School Board Members Get an Earful at Meeting Held in Malibu
• 250-Space High School Parking Lot and Synthetic Turf Installation May Not Survive Cuts
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
The first round of budget crisis-induced layoff decisions, postponed from the Feb. 19 meeting in Santa Monica, was on the agenda for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board of education meeting on March 5 in Malibu, along with items dealing with the Measure BB-funded field lighting plan and onsite wastewater treatment improvements for Malibu High School.
After hearing what board vice president Barry Snell described as “two long nights of passionate discussion,” the board voted unanimously to retain two elementary school music teachers and two school nurses and eliminate just one position, an intervention councilor who was already leaving the district.
“I won’t be able to support this item in any way,” Board member Jose Escarce said. The entire board agreed.
“One of the things I’ve heard is that there may have been some other options,” board vice president Barry Snell said. “I’d like to ask my board members to give one more opportunity to hear possible other plans.”
Board member Oscar de la Torre suggested a “top down” cuts workshop, to see if administrative cuts could be made before more teaching positions are put on the line.
The board expressed the hope that they would have a clearer picture of the district’s budget status after the state budget’s May revise. The district is currently facing a shortfall of approximately $4 million dollars.
With budget concerns still in mind, the board voted to approve $1.6 million in additional Measure BB money to fund onsite wastewater treatment system improvements at Malibu High School, which staff hopes will be paid for out of the BB project construction escalation account. The agenda item had initially contained a request for $5,888,000 “to provide additional scope for parking, traffic, safety, onsite wastewater treatment system, and other required improvements to the Measure BB Malibu Middle and High School Campus Improvements project, for a total construction budget of $36,263,000.” An amendment reduced the requested allocation and limited the scope of the additional funds to OWTS. Community members have spoken out repeatedly at public meetings, expressing concern that Juan Cabrillo had not been incorporated into the the traffic plan. Maez concurred. “It’s very important to include Juan Cabrillo,” she said, recommending the formation of a “design charrette” that would “really get out there and explore other options. “A traffic and safety workshop that will focus on short-term remedies is scheduled for Wednesday, March 11, at 6:30 p.m. at the school.
A PowerPoint presentation on the wastewater improvements revealed that $1 million of the $1.6 million would go for a secondary treatment plant. Project consultant Tom Tomeoni explained that the campus has 10 separate systems, four at Juan Cabrillo and six at MHS, that require upgrades to comply with regional water quality requirements. “It has been identified that wastewater [on the campus] has some serious critical conditions,” he said. “There are some immediate cautions,” he added. Tomeoni caused a stir when he described potential plans to re-inject treated water from the secondary plant back into the ground.
“You’d better double that figure,” Point Dume resident Dusty Peak told the board. “I’ve been on WACO [the City of Malibu’s Wastewater Advisory Committee] for five years. I don’t think you will be allowed to re-inject it.” He suggested that that an alternate dispersal plan be developed.
Some Malibu Park area residents expressed cautious optimism that the funding cut would spell the end of plans for a controversial 250-space parking lot that would be constructed on the bluff overlooking the athletic field.
In response to public comment stating that the proposed lot would block a deeded equestrian trail, Maez acknowledged that “there may be an equestrian trail that would have to be rerouted. It may be necessary to accommodate that in our plan.” She also acknowledged that the district recognizes that the area on the ridgetop is an Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area, although only the ESHA on the eastern side of the campus was marked on the map that accompanied the presentation.
The board’s primary concern was how to fund all of the aspects of the project. “What are the plans for dealing with the contingence that either this project [traffic and safety] or the parking project or the combination won’t be fundable out of the assumption of escalation?” Escarce asked. “What provisions have we taken to take current core projects at this school and make them add alternates in order to replace them with this project and the parking that might actually be more important?”
“I don’t want to speak for [the BB site committee] Maez said, “but I think they would find it very difficult to take so much out of core.” She added, “We feel confident there is money in escalation.”
“Think about this very carefully,” Escarce cautioned. “Develop a systematic approach. Make sure that one school doesn’t cannibalize the savings from other school sites.”
“We want to make sure these programs stay within reasonable cost,” Snell said.
“There’s clearly savings in the escalation line item in the budget that would cover this particular project,” Maez said of the OWTS. The BB [committee] is charged with looking at the whole program. They’re concerned with this. They wanted some more work done on this before they would be willing to make the recommendation to put this much more in this part of the project.”
Cost was also a concern with the final major discussion item on the agenda, whether the board should approve continuing the MHS Measure BB-funded athletic improvement plan and “proceed with the completion of design, environmental analysis and California Coastal Commission amendment application for the athletic field lights” with four “self-imposed conditions” or “suspend further design and consultant support to the field lighting portion of the scope of work.”
The athletic improvements are “add alternatives” that can be included only if there is money available after the campus’s BB-funded core projects are completed. The proposed athletic improvements include $334,329 for concrete bleachers; $103,601 for two additional tennis courts; $1,692,256 for artificial turf; and $429,069 for permanent field lighting.
The plan is complicated by the fact that the school’s Coastal Development Permit, issued by the California Coastal Commission in 2000, contains a special condition prohibiting the use of temporary or permanent field lights. The lights would also be in violation of the City of Malibu’s Coastal Development Plan. Critics familiar with the Coastal permit process have charged that the current light project cost projection does not begin to address the cost of an appeal to the California Coastal Commission for an amendment, estimated by some to have the potential to easily exceed the actual $429,069 price tag for the actual lights.
The lights have been a hard sell outside of the school community. Residents have expressed ongoing concerns that the lights will have a negative environmental impact and that the school will not honor use agreements. The current board acknowledged that there has been a history of bad faith, and stated that the community deserved an apology for years of illegal temporary field lighting at the campus.
Maez revealed that residents had been correct at last week’s workshop when they challenged the statement that the school had used the lights for just four football games last year. “We have calculated that there were six practices last year in addition to the four games,” she said, adding that there was “no way to totally monitor” light use.
Maez said that the 80-plus nights proposed at the workshop “were probably not acceptable,” and said that she had heard resident concerns that any plans including lights, also cover amplified noise. “Any plan must address volume, duration,” she said. The project consultant also recognized for the first time that the lights would have a negative impact on dark skies.
Community members also weighed in. Despite the late hour—midnight—more than a dozen people had stayed to comment on the issue, most expressing opposition to the lighting plan. Malibu residents Steve Uhring and Carol Gable both read from the Coastal Development Permit that prohibits lighting. “You don’t want to go to Coastal with opposition,” Uhring warned. “We’ll be lined up like jets at LAX [to testify at Coastal].”
Gable reminded the board that MHS was built in an ESHA area, referring to the 7000 acres of National Park that surround Malibu Park on three sides and Zuma Beach on the forth. “Nothing in the environment has changed,” she said.
“From zero to 80 seems pretty drastic to me,” MHS football player Hap Henry told the board. One of only three advocates for the lights who stayed to speak at the meeting, Henry advocated a more moderate approach to the lighting plan that would focus, at least for now, on football. Henry reminded the board that team practice starts in May.
“Would the litigation costs come out of BB or general fund?” Malibu resident Ryan Embree asked the board. “You may flat out lose everything.”
“[The district] made a real mistake operating without a permit. I think the district should apologize,” Allen said. “Litigation isn’t in anyone’s interest.” Allen added that the proposed self imposed controls “don’t go far enough.”
“Every site was asked to come up with plans and some were ideal plans that may not get funded,” Board member Maria Leon Vazquez. “I can’t support moving forward with this plan without consensus. I don’t think we have consensus. I don’t think everyone was involved in the process.”
“I couldn’t go as far as saying no lights at all,” Snell said, but he expressed concern over the environmental safety of the synthetic turf.
Maez said that the elements could be taken separately, which is a change from staff’s position at last week’s meeting, when it was stated that elements had to be taken together as a package. Tomeoni informed the board that the concrete stadium seating had already been approved in 2000 and needed no further approvals. “We could go out and build it now,” he said. The lights must go to the Coastal Commission. The synthetic turf and tennis courts will go to the City of Malibu planning commission for approval.
Mechur preferred to keep all of the elements in. “It’s cheaper to do these things now. We’ve gone far enough along, I would like to keep them in,” he said
The board, which had already moved to postpone a vote on the item until a later meeting, adopted Maez’s suggestion that staff “call together a smaller committee of neighbors and Measure BB site committee members to come to the table. ”It was also recommended that the district involve the City of Malibu in the discussion. The board members also resolved to visit and walk the site in person before taking action on the item.
“Only good behavior over time creates trust,” Maez said.