarette could change everything.” Jacobus is active in the Corral Canyon Fire Safety Alliance, has started a petition at change.org opposing the plan. It had received 794 signatures by Tuesday.
“My primary question is how is this a win for Malibu and the people of Malibu,” Lori Jacobus' husband Will Jacobus said at the meeting. Clearly it's not. Our rate of return is less than three percent. We can't use most of this land. It does not serve the immediate and longterm needs of coaches and kids. There is no winning perspective. Edmiston benefits 100 percent. It needs to be more than 100 to three.”
“Charmlee is 500 acres that we love,” one speaker said. “This is one more step into making this Beverly Hills.”
Preserve Malibu activist summed up the opinion of many at the meeting when she said “It's the most ridiculous deal ever. I don’t see why Charmlee is even on the table.”