Coastal Panel Approves Proposal for First Large Hotel in Malibu

Times Staff Writer

The California Coastal Commission has approved a controversial proposal to build a 300-room hotel near Pepperdine University. The hotel, planned by the Adamson Cos., would be the first in Malibu, which has fewer than 100 overnight rooms in existing small motels and rental cabins.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the proposed hotel in May. The commission’s 7-4 vote, at a Tuesday meeting in San Francisco, “was the final major discretionary decision by a public body” needed by Adamson, said Donald Bright, the company’s planning and environmental consultant.

The hotel complex, which would include a restaurant and two-story office building, would be constructed on 27 vacant acres at the northeast corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Malibu Canyon Road.

The tract is in the 92-acre Civic Center area that state and county planners envision as a future “downtown” for Malibu. A land-use plan adopted by the coastal commission in November limited development in the Civic Center to 1.2 million square feet.


The six-story hotel, to be called Rancho Malibu Mesa, would be about 600 feet wide and would take up 222,200 square feet of the 265,000-square-foot complex.

The proposed complex has been supported by Pepperdine, which is seeking approval of a related plan to expand its campus.

Community groups, however, have strongly opposed the hotel during the four years that Adamson has been seeking the required government permits.

Critics said the hotel’s massive size would be incompatible with the seaside village character planned for the civic center and cited fears that disposal of the hotel’s treated sewage would pollute Malibu Creek and Malibu Lagoon.


The four coastal commissioners who voted against the proposal expressed similar concerns, said commission spokesman Jack Liebster. Commission Chairman Michael Wornum “was particularly concerned about the design of the project,” Liebster said. “He called it ‘fascist’ in shape.”

Commissioners Marshall Grossman, Duane Garrett and Robert Franco also voted against the hotel.

The seven who favored the project indicated that 36 conditions attached to their approval would address the sewage questions, geologic hazards and other environmental issues, Liebster said. Those voting for the proposal were Leo King, Donald McInnis, Thomas J. McMurray Jr., Steve MacElvaine, Charles Warren, Dorrill Wright and John Meck, serving as alternate for Carolyn McNeil.

The hotel “is something sorely needed in Malibu,” said Bright. “People can come and stay, instead of traveling back and forth to Santa Monica or the valley.” And the restaurant, which is to be an inexpensive family place, “will provide something between fast-food and the expensive places,” he added.

The complex will cost between $50 million and $60 million, Bright said.

He estimated that the restaurant would open in nine months, the office building in a year and the hotel in three years.

The Malibu Township Council, a civic organization that represents about 1,000 families, asked the commission Tuesday to reduce the size of the hotel and require “more of a seaside village character,” said council spokeswoman Madelyn Glickfeld.

“It’s not the style of the building that’s the worst,” Glickfeld said. “It’s the massiveness. They’ll see it from Santa Monica.”


Precedent Set

Glickfeld said the commission’s decision “will give the impression that anything can be built in Malibu now. I don’t think the Adamson hotel is consistent with (the land-use plan). Once the commission can approve this, what can they possibly deny?”

Adamson will have to appear again before the commission for approval of a specific sewage disposal method before its coastal permit will be final.

The commission gave Adamson three choices. The sewage can go to the Malibu Mesa plant near Pepperdine University, if it is expanded. It can go to the Tapia plant operated by the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, which discharges into Malibu Creek. Or the sewage can go to a regional sewer system, which the county would like to build, but the hotel could not be built until the system is operating.

If Adamson can present contracts to prove that any of those options, or a combination of them, is possible, the permit will be issued.

Location Changed

Bright said he does not anticipate any problem obtaining sewage agreements and added that contracts could be drawn up within three months.

The company also agreed to change the location of the building so that it is set back 50 feet from a splay of the Malibu Coast fault. A splay is the geologic equivalent of a tributary.


Commission geologist Richard McCarthy said the splay is potentially active, which means it moved between 11,000 and 2 million years ago. McCarthy said he thought the last movement there occurred about 100,000 years ago.

Adamson’s proposal had the hotel straddling the approximate location of the splay. The change in location will not force a major change in the building’s design, Bright said.