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Go tell it on the mountain: The Edge doesn't need five homes here

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Just so you know, it's not easy for me to refer to U2 guitarist David Evans as "The Edge." Sure, there was a time when I referred to myself as S. Lo. But I quickly realized that once you've gone gray, it's hard to get away with anything other than what's on the birth certificate.

And I can't keep a straight face when I tell you that the five eco-friendly castles Mr. Edge wants to carve into the top of a pristine ridge near Malibu already have names. There's "Clouds Rest" and "Panorama," "Shell House" and "Blue Clouds." And my personal favorite, "Leaves in the Wind."

The latter is also the name of a website (www.leavesinthewind.com) promoting the controversial project, which would sit high above the Malibu pier, with a sweeping, miles-long view of spectacular coastline. You'd think a guy from one of the greatest bands in history could come up with a name that was a bit, shall we say, edgier, for a rock 'n' roll compound.

The Malibu area has been buzzing since a video was added to The Edge's website in the last several weeks, perhaps in anticipation of an upcoming California Coastal Commission hearing on the proposal. Against a gag-inducing track of New Age music, with birds tweeting in the background, fawning proponents of The Edge's plans praise the project. His supporters include Bonny Reiss, Gov. Schwarzenegger's former senior advisor, and, more surprisingly, Mark Massara, head of the Sierra Club's Great Coastal Places Campaign.

"It's going to take those visionary leaders being associated with projects like these, that are going to show how to make the California coastline a model of sustainability," Massara says on the video, in which he all but encourages the Coastal Commission to embrace the proposal.

Clearly The Edge is lining up all the political muscle and environmentalist star power he possibly can. He's even got a well-connected PR and lobbying firm -- California Strategies -- backing him up.

And that combination of clout and slick marketing is part of what riles Malibu City Councilman Jefferson Wagner. Although the compound would be outside Malibu city limits, it would require major expansion of a road within the city. Wagner is not inclined to vote in favor, and he's not a fan of the website testimonial, which makes no mention of all the dust in the wind there'd be once the bulldozers take the mountain.

"It's a sales-pitch video," said Wagner, a local surfing legend who has his own nickname -- Zuma Jay.

He called the video The Edge's way of saying: "I'm doing the right thing."

"But if he was doing the right thing," Wagner went on, "he wouldn't need that video, right?"

And if he were doing the right thing, why would the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy have fired off a letter to the Coastal Commission that attacks the project on one point after another, bang, bang, bang?

"Unfortunately, it is impossible to construct the five homes strung over a mile of ridgeline and 7,800 feet of water main without resulting in unavoidable significant adverse visual and ecological impacts," says the nine-page letter, which was signed by the conservancy's chair, Ronald P. Schafer.

"None of the five houses is consistent with the Coastal Act," the letter went on, contending that "each would result in permanent and significant disruption of Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area."

There'd be a series of 1,800-foot driveways slicing up the terrain not far from Malibu Creek State Park, the letter went on, and the conservancy also worried about the possibility of more houses being erected by property owners who could tap into the water line The Edge would have to build.

The Edge, whose famous band has taken up the cause of social justice and environmental protection around the world, argues on his website that there's really nothing to worry about.

"I hope you will agree that my partners and I have worked diligently to design homes that meet the highest environmental standards; that fit appropriately and aesthetically into this beautiful part of Southern California; and that are truly remarkable examples of the best architecture and design," he wrote.

"Why did we go to so much effort? Because my family and I love Malibu. We've maintained a residence here for more than a decade, and once our new home is finished we expect to spend much of our time here."

Ted Harris, of California Strategies, said design and construction changes have been made to further minimize impact and make the houses blend organically with their surroundings. The conservancy complaints, he said, were not surprising because the agency simply "doesn't embrace residential development" in the mountain areas.

Perhaps that's because, as the conservancy argued, this development would sit on a ridgeline that "is the most prominent landform along the coast between Topanga Canyon Boulevard and the Ventura County line."

I'm awaiting a call back, by the way, from the Sierra Club's Massara. I'd like to let him explain why a longtime champion of coastal protection is so enthusiastic about a project that raises so many questions.

Steve Hudson, district manager of the commission's central coast office, told me he's reviewing "potential impacts to public views, environmentally sensitive habitat areas and questions about engineering and geological issues." Minimizing impact, Hudson added, "typically means siting residences below ridgelines."

There's no doubt that if this project goes ahead, the houses would blend into the landscape more neatly than most of what's been built in Malibu over the years. And without question, there's some hypocrisy and NIMBYism at play in a region that has already seen far too many houses erected in fire zones, not to mention the longtime resistance to sewer lines despite nasty ocean pollution.

But the truly green thing for The Edge to do would be to stay in the house he's in, and avoid yet another ego-propelled incursion into one of the great wilderness areas of the state.

I was up on that ridge the other day with Zuma Jay, and the natural wonder was beyond words.

A lot of people are standing up for The Edge, said Zuma Jay.

"Who's going to stand up for the mountain?"

steve.lopez@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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