In a potentially serious blow to Malibu cityhood backers, Pepperdine University and the Los Angeles Athletic Club, two of the largest landowners in the area, say they will not support incorporation for the coastal community.
However, university and athletic club officials stopped short of saying whether they will actively campaign against cityhood for Malibu, as they did in 1976, when a similar incorporation drive was narrowly defeated by voters.
"There are a lot of thoughtful people who think that this is the right time for cityhood, but we've done a lot of review internally, and if we had to make a decision today, we wouldn't be able to support it," said Andrew Benton, vice president for administration at Pepperdine. "In the past, the university has questioned the economic viability of cityhood for Malibu, and it doesn't appear to us that the situation has changed."
Officials from the Malibu Committee for Incorporation played down the importance of the decisions, saying that they came too early in the campaign to do any serious damage. But the actions come just as cityhood proponents are trying to raise $70,000 in donations from local businesses and agencies for the incorporation drive. Cityhood backers are attempting to place the issue on the November ballot in the hope of turning the famous beachfront community into a city of about 20,000.
The county Local Agency Formation Commission, the public agency that handles municipal incorporation requests, is expected to certify the Malibu committee's formal application for incorporation later this month. The group, which had to collect about 2,400 signatures from registered voters, filed for cityhood in January. If its application is approved, the local agency commission--widely known as LAFCO--will then conduct an economic feasibility study of Malibu incorporation.
"My feeling is that it's premature to say one way or another whether cityhood is feasible until the LAFCO study is completed," said Bob Greenberg, spokesman for the incorporation committee. "But we welcome them to join in the debate. We need to have as many informed opinions as possible."
Angered by Sewer Proposal
The cityhood issue resurfaced after a proposal by Los Angeles County officials to build an $86-million regional sewer system in Malibu last year. County supervisors yielded to more than 1,000 angry Malibu residents--including Pepperdine and athletic club officials--and delayed a vote on the plan. Cityhood sponsors then decided to capitalize on "widespread anti-county sentiment" and a recent wave of incorporation fever to launch their campaign.
However, several major area landowners, who have worked with county planners for years on developments in Malibu, do not feel the same way. Many of them believe that the cityhood campaign is a thinly disguised attempt to severely limit growth along the coast and think that they are better off dealing with the county than with an unknown city council.
"I've heard many people say that while their dealings with the county aren't perfect, they are at least predictable," Benton said. "I do sense that the origin (of the incorporation drive) was born out of the difficulty in dealing with the county on the sewer issue, but I don't believe it's a good reason for incorporation."
Officials from the Los Angeles Athletic Club, which owns 1,600 acres of undeveloped land near Topanga Canyon Road and Pacific Coast Highway, have said that they will oppose incorporation because of the "economic uncertainty" involved in creating a new city. They said they will draft a formal statement outlining their position later this month.
The Malibu Chamber of Commerce, which lobbied against cityhood in 1976, has not yet taken a stand this time. The chamber has said it will sponsor a public forum on incorporation in late March.
Since that last election, two Malibu incorporation campaigns were halted when the Local Agency Formation Commission rejected balloting on cityhood, saying it would be economically unfeasible. The same argument was raised by the commission to reject a cityhood campaign in Marina del Rey in 1986.
Greenberg said his group wants to raise enough money so it can hire consultants to review the LAFCO study. In the past, he said, the formation agency has done little analysis of the data it uses to review a proposed city's revenue and expenses. The data is gathered from county agencies.
He said his group has so far raised $7,000 of the $70,000 it needs. More than half the money will go to financial and legal consultants, he said, with the rest set aside for mailings, speakers, telephone calls and insurance. The group has made presentations to the Chamber of Commerce, the Malibu Board of Realtors, and the local Rotary and Kiwanis clubs in an effort to solicit contributions.
"We're just trying make sure that we have an informed opinion, just like everybody else," Greenberg said. "If it turns out the cityhood for Malibu is not economically feasible, then we won't support it either. But we need the facts to decide."
Unlikely to Switch Sides
Pepperdine's Benton said the university will review its position when the Local Agency Formation Commission completes its feasibility study, but indicated that it is unlikely that Pepperdine will alter its stance.
Greenberg said, however, that even if several powerful land owners decide to lobby against incorporation, he believes the cityhood issue will pass if it gets on the ballot.
"The issue of cityhood will be decided by the people in the community, no matter what the institutions decide," he said. "That's why were devoted to try and bring this issue to a vote."