Recently, the city decided to slam the door shut on expanding Malibu Bluffs Park to include more ball fields and perhaps a community center, a pool, a skateboard park or a number of other things that had been proposed over the many years of public hearings. This was a new council with a new majority and a new, totally “no growth” agenda, which is the way they read what they saw as their electoral mandate. Arguably, some citizens wanted only no new commercial development, not just no new anything, but the new council majority read the vote much more broadly and were not shy about saying they didn’t feel anything more was necessary or desirable.
Well, last week, the éminence grise of governmental environmentalism, Joe Edmiston, the executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and a political operator of substantial skill, just blew the City of Malibu out of the water with one deadly salvo in the form of a short letter. What Joe said — and everyone knows Joe as Joe, no second name necessary — in his letter to the city early last week was that since the city wasn’t going to go ahead with a sport complex, then perhaps the best thing was just to unravel the deal (which was not yet finally consummated) and the state would take back their 83 acres at Bluffs Park and give the city back their 532-acre Charmlee Park way out in the west end of God — knows — where Malibu. Rumor had it that what the city intended at the end of the five-year lease period was to buy the land and then just put it to rest; that is, do nothing with it, sort of a land retirement program. The problem is to do that, they have to first own it, which apparently they forgot. Joe in his letter made mention of the fact that, lest they think he was just kidding around, he was going to agendize the matter on the next conservancy meeting on June 22, to ask his board to terminate the swap, as was the right of either party, the conservancy or the city.
The city immediately sprang into action and our longtime City Attorney Christi Hogin — also no neophyte to the political game — said in essence in a letter to Joe: “Joe, Joe, Joe, you’re reading it wrong. Just because we said ‘no’ it really wasn’t a definitive ‘no.’ It was more like a transitory ‘no.’ Just because we refused to go ahead with an EIR, which would have told us what we could do with Bluffs Park, doesn’t mean we intended to do nothing additional with Bluffs Park. In fact, all we wanted to do is study all of our options to put some of this ‘aggressive’ project for recreational stuff — perhaps at other locations, also, so all of the city would have easy access to it all. Therefore, once we had all the options under a microscope, we could decide and proceed with the required environmental reports.”
Now, there is a little bit of a backstory to all of this. Apparently, the state land has to be used for the purposes for which the state bought the property which, according to Joe as stated in his letter, is “public accommodation and recreation,” meaning it has to serve the region beyond Malibu, since Malibu alone probably wouldn’t be enough. Also, since the Coastal Commission also had to buy into the final deal, it probably required more than the city was indicating it wanted to do.
In our story in this week’s newspaper, Joe indicated to The Malibu Times that the city told him they were reexamining itsposition and perhaps it could all be worked out. Also in the past, Joe had indicated that if the land ends up back with the state, they were seriously entertaining the idea of 40 or so campsites up on the Bluff. It’s not clear to me if that included or excluded campfires, but I guess that’s an issue for the future and the saga continues.
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Big doings are also going on at the Malibu Chamber of Commerce. Rod Bergen, longtime chair of the board, resigned, along with several other directors, and some new people have come aboard and new officers appointed. The divorce was not particularly friendly and the chamber was struggling with some organizational and financial problems, which, I suspect, they will try to repair. One of the problems is that this summer’s Malibu Arts Festival, a major source of funds for the chamber, is being squeezed for space by the construction that’s going to be going on in the same area by Santa Monica College’s new building. It’s not yet clear if they will have enough space to put on the festival or if they’ll have to scale it down or move it — more on this next week.