Lee Baca Slams Idea of SMC Campus in Former Sheriff’s Station Building
• Says Malibu Law Enforcement Costs and Response Times Are Adversely Affected by Facility’s Closure •
BY HANS LAETZ
BY HANS LAETZ
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca says he is perplexed that no one from the City of Malibu or Santa Monica College has asked him about county plans to sell off the abandoned sheriff’s station at Malibu Civic Center, a plan he calls a mistake.
The sheriff said restoring the mostly-unused building back into a functioning sheriff’s substation serving Malibu and adjacent unincorporated coastal areas is a high priority for him, and a proposal to build a community college branch on the site “would be a mistake that would endanger lives” and waste money.
The sheriff’s broadside on the fate of the structure built in 1963 may have been aimed at the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which is under intense financial pressure as the state’s budget melts down, and has been trying to sell surplus property.
Westside Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky has been brokering talks to sell the site to the Santa Monica College District, and at a Jan. 8 board meeting, said he knows the sheriff would like to have a substation in Malibu.
“I’d like to have a field office overlooking the Malibu Lagoon, I’d like to be able to say every morning, ‘I’m going to work in Malibu,’” the supervisor said. “But they don’t need a substation in Malibu.”
Baca sought out a Malibu Surfside News reporter at a law enforcement appreciation lunch in Calabasas Tuesday, and said that negotiations between the City of Malibu and Santa Monica College over the building, which is controlled by the county Board of Supervisors, “would remove from the Malibu community a crucial lifesaving law enforcement facility that is irreplaceable.
“Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever and will never come back,” the sheriff said, noting that its radio tower, helipad, fueling facilities and much of the building itself are still in use by county road crews.
The sheriff said not having a substation on the ocean side of the Santa Monica Mountains increases deputies’ response times, endangers Malibuites in times of fires or other disasters, and is a waste of city taxpayers’ money.
“Right now, Malibu is throwing away 10 percent of its law enforcement dollars, because our deputies have to drive back and forth over the mountains,” the sheriff said. The city hires Baca’s office to provide municipal police services, but the local sheriff’s station was closed in 1991 when the new Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station was built about 15 miles north of the Civic Center.
The old building was used as Malibu’s first City Hall, but has sat mostly unused for about five years, Baca said. County Department of Public Works workers are still using the fenced equipment yard, fuel pumps and radio relay tower.
Yaroslavsky’s chief deputy, Alisa Katz, said the 43-year-old building is unusable due to water damage, and that its helipad and radio towers are not part of the proposed sale to the college district.a
“We think the college branch is a great deal to benefit the people of Malibu,” Katz said. “The sheriff is doing a great job enforcing safety in Malibu from the consolidated office in Calabasas.”
Santa Monica College is obligated under terms of a 2004 bond issue to build a 25,000-square-foot satellite campus in Malibu, and three-way negotiations are underway to transfer the old sheriff’s station site to the district. An earlier plan to build the campus on the so-called “Yamaguchi Site,” an old flower farm on Stuart Ranch Road near the present City Hall, failed.
Baca acknowledged the financial difficulties facing the county, but said “the county really needs to do a real assessment of the practice of selling a $25 million facility for $5 million to the college district—particularly when it’s something that you cannot replace under any circumstance.”
No similar plot of flat land is owned by Los Angeles County anywhere in the western county, Baca said.
Yaroslavsky’s chief deputy said no value has been placed on the old building and its site, but the college district would pay market value for the land.
The longtime sheriff said the boarded-up station “played a key role in the recent fires, when we were back there filling up fire trucks and patrol cars from the diesel pumps.
“I have been listening to the residents of Malibu who have told me they want an emergency clinic—and the helipad behind this station is a key piece of the emergency health system for this area.”
“I’m not against a community college there,” Baca said, “but shouldn’t they build it over by the library?
“The college project is not predicated on building it inside the sheriff’s station,” Baca said, “but the sheriff’s goals are predicated on that building.
“The key to this decision should be one of saving human life, and public safety first,” he said. “Then let’s worry about incorporating a community college into a new, state of the art library at the Civic Center.”
An official at Santa Monica College was unavailable for immediate comment.