Malibu Plan Gains Grudging Support From Township Council, County Planners

Times Staff Writer

Two groups that have played key, and usually opposing, roles in the long-running effort to create guidelines for development in Malibu are giving their grudging support to a plan adopted in November by the California Coastal Commission.

At a public hearing Monday, the Malibu Township Council, a civic organization that has lobbied for limits on growth in the environmentally sensitive region, announced that it would back the latest version of the plan.

And the county’s planning staff, which has emphasized property owners’ rights to build on their land, indicated that the plan would be tolerable, though officials stopped short of an endorsement.

The state Coastal Commission and the county Board of Supervisors must agree on a land-use plan before the plan can take effect and return full authority over building in Malibu to the county. Currently, all county-approved construction must also be authorized by the state. The state has been reluctant to permit many large projects until the plan is finished.


The process has been going on for more than three years. The county Regional Planning Commission is considering the state plan, which would cut in half the amount of new building in Malibu that the county originally wanted.

After the public hearing is completed--it was continued until April 10--the Planning Commission will make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors on whether to accept the state’s proposal. If the plan is changed, the state will then review the county version and the tortuous process will continue.

The state plan would allow about 5,000 more residences in Malibu, as opposed to the more than 12,000 new dwellings the county wanted. About 8,000 houses and apartments already exist in the coastal zone, which stretches along 27 miles of shoreline and five miles inland to the heart of the Santa Monica Mountains.

Under the state plan, residential construction would be frozen at 2,110 new units until a solution is found for the safety and crowding problems that plague Pacific Coast Highway. There is no similar cap on commercial construction.


Both the Township Council and county planners have influenced the state plan. Many of the Township Council’s recommendations, designed to clarify limits on development, were incorporated into the document by state coastal commissioners. The county planning staff and the state coastal staff then negotiated with the state for five months, seeking to loosen some of the restrictions.

Neither side is terribly enthusiastic about the results.

But “it’s the best that can be done,” said Van Royce Vibber, a member of the Township Council’s land-use committee.

At the hearing, he told the Planning Commission that his group is worried that the plan does not properly address the impact of new building on already-clogged Pacific Coast Highway. The Township Council also believes that too much construction will be allowed in the civic center area near Pepperdine University and that Pepperdine’s campus has been allotted more than its share of the new growth.


Still, he asked the Planning Commission to “adopt the Malibu land-use plan, as is.”

“The best balance has been reached,” Vibber said. “This plan won’t get any better with more debate.”

County Planning Director Norman Murdoch told the commission he also has several problems with the plan. He has concerns about linking highway improvements to new housing construction; he does not think enough development would be allowed in the civic center and he is troubled by limits on bulldozing and by other technical matters.

But while Murdoch advised commissioners that such issues “warrant your careful attention,” he also testified that “I’m basically optimistic.”


Later, he said in an interview that, “I wasn’t saying they were all life-or-death issues.”

Still, plenty of other people want the county to change the plan significantly. Dozens of property owners and their lawyers and consultants urged planning commissioners to return to the county’s original proposal, or at least to relax some of the strict rules on development in the state plan.

The restrictions make much of Malibu’s mountain property “unbuildable, unmarketable and virtually worthless,” said Tryon Sisson, who represented the Zuma Canyon Landowners Assn.

“We have been victimized,” said Robert Heagy, president of the Concerned Citizens for Property Rights, an organization of small-lot owners.


Dale K. Neal, an attorney representing the Los Angeles Athletic Club, said the county’s original land-use plan “made eminent sense.”

Neal said that the athletic club would be able to develop only nine acres of its 1,650 acres at the mouth of Topanga Canyon under the state plan. The county’s plan would have permitted a 55-acre project, he said.

He cited an example of what the athletic club could have built under the county’s original plan: a resort with 400 two-story guest cottages, 250 homes and a 20-acre complex with restaurants, shops and offices.

But the project depends on diverting Topanga Creek into a concrete-lined, landscaped channel that would control flooding, Neal said. Under the state plan, “you can’t touch that stream at all,” he said.