The City of Malibu seal


Two Malibu planning commissioners last week argued that the new Malibu High School building should be downsized and not built as the community has designed.

Two Malibu planning commissioners last week argued that the new Malibu High School building should be downsized and not built as the community has designed.

Kraig Hill and John Mazza argued last night that the proposed two story building is too big for Malibu with its diminishing number of students.

But the majority voted to approve the specific drawings for the two story, 36 foot high classroom structure at the former site of the Juan Cabrillo Elementary School.

Hill dropped his objections and joined the 4-0 vote to approve the high school. Mazza abstained and said he wanted a fence instead of the side of the buildings to be used as security parameters.

But the majority went along with the concept that “a Circle of Doom of declining enrollment” can be reversed if the community builds a modern school that would encourage parents to keep their kids in the local system instead of sending students to private schools or other cities.

The vote came after parents pleaded with the Planning Commission to approve the first phase of the new high school on Morning View Drive.

Parent Seth Jacobsen pointed to the controversy some 13 years ago, over the lights on the school’s athletic fields which angered some neighbors but dramatically improved the school community.

“The high school football lights created a community. This is going to create community,” he said. “It’s going to bring students back. Parents are going to come back. Families are going to come back. So that is an important thing.”

Another parent pointed to the landslide approval for the school construction bond issue that nearly 70 percent of Malibu voters approved saying it was the will of the people to build the facility.

But commissioners Kraig Hill and John Mazza disagreed. They said the years of planning by the citizens commissions, school community, city council and school board should be at least sent back for a nip and a tuck as the design was too big, too tall and had too many classrooms.

They argued that population projections from the district show that the Malibu High classroom structure would have one classroom for every seven students in just eight years.

Kraig Hill said “all the these concerns about cost overruns could be diminished … if a somewhat smaller project might be more appropriate.”

But Hill acknowledged that “costs are expressly not something that we are supposed to be thinking about up here.”

Hill claimed Santa Monica-Malibu school district projections are for a 35 percent student population drop by 2031. He said that would equate to about 200 high school students in the building.

“The numbers I see don’t really justify this entire scale of this project,” he said.

But Planning Commissioner Jeff Jennings said Malibu was in this exact same situation 40 years ago with enrollment dropping and Malibu was trying to set up a separate high school in the Santa Monica school district despite criticism that the city couldn’t support its own high school.

“The idea .. it was sort of this spiral of doom … ‘you shrink the facility and more people would leave and then you could offer fewer alternatives and then more people would leave’ and so on,” he said.

He said the project was a long-term investment in the future of the community.

“The idea was that we would create something that would attract people and attract them back from private schools, attract them back from other decisions that they have made for the next five years or 10 years,” he said.

Jennings also argued that the City Council has already approved the zoning concept for the new buildings and the idea of building a vibrant new high school.

Mazza said the Council’s decision wasn’t based on the future needs of the community, only what they wanted right now. However, his efforts to reopen what the City Council has already voted on ultimately failed.

Commissioner Dennis Smith emphatically pointed out the October 31 deadline to beat the annual winter moratorium on earthmoving and grading during the rainy season.

“We have to have machines on the ground and they have to be working at the end of October. Period,” he said.

Mazza did not vote for the plan saying he was unhappy with the lack of a security fence along Morning View Drive and claiming it would lead to an intruder on campus that could physically harm students.

The school district said many of its schools use buildings as outside perimeters, and it is common practice for school construction.

The Malibu Planning Commission ‘s 4-0-1 vote was the first of a series of four rapid fire votes that the proposed 100 million dollar plus building faces. Coastal Commission approval has to be given, then ratified by the Malibu City Council twice, and the final action has to happen by the end of October.

This story first appeared on KBUU Radio Malibu.

Hans Laetz, Special to the Daily Press