Malibu Plan Trips on Newest Obstacle

Times Staff Writer

A recommendation that would limit building heights in the Malibu civic center has provided the newest obstacle to agreement on a Malibu land-use plan.

Los Angeles County planners said Wednesday that the latest proposal by the state Coastal Commission staff has resolved many of their previous concerns. But they object to new recommendations that would bar five-story structures in the civic center.

The county and the Coastal Commission have been struggling for three years to reach agreement on a land-use plan for Malibu's coastal zone, which includes the 27-mile shoreline and runs five miles inland to the heart of the Santa Monica Mountains.

The county has generally been regarded as more pro-development than the commission.

Return of Power

Adoption of a plan would return to the county authority over construction in Malibu. Voters took that power away from local government in 1972 by approving Proposition 20, which created the Coastal Commission.

Since that referendum, the commission has had final authority over building permits. But without an overall plan for the area, the commission has been reluctant to approve large projects in Malibu, which is prone to fire, floods and falling rock.

The county's first version of the plan, submitted in 1982, drew heavy criticism from the commissioners, with one commissioner labeling it "an embarrassment." In December, the Coastal Commission staff suggested a sharp reduction in the amount of development to be permitted, decreasing the number of new housing units from 12,095 to about 7,500.

In the latest round of negotiations, the commission staff unveiled a new proposal this week that analyst Steve Scholl called "a compromise. . . . I feel like we've tried to address everybody's concerns."

The commissioners, after a briefing next Thursday, are scheduled to act on the staff's proposal June 13 at a meeting in Los Angeles. The county could accept the plan, or reject it and submit its own version to the commission.

The major obstacle to agreement now appears to be the height limit in the civic center near Pepperdine. As recently as January, the commission staff said construction up to five stories would be permitted over 10% of the civic center where the county offices are located.

"We could have done nicely with that," said county subdivision administrator Geoffrey Taylor, one of the county's negotiators.

In its latest version, the commission staff calls for a two-story limit in the civic center until a specific center plan is adopted. Then, some three-story buildings might be permitted.

The modification would cut the total development possible in the civic center from about 5 million square feet to 800,000 square feet before a specific plan, 1.2 million square feet after one.

Scholl said the change was prompted by public comments at a 12-hour hearing in January on his earlier draft.

"The change in the civic center helps everybody who was afraid that it would be a Century City there," Scholl said. "And it encourages a specific plan, which has design benefits and makes sure that land uses are coordinated better."

But Taylor disagreed. He said there is not enough incentive for planning the civic center: "We'd be going from really bad to not as bad, but nowhere approaching good."

He said some five-story structures were needed to "allow accents, like the tower at Pepperdine. With this (new limit), you can't even build a church steeple.

"We weren't trying to build it all high-rise there. But we weren't trying to get it all low-rise either. It would all look alike. It would be like Venice."

Taylor said most of the county's earlier concerns over the commission staff's plan were resolved by the new draft.

County planners said in January that they were closer to agreement with the commission than they had ever been, but that they were upset by the staff's handling of several issues, including restrictions on building in watershed areas and the county's responsibilities for maintenance of public beach access ways. Most involved specific language and have been changed, Taylor said.

"We can live with" the new wording, he said, though on some matters "we have, to put it politely, agreed to disagree."

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