Hughes Expansion Plan Latest Target of Malibu Growth Foes

Times Staff Writer

Hughes Aircraft Co. has proposed a $20-million expansion at its Malibu Canyon research laboratory--the only large industrial complex in Malibu. But concerns about the company’s plans have been raised by the county, the staff of the California Coastal Commission and the Malibu Township Council, a civic group that represents about 1,000 families.

The Coastal Commission is scheduled to consider the expansion proposal at its late August session in Marina del Rey.

Hughes hopes to build a four-level, 90,000-square-foot structure to house laboratories, offices, an auditorium and a cafeteria. Already, 143,000 square feet of offices and labs are in use at the 26-year-old complex on Malibu Canyon Road in the hills above Pepperdine University.

The lab is the site of long-term research into lasers, fiber optics, artificial intelligence and space vehicle propulsion, Hughes spokesman Bill Herrman said.


“The existing facilities are very crowded and have been for some time,” Herrman said. “We just want to relieve the crowded conditions.”

The work force of about 500 members will not increase by more than 50 employees if the building is approved, he said.

To its detractors, however, the Hughes proposal has become a symbol of growth in Malibu--a matter that residents, property owners and bureaucracies at the county and state level have been debating for years.

The issue of how much additional development to allow in the still-rural area has been the focus of clashes over Malibu’s long-delayed local coastal program and the inspiration for several cityhood campaigns.


Hughes’ neighbor, Pepperdine, is seeking county approval for an ambitious expansion program. The county already has granted permission to the Adamson Cos. to erect a 300-room hotel on a nearby tract; the final decision is up to the Coastal Commission. And General Motors Corp. wants to build its own 108,000-square-foot research facility on 22.5 acres across Pacific Coast Highway from Pepperdine.

“I think the overall scope of what’s happening in this area is more of a concern than the specific projects,” said Madelyn Glickfeld, the Township Council’s land-use chairwoman.

“We would really like to see the commission consider the cumulative impacts of what is being proposed now. They can’t continue to consider permits on a one-by-one basis.”

The county Department of Public Works has granted Hughes a “conceptual approval,” meaning that the proposal does not violate any of its regulations, said Carl Sjoberg, chief industrial waste inspector for the department.

But “it’s a major expansion of a facility that’s pretty good-sized to begin with,” Sjoberg said. “We have some grave reservations about the ability of the ground out there to absorb additional waste water without creating problems.”

Hughes has asked for a 200% increase over its present waste-water discharge limit of 300,000 gallons per month, Sjoberg said.

Because there is no sewer system there, it must be treated with a septic system. “Sooner or later, they’re going to fail,” Sjoberg said. “Maybe it’ll work today and maybe for five years and then it fails.

“But we don’t have any legal right to prohibit that.”


Gary Gleason, a Coastal Commission analyst who studies proposals in Malibu, said his report will recommend denial of the Hughes expansion.

Gleason said the commission’s recently adopted land-use plan places an annual limit of 30,000 square feet on new commercial space in Malibu. Though the county has not yet agreed to the plan--and therefore it is not in effect--the commission should be abiding by those guidelines, Gleason said.

The limit would be effective until specific improvements, such as a regional sewage system and added traffic capacity on Pacific Coast Highway, have been completed, Gleason said.