Mayor Pro Tem Joan House explained the origin of the idea for a land swap between the city of Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Monday, denying claims from some of a back room deal.
Before the council voted unanimously to direct Malibu City Attorney Christi Hogin to further explore the proposed deal, House called for support on the proposal.
"There are no details, as far as the city is concerned. There is nothing written down. There is nothing that we’ve promised. There’s no backroom deal," House said. "I'm a little bit sorry that people keep mentioning that and look for something that doesn't exist."
The idea came up during a meeting with Mayor Pro Tem Joan House, Mayor Lou La Monte and SMMC Executive Director Joe Edmiston.
"First of all, it was not Joe's idea," House said following a nearly two-hour public hearing at Monday's meeting at Malibu City Hall.
She said she first approached La Monte with the idea of swapping the city's Charmlee Wilderness Park for Bluff's Park, which is operated by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC). The city hopes to place a skate park and more ball fields at Bluff's Park, but efforts have been stalled by Edmiston and the SMMC.
"I listed quite a few things, which I will list for you, and I asked, 'what do you think of a land swap,'" House recalled. "I said, 'It just seems like it is a good thing to consider.' I gave the mayor all my reasons and he said, 'I'm on board, I'll make a meeting with Joe.'"
She said a meeting was set with Joe to discuss the idea.
"There was no conspiracy. This was not initiated by Joe. It was just an idea that I happened to have," House said.
She went on to say that it was La Monte who brought up the land swap at the meeting with Joe.
"We did not have any idea where we were going. Once [Joe Edmiston] said, 'Well it interests me,' his mind was working a little bit overtime," House said. "Then we came back and spoke to [City Attorney] Christi [Hogin] and [City Manager] Jim [Thorsen]."
She said she got the idea from the need for parks, play areas and fields in Malibu. House, who is on a Parks and Recreation subcommittee with Councilman Skylar Peak, said she also tried to explore where the city could find more places for organized sports.
"We tried to do a temporary skate park at Bluff's Park and Joe was the stumbling block," House said.
She said she also tried to explore if games for young children, between the ages of 5 to 7 years old, could be held at Trancas Park, but it is deed restricted to the Malibu Township Council.
"I brought in people and Councilmember Peak was there and they said it is deed restrictive so you can't have any league play. Here's a perfectly good field that the city paid for, that the city pays for its staffing, the city pays for the water," House said.
She said a small group that attended that meeting "stonewalled" her inquiry.
"So, stonewalled from Joe. Stonewalled from the Malibu Township Council by Trancas Park, which we paid for and built, so here we are," House said.
She said Bluff's Park is too small to meet the needs of the children and adults in the community.
"I started connecting the dots. How can we get more playing area, more active sports playing area and not harm Charmlee? Well, a swap. Charmlee is deed restricted," House said.
She said Charmlee will stay the same, and that the only difference will be the administration that runs it.
Mayor Lou La Monte said the meeting was to decide whether to move forward.
"There were no preconditions. There was no deal, it was just a lunch," La Monte said.
He said that Edmiston added on the request to settle the lawsuit over Ramirez Canyon and a time limit of coming to a decision by the end of January.
"It certainly isn't something that we asked for," La Monte said.
At the end of the meeting, the council directed City Attorney Christi Hogin to further explore the land swap and the settlement over Ramirez Canyon.
The council asked her to first allow time for the city to determine if it could build more recreational facilities at Bluffs Park and determine what fire safety standards would be in place for the SMMC's proposed camping plan at Charmlee. The city attorney will also ask if the proposed deal can also include a discussion about restricting camping in Escondido and Corral canyons.
The SMMC board has already given a nod to its approval of the settlement and proposed land swap.