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Parks and Recreation Commission member Dane Skophammer has suggested it's time for Malibu to take a tougher stance against people who break the rules regarding operating hours at all city parks. Scott Steepleton/Surfside News
Scott Steepleton, Editor
6:12 am PDT July 19, 2021

Legacy Park is expected to undergo a refresh over the next couple of years.

Some of the work, not to mention at other city parks, could involve more aggressively preventing people from hanging out overnight.

In 2018, Los Angeles-based landscape architecture firm Studio MLA was awarded a three-year, $120,000 consultant contract that resulted in proposals for planting, monitoring and reporting on some test plots as well as putting in place a comprehensive long-term maintenance plan for Legacy Park, off Civic Center Way.

A two-year extension will run $50,000. 

Malibu City Council will ultimately decide on the scope of work through 2023, but proposals include promoting habitat and assessing plants, wildlife and effective park management.

“We’re hoping to get it to them August or September,” said Kristin Riesgo, community services deputy director.

Parks and Recreation Commission member Judy Villablanca said she can see positive changes at the park. But Commission Vice Chair Alicia Peak is concerned about the homeless in the park.

“I just don’t want time or money to be wasted on that area,” she told city staff during the June commission meeting. “You guys put all those cactuses in and then they got trampled. Until we figure out the homeless problem, it seems silly to waste time landscaping that area.”

Jesse Bobbett, community services director, said the cactus matter “is the only incident that’s cost us money related to homeless.”

“The area they’re in, oddly enough, is established very well,” Bobbett added. “Which is why they’re there.”

“That is one part of this project that has not been successful,” said Bobbett, adding that destruction of the cactus happened pretty quickly after planting.

“We were really hoping it would establish in that area,” he said. “They got destroyed and so, instead of sinking a ton more money into that, trying to buy more cacti and put them in, we determined it was best to try and work with what we had there and find other ways to deter.”

Peak asked whether metal enclosures like those used to deter critters could be used to keep the homeless away from new plantings.

“This was intentional destruction of those plants,” replied Bobbett. “In that area, it just is what it is. We’re pretty bummed about it because it was a lot of work.”

“The metal fencing wouldn’t have helped in this instance,” he added.

It’s quite the cat and mouse game at Legacy Park. The minute city staff removes trash and debris from one encampment — this was happening every other week last fall and may have even picked up as the pandemic wore on — Bobbett said, “we’ve got a couple people just waiting at the edge to come back in the minute the police and our maintenance crews leave.”

Commission member Dane Skophammer said if park hours were being enforced, not allowing overnight stays, the encampments might not grow and need constant cleanup.

“That is true,” said Bobbett. “But they do come in during the day just as frequently.”

Bobbett said there’s a particular area of Legacy Park where staff is reluctant to go without law enforcement escort, because the minute you get there, the behavior of the homeless individuals “gets very shady real quick.”

Skophammer suggested that a parks and recreation staff member be the one to enforce operating hours at all city-owned parks, telling those there at closing time to leave.

“Have them drive around at night. It’s your job,” he said. “It’s a dangerous job. It might take two people … But it might save the city a lot of money over the period of a year.”

If the commissioners are concerned about safety, cleanup of encampments and a more significant law enforcement  presence at city parks, Bobbett recommended they take those issues up with their respective council members.

Parks and rec staff, he added, are trained to take a positive approach to interactions with people and to “avoid issues.”

Bobbett noted that sometimes when he and Riesgo walk Legacy, “Even I say I feel like we can’t even approach this person. They look like they’re going to lose it on us. And we haven’t even said anything or looked at them.”

While sympathetic to Bobbett’s point, Skophammer’s idea is essentially to have a sort of park police.

“We need something like this,” he said. “Somebody that can actually go in there and talk to these people and tell them that they can’t stay.”