With the city facing financial strains since the Woolsey Fire, there was a proposal floated by the Los Angeles County Fire Department to buy a two-acre parcel of land next to the library parking lot—the home of the Malibu Chili Cook-Off. The land, known as the Ioki lot, was recently purchased by the city and is considered by many in Malibu as prime real estate. The LACoFD is hungry for the parcel, but so far public opinion is not in favor of giving it up, at any price.
Last Wednesday, a joint hearing was held, with stakeholders including the cultural arts, parks and recreation and public safety commissions expressing their desire to scuttle the idea of a sale.
“No one was in favor. All three commissions voted unanimously to oppose the sale,” Public Safety Commissioner Suzanne Guldimann described after the hearing.
“Everybody who showed up thought it was a terrible idea,” Paul Grisanti, a public works commissioner who decided to attend, agreed.
The original plan was to have the lot divided, with the fire department purchasing a portion making up most of the front of the lot. This did not sit well with real estate experts, including Grisanti.
“They had an appraisal done. The appraiser, for whatever reason, decided that if you were going to sell the frontage on Civic Center Way, it was worth the same as the acreage all the way in the back,” he described. “Everybody who had anything to do with real estate objected on the basis of that’s really the wrong price. It’s the wrong thing to do with it and it’s the wrong price.” Asked by The Malibu Times if there would ever be a right price, Grisanti, also a longtime Malibu Realtor answered, “If there were a 50-percent premium on what we paid for the per-acre price for the whole parcel—on a per-acre basis—then it starts to make sense.”
The city paid $21 million for the full 9.65 acres, or $2,186,528 per acre. Objectors to the sale have said the offer of $4.3 million for the front two acres is unreasonable for such prime real estate.
There has been discussion on selling the back portion of the property, but the fire department apparently has been interested in the front for good road access.
Grisanti said there had also been discussion about selling what he called the “triangle piece” between Pacific Coast Highway, Webb Way and Civic Center Drive. “It’s got excellent road access on three sides,” he explained. That parcel is 1.7 acres, but the fire department, it appears, is looking for two full acres. Grisanti suggested the fire department look into acquiring the county-owned abandoned courthouse and the acreage behind it in the Civic Center. He also questioned why the fire department didn’t buy the property on the open market previously.
“The fire department was invited by the city to send a representative to the meeting, but they didn’t send anyone, so there was no one there to explain why the fire department wanted the property or what they planned to do with it if they got it,” Guldimann wrote in an email to The Malibu Times.
The Malibu Times spoke with Malibu City Council Member Rick Mullen, who works full-time for LACoFD. Mullen made it clear that he does not speak for the fire department, but speculated that officials are probably looking to upgrade nearby Station 88 on Malibu Road and not to “expand, per se.” He described Station 88 as “small and inadequate.”
“It’s really tiny,” Mullen said. “Normal paramedic squads have four doors. That station has a special paramedic squad that has only two doors because otherwise they wouldn’t be able to get (equipment) in and actually close the doors. It’s really undersized and inadequate. Also, people may think I have something to do with this. I have nothing to do with it at all. It’s an ongoing thing that the fire department has wanted to do.”
According to Guldimann, the fire department was given the opportunity to attend the meeting but did not send a representative.
Mullen did not attend last week’s commission hearing, but said when the sale was brought up in an April city council meeting, it was not well received and the council asked for more study.
“It’s an important property acquisition that we just did and making a decision to sell off what might be considered the prime portion of the property of the prime lot so quickly when there’s so much interest by the public and recreational interests is way too premature,” he said. “There needs to be more public input.”
“Still,” he added, “You can’t blame [the fire department] for asking the city to part with the property.
“Even with the joint commission, it’s hard to get the word out to everybody in Malibu, but the discussion is out there,” he said. “It’s fairly clear how people feel about it at this stage.”
Guldimann agreed: “You know the community is united when Paul Grisanti and [Planning Commissioner] John Mazza are both on the same side of an issue, and they were both opposed to the sale. The message going back to the city council is a strong NO!”