The California Coastal Commission has rejected a plan that would allow the Malibu Little League to settle permanently at a five-acre site where it has built three ballparks in the 93-acre Malibu Bluffs State Park.
The Little League's permit to lease the property will end in 1987, unless the Coastal Commission extends it or approves a general plan for the park that includes the fields.
The county and state Departments of Parks and Recreation did keep the league fields in their proposal for developing the site, which is on Pacific Coast Highway near Pepperdine University. The departments also want to build picnic areas, walking trails, a concession stand and small exhibit center with information about Malibu's history and wildlife.
But commissioners refused to approve the plan Wednesday, expressing concern that permanent league fields might not be the best use for the state's only piece of flat upland property within sight of the coast and near major transportation, commission Director Peter Douglas said.
"It's a very expensive state park," Douglas said. (The state paid $6.8 million for the tract about five years ago). "The question is whether that land should be reserved for local community use."
Added Pam Emerson, a commission analyst who recommended denial of the plan: "Someone from San Bernardino should be able to come to Malibu and use that state land."
That stance prompted criticism from Little League officials. "We're being absolutely discriminated against because we live here," said Patricia Paul, the league's president.
"I live in California. I pay taxes," she said. "I helped pay for that land. The community of Malibu has no park. Naturally, we have the beaches but it's hard for kids to play baseball or football or soccer there."
County and state parks officials have agreed to negotiate with the Coastal Commission staff in an effort to reach a compromise on their plan for the site.
But Paul is worried that any compromise will mean dropping plans for the league fields from the park proposal.
"We hope the Coastal Commission will understand that recreational facilities are not detrimental to this state park," she said. "But we do not have high hopes."
The league turned to the bluff site in 1982, after the state evicted it from two playing fields that the sports organization had used for 11 years. The state had long planned to develop the salt marsh where those fields were built. That land is now Malibu Lagoon State Park, a wildlife refuge. Where teen-agers once played ball, lagoon visitors now park their cars.
A yearlong legal battle over the lagoon eviction--which cost California taxpayers $250,000--led to legislation in Sacramento that permitted the league to lease a portion of the bluffs property.
The league raised $150,000 and built a baseball diamond, a softball diamond and a football field, Paul said.
"There's not one dime of county or state money on it," she said.
More than 300 children play league baseball, Paul said. And teen soccer and football and adult softball programs attract about 400 participants, she said.
Paul contends that the fields serve a regional need because teams from Ventura, Santa Monica and the San Fernando Valley travel to the bluffs to play Malibu teams. She said that other groups also have received permission from the league to use the fields for birthday parties or gym classes.
But Emerson said, "There's no evidence that it's been open for public use." Locals might hear that they can reserve the fields by word of mouth, but "I don't know what happens if you're not from Malibu."
The bluffs "represent a unique opportunity for regional and statewide visitors serving uses such as a hostel or camping or picnicking," Emerson said. "There are a lot of beaches. There aren't too many places you could park and then go to the beach, or camp and then go to the beach."