New Malibu Coastal Plan Still May Not Satisfy County

Times Staff Writer

The California Coastal Commission has adopted its second land-use plan for Malibu in five months, but the latest document still may not be accepted by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

The state commission and the county must agree on a plan before it can take effect, returning full authority over development in Malibu to the county. The two governments have been trying for more than two years to reconcile their strikingly different visions of the future of the region, which stretches along 27 miles of shoreline and five miles inland to the heart of the Santa Monica Mountains. The area is plagued by landslides, floods and brush fires.

Sensitive Environment

Coastal Commissioners have been concerned about protecting the sensitive environment in Malibu. County officials have worried that too many restrictions would rob property owners, many of them with small lots, of the opportunity to build on their land.


The state and county appear to be inching toward a compromise. “We’re much closer than we were in June,” when the state approved a plan that was rejected out-of-hand by the county, said county Planning Director Norman Murdoch.

Still, the coastal panel’s newest plan, completed Tuesday night after one of the marathon meetings that have come to characterize the process, left nearly all the participants frustrated.

County officials, environmentalists, property owners and even the commissioners could not muster much enthusiasm for the plan.

Murdoch said he was disappointed by the state’s refusal to loosen some of the plan’s restrictions on building. On Wednesday, he said in an interview that he still did not know if he could recommend the plan to the supervisors, because “there are still some impediments. It’ll take several days to evaluate.”

Madelyn Glickfeld, land-use chairman of a local civic group that has lobbied for development limits, said she was concerned because “there are so many uncertainties left” in the plan. “People still won’t know what they can and cannot do with their land,” she said.

Said Tom Bates, land-use chairman for the pro-development Malibu Board of Realtors: “That plan is the pits.”


Approved on Tuesday

And before voting to approve the document Tuesday, Commissioner Marshall Grossman said, “I know that the plan is not everything I would have liked it to be.”

The plan closely follows a document prepared by the state commission’s staff and released last week.

It still allows less than half of the new development originally proposed by the county--about 5,000 new residences as opposed to more than 12,000 in the county’s version of the plan submitted in December, 1982. About 8,000 houses and apartments already exist in Malibu.

The latest plan also retains many of the technical additions made by the state in June over county objections.

But it also has addressed many of the county’s major concerns about the previous draft, allowing the possibility of more development in the Malibu Civic Center area east of Pepperdine University and making exceptions to a two-story height limit along Pacific Coast Highway.

And Tuesday, commissioners reversed a decision they made in June to impose a cap on commercial development until the highway--the only direct link between Malibu and Los Angeles--is improved. Only residential construction will be frozen at 2,110 new units until a solution is found for the safety and crowding problems that plague the road.


Murdoch had requested that change, arguing that construction of stores and offices in Malibu could actually improve traffic conditions by reducing the number of trips local residents take to Santa Monica and Los Angeles for shopping and work.

But removal of the cap was the only one of 10 changes sought by Murdoch to be granted by commissioners.

Among the county requests that were rejected are:

- Increasing the maximum of commercial development in the 92-acre Civic Center even more, from 1.6 million square feet to more than 2 million square feet. The June draft had imposed a maximum of 1.2 million square feet.

- Loosening restrictions covering on-shore oil exploration and production, while specifying that such operations “shall represent the least environmentally damaging alternative.” Murdoch wrote in a letter to the state that the tough regulations in the plan “would effectively prohibit any on-shore drilling and inadvertently generate greater pressure for offshore drilling.”

- Loosening restrictions on building in the mountains by allowing more bulldozing and permitting structures to be closer to streams than the 50-foot setback required in the plan.

As commissioners voted down the requests, one by one, Murdoch became noticeably angry, putting his hand on his hip and then folding his arms.

After the sixth rejection in a row, Murdoch reminded the panel of a June prediction by Michael Fischer, then the commission’s director, that agreement had been pushed “from months away to years away.”


Said Murdoch: “I’m beginning to be afraid the former director was right. I urge you not to send me back completely empty-handed.” He called one program the commissioners backed “untenable” and another “ridiculous.”

Murdoch said he felt better, though, when commissioners also refused to add further restrictions urged by the Malibu Township Council, the civic group represented by Glickfeld.

“At least they turned those down,” Murdoch said.

Glickfeld said she was glad that many of the Township Council’s earlier recommendations, particularly the linking of highway improvements to residential construction, had been kept in.

But the changes loosening restrictions in the June draft will cause trouble, she added. “What they’ve done is they’ve shut Pandora’s box for a little while. But it won’t go away,” she said.

Commissioner Duane Garrett agreed. “This area can’t tolerate anything like this,” he said. “We’re kidding ourselves. . . . I’m deeply troubled by the lack of concentration on the fragility of this particular area.”

The plan now must go before the county’s Regional Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, Murdoch said. If the county makes any changes in the plan, it will have to be considered by the coastal commission again.