City Attorney Says Conservancy's Stance on Skatepark Talks Is Unacceptable
• SMMC Wants Another Look at Public Campsites as Quid Pro Quo for Discussion of Land Use
BY BILL KOENEKER
It appears that Malibu's plans for a temporary skatepark at Bluffs Park will be stalled longer than anticipated as talks between the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the city have fallen apart.
The SMMC board in closed session had given instructions to negotiators to talk to municipal officials.
"The Conservancy was willing to discuss reopening the discussions if we were willing to talk about camping sites," said City Attorney Christi Hogin. "That was a non-starter. I don't see this going anywhere at the moment."
Preparations for more discussion, or possibly a showdown, had begun two weeks ago when both the board of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the Malibu City Council met separately in closed sessions to talk about potential action in a courtroom over the municipality's skatepark plans.
Hogin had announced at a recent city council meeting that members took "no reportable action," but did meet in a closed-door session "to discuss the threat of pending litigation."
The council agenda item was tagged as "Anticipated litigation…dispute with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy over the deed restrictions for the Bluffs Park parking lot and the proposed temporary skatepark."
When asked after the executive session if she could elaborate on the meeting, Hogin said she was not able to talk about it any further.
Conservancy officials contend they own parking and use deed restrictions at Bluffs Park where the city wants to build first a temporary skatepark and then construct a new "world class" facility.
It appears inevitable that construction of even a temporary skatepark at Bluffs Park may be stalled for much longer if the two entities cannot come to the negotiating table to reach some kind of understanding or settlement, and must proceed to court.
However, there seemed to be a glimmer of hope for municipal officials after the SMMC board met to have a discussion with counsel in closed session "regarding consideration of initiation of litigation: Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy v. City of Malibu regarding enforcement of parking and use deed restrictions at Bluffs Park."
SMMC spokesperson Dash Stolarz confirmed the board met in closed session.
Quoting the board's secretary, the Conservancy spokesperson said, "The report out of that meeting was 'instructions were given to negotiators.'"
SMMC attorney Laurie Collins had previously said the reason for the meeting was to keep the board aware of what is going on at Bluffs Park.
"When the city acquired the property, it agreed to certain uses and deed restrictions. The plans for a skatepark raises several issues for the Conservancy," said Collins, who said the agenda item would keep the board informed and keep all options open. There was no mention of talking about campsites.
Collins said because it is a closed-door matter, she could not discuss it in any further detail.
The Conservancy's wish to talk about campsites refers to a previous lawsuit that the SMMC lost to the municipality on the appellate level concerning the court invalidating the Conservancy's plans to provide overnight camping in several coastal canyons, including Bluffs Park.
The city objected to the Conservancy's park plans, which, besides overnight camping, called for trails connecting several coastal canyons with the camping sites.
Currently, the city's plans call for the interim skatepark to be located in an existing parking lot and the conversion of vacant land into an auxiliary temporary public parking lot, according to city officials.
The permitting process has been continued since May when the city's planning commissioners were told additional time was needed for the staff to work with the Conservancy to resolve issues regarding the SMMC's deeded use of the existing parking lot.
At one time Malibu officials seemed hopeful the matter could be easily resolved. But, at the next planning commission meeting, the staff is recommending the item be pulled from the agenda rather than continued.
The action comes after the city council approved a license agreement for parking to allow a temporary public parking lot on privately owned land still known as the Crummer site, the name of a former owner of the property.
However, until a recent letter was submitted from the Conservancy, there was apparently no knowledge about a SMMC easement.
Enthusiasts and municipal officials have pointed to Bluffs Park as the ideal for relocating the skatepark, but were initially thwarted because of a lack of adequate parking, according to city planners.
"The feasibility of relocating to this site is dependent on the use of the privately owned property adjacent to Malibu Bluffs Park to offset the loss of the parking spaces," wrote Parks and Recreation Director Bob Stallings, in a memo to the city council.
The agreement provides city use of the property with the understanding that the landowner has plans underway to develop the land for single-family homes.
Story poles on the site have shown his tentative plans a scoping meeting on the environmental Impact Report was held recently for the proposed five-home subdivision.
The parking lot agreement, according to Stallings, contemplates a broad scope of indemnities and liabilities the city agrees to undertake.