Nearly 90 acres of prime coastal property in Malibu Canyon, Malibu Park and Big Rock are being readied for sale or lease by the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.
The properties, whose exact value has not been established, include 10 acres in Big Rock, 19 acres in Malibu Canyon and 8- and 50-acre parcels in Malibu Park.
The motive behind the financially beleaguered district's decision to put the land on the market: "Money!" said school board member Mary Kay Kamath.
Much of the land is undeveloped, without electricity, water and sewers.
"We are trying to determine how the land can be used in order to maximize its sale," said Joel Kirschenstein, president of Sage Institute Inc. of Westlake, the consulting firm hired by the school district to handle the sales.
Kirschenstein said the district has already held a number of preliminary meetings with state and county agencies whose approval would be necessary for the sale. Those include the county departments of Parks and Recreation and Regional Planning, the California Coastal Commission and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.
So far the talks have been fruitful, with no major stumbling blocks apparent, Kirschenstein said. "The important thing is to work with the agencies ahead of time to get their input. That, we believe, will clear the way for the ultimate project," he said.
The district plans to meet with homeowners and to seek out developers by the beginning of next year.
The district purchased the land 30 years ago when land was cheap and growth was believed to be imminent in the Malibu area. But the anticipated surge of school-age children never came.
Instead, the district lost students and the vital state revenues that accompanied them. However, the value of the coastal properties soared and they became more attractive as potential sources of revenue from their sale than as locations for schools.
"Because all the projections indicate that the area is not going to grow, it would be irresponsible if the district didn't use its surplus properties to relieve its financial burden," said school board President Dick Williams, a Malibu resident.
Declining enrollment--from 14,000 students in 1976 to 9,200 this year--was cited as one reason the district cut $1.6 million from its budget this year.
"The incredible growth that was projected for the area never materialized and today the circumstances have changed," Kamath said. "The fragile environment and the cost of property has made it unlikely that that kind of growth will happen in the next 50 years."
Kamath, also a Malibu resident, said there used to be maps depicting the future community with houses and schools dotting the hillsides. One map, she recalled, included 25 projected schools.
Today's Malibu has seen declining enrollment force the district to close Point Dume Elementary School and convert it into a community center. The district also plans to lease Cabrillo Elementary School for at about $160,000 a year. That would leave only two schools--Webster Elementary and Malibu Park School--in Malibu, which stretches 27 miles along the coast.
The school district has ordered appraisals of the land it wants to sell, but estimates have placed the value of the Malibu Canyon site at between $800,000 and $1.5 million; the six-acre Malibu Park site at $900,000 to $1.6 million, and the 50-acre Malibu Park high school site at $3 million to $4 million. The district was unable to estimate the value of the 10-acre Big Rock property because of potential slide conditions.
Kirschenstein said the success of the project will depend on the school district's ability to negotiate many of the state and county restrictions on land use before an agreement is reached with a developer.
For example, he said that in exchange for approval of a 20-acre county equestrian center on the planned high school site east of Malibu Park Junior High School, the district may seek approval from the state and county of a larger development on the remaining portion of the land.
The district has also asked the staff of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy about the likelihood of allowing homes or a research center on the district's Malibu Canyon site, which is near the Hughes Research Center.
The conservancy staff said a public lookout point should be designated above the site, but Kirschenstein said the district should reject the idea because it would render the site impractical for development. Tom Bates, a Malibu real estate agent and the chairman of the land-use committee of the Malibu Board of Realtors, said hundreds of property owners are selling land in Malibu, but more cannot because of the restrictions in the environmentally sensitive community.
"The real value of the (district's) land is up in the air because of all the regulations that might be put on it," he said. "It would be foolish to buy it without knowing what its ultimate use will be."