Coastal panel staff urges approval of U2 guitarist's redesigned Malibu houses

Coastal panel staff urges approval of U2 guitarist's redesigned Malibu houses
The road leading to the property owned by U2 guitarist the Edge, a.k.a. David Evans, is shown in 2009. The California Coastal Commission has recommended approval of a project to build five houses in the unincorporated area near Malibu. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

U2 guitarist the Edge just might be edging toward victory in his years-long battle to build a secluded compound on a rugged ridge near Malibu.

The California Coastal Commission staff has recommended that the proposal to build five houses on Sweetwater Mesa in the Santa Monica Mountains move forward now that musician David Evans has agreed to cluster them well below the upper ridge line on a lower plateau.

The coastal panel's 12 voting commissioners will consider the matter on Thursday at their regular meeting in Santa Barbara. They can accept or reject the staff's recommendations.

The houses would still be visible from Pacific Coast Highway, the Malibu Civic Center area and Bluffs Park, but they would no longer be set so close to the mile-long ridge top.

That concession helped ease some of the staff's bigger concerns, said Jack Ainsworth, the coastal panel's senior deputy director. So did Evans' agreement to reduce the project's overall footprint, to reduce damage to sensitive habitat and to dedicate 137 acres to the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, with an easement for the mapped trail across the property to allow use by hikers and equestrians. (The authority is a government partnership between the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, a state agency, and two local park districts.)

Evans' group has agreed to do several things to make the plan less environmentally harmful. These include planting an acre of purple needle grass, the California state grass, to make up for a third of an acre of the grass that would be destroyed.

Since 2006, Evans has gone to great lengths, even filing a lawsuit, to secure permits to build the five houses, including his own, and an access road.

According to Fiona Hutton, a spokeswoman for the property owners, the houses as now designed would occupy less than 1% of the 151 total acres.

Opposition remains. Some residents of nearby Serra Retreat have complained about the prospect of years of construction traffic and noise. And Mary Wiesbrock, chairwoman of a local "save open space" group, sent a letter to the commission expressing concern that the "luxury home complexes and their septic systems" could further destabilize a hillside area that has experienced landslides.

"It would be great if there were no homes," Ainsworth said. "But if you look at this project going from six total lots down to five, reconfigured and clustered, ... this alternative is the least environmentally damaging and allows for reasonable economic use of the property."

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