There were smiles all around as more than 150 officials and residents gathered for the gold-shovel groundbreaking ceremony on the future site of the Santa Monica College (SMC)-Malibu Campus and LA County Sheriff substation last Friday. The project has been a long time coming—it’s been 14 years since bond Measure S was approved by Santa Monica and Malibu voters in 2004, allotting $25 million for the facility.

Since then, bond issue Measure V was also passed by voters in November 2016 for the Santa Monica Community College District, authorizing a debt increase of $345 million.

Kathryn Jeffery, PhD, and SMC superintendent and president, told the crowd she was excited to be “involved in this partnership with Malibu.” She has made it her business to visit with local businesses and drive by the site periodically. “I want to be just as much a part of this community as I am part of Santa Monica,” she added. 

“This has been no small undertaking,” Jeffery emphasized. “I acknowledge that SMC people put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this project—especially the tears part.”

Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl praised the “collaboration” that led to the new campus.

“I love SMC and this academia/ public safety partnership, and it’s all coming together today,” she said. “LA County is totally devoted to this project ... This is an amazing collaboration, and whenever Santa Monica and Malibu can work together on something, I’m happy.” 

Kuehl confirmed that the Malibu Community Labor Exchange will enjoy a “permanent home” on the county’s property—and joked about just how long Malibu has gone without a permanent home for law enforcement. 

“The last time this sheriff’s substation was open, the Soviet Union was still intact,” she laughed. 

LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, whose department will be occupying the future sheriff’s substation, said, “I’m proud to be here, because it’s a milestone for our personnel here in Malibu/ Lost Hills.” He noted Malibu’s last substation closed in 1991, and that Malibu’s search & rescue group is the largest in the county.

“The new 6,000 square foot substation will help us to reduce response times and reduce crime,” McDonnell continued, “and allow the community to conveniently intersect with deputies...It will provide much needed space in a state-of-the-art facility.”

Malibu Mayor Rick Mullen declared the day a historical event. 

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Malibu Mayor Rick Mullen

“Having a college is a first for the City of Malibu,” he said—true, since Pepperdine is not located inside city limits. “We’re excited about the benefits this will bring to the community—like the opportunity for high school students to get started on college classes.”

While the partnerships among agencies on this complex project were lauded by many, it also caused years of bureaucratic delays—the County of Los Angeles, the City of Malibu, Santa Monica College and the LA County Sheriff’s Department, and even various state agencies, were all involved. SMC’s Elaine Polachek said in a previous email it took quite a while just to work through the ground lease with LA County (the landowner). SMC also spent a significant amount of time on the sheriff’s substation communications tower and Verizon antenna.

The new satellite campus will be located on approximately three acres of a nine-acre parcel owned by LA County, located directly across the street from Legacy Park. The decommissioned 16,603-square-foot sheriff’s station building currently on that site will be demolished. The former LA County Superior Court building and recently remodeled Malibu Library will not be affected.

The new building, and its groundbreaking, was not without controversy.

The weekly Malibu Farmers Market, managed by Debra Bianco, which sets up on a portion of the site’s parking lot, could be impacted temporarily by construction, at times. Bianco said in a phone interview that County Supervisor Kuehl’s office told them they’d get a 10-year lease shortly. In addition, she’ll be meeting with LA County, the City of Malibu and SMC on Oct. 10 to discuss how the farmers market can continue to operate during construction. 

Malibu Towing lost its lease on the rear parking lot of the site as of Aug. 31 and is currently operating out of Oxnard. For the time being, owner Adail Gayhart said he’s staging four or five tow trucks in Malibu every day “at great expense” while hoping to find another tow yard to lease in town as soon as possible. 

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A message towed by an airplane flying over the groundbreaking proclaims “SHERIFF MCDONNELL MUST GO.”

At the groundbreaking, a flyby banner proclaimed “SHERIFF MCDONNELL MUST GO,” catching the eyes of those gathered for the event. The banner was sponsored by a political action committee out of Los Angeles, Citizens PAC. According to information from the committee, members believe the June 22 slaying of Tristan Beaudette at Malibu Creek State Park could have been avoided with more decisive action on the part of McDonnell’s department. 

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