Millions of visitors from around the world have admired the surf from the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. The twinkling lights that stretch by night from Point Dume to Palos Verdes have earned a dreamy moniker: the Queen's Necklace.
On Thursday, the California Coastal Commission will determine whether to allow an investment group to build a gated enclave of five huge homes on 24 bluff-top acres between the highway and those views. The coastal panel's staff has recommended approval of the project, with some modifications.
Malibu activists and environmental advocates, however, are pushing back against the plan, saying they were stunned that a gated development won approval of the Malibu City Council and made its way to the state coastal panel when, they contend, it would violate view protection policies of the state Coastal Act.
"The point is the public will no longer have the views they have now," said Patt Healy, co-founder of the Malibu Coalition for Slow Growth, a group started in the early 1990s to protect the then-fledgling city from inappropriate development. The developers, she added, should devise a smaller project that doesn't block views.
The project, known as Malibu Coast Estates, would encompass homes averaging about 11,000 square feet on a site cater-corner from Pepperdine University and next to Bluffs Park, where youngsters have long played baseball and soccer.
The property owners, including Oaktree Capital Management, a firm that manages distressed debt, have agreed to donate $2 million to the state Department of Parks and Recreation and $1 million and 1.74 acres to Malibu. (Among Oaktree's holdings is a stake in Tribune Publishing, owner of the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers.)
Malibu Mayor John Sibert said the donated land would be used in part to alleviate the parking crunch at Bluffs Park, known among cyclists as a great place to leave their bike-rack-laden vehicles when they head off on coastal rides. The state parks agency would use its $2 million to create low-cost overnight accommodations in what is known as Lower Topanga, part of Topanga State Park.
"State Parks is ready to roll on an upgrade of the Topanga Ranch Motel but also wants to include cabins," said Jack Ainsworth, the coastal panel's senior deputy director.
Richard Weintraub, who is attempting to build a cemetery or a hotel across PCH from the proposed development, said in a letter of opposition that the Malibu Coast Estates project would set an unfortunate precedent "that exclusive, private residential development can win the commission's approval for the right price."
Sibert said the city negotiated concessions.
"I don't think the amount of view blockage is all that extreme considering what could go there," Sibert said. "We moved some of the houses and reduced their heights to minimize the view impact. … It won't be to everyone's satisfaction. No project we do ever is."
The city of Malibu is asking the coastal panel's permission to approve a change in the city's land use plan to allow a mix of residential and recreational use instead of commercial, visitor-serving use.
The project has been in the works in one form or another for more than a decade, said Bonnie Blue, Malibu's interim planning director. The Crummer Trust, a previous owner, had initially proposed to build as many as eight homes.
Robert Gold, a spokesman for the current property owners, did not respond to calls seeking comment.
Mary Shallenberger, a coastal commissioner, declined to voice an opinion before the public hearing. "We're guided by the Coastal Act, whose policies set out what the highest priorities are," she said.
Those include, she added, coastal access and recreation.