Coastal Panel OKs Plans for Horse Center in Malibu Hills

Times Staff Writer

The California Coastal Commission has approved county plans for a $1-million public equestrian center on 20 acres in the hills above Zuma Beach.

The coastal permit, unanimously approved Friday, is the second awarded this year for long-term neighborhood park use on public land in Malibu, ending more than a decade of lobbying by residents who said their children had no place for organized, non-beach activities.

In March, the coastal panel allowed the Malibu Little League to continue using three ball fields on five acres of ocean-view bluffs near Pepperdine University, lifting a 1987 deadline on the league's presence there.

Hiking Paths to Be Added

Both parks were approved on the condition that the county add picnic areas and hiking trails for the benefit of people interested in activities other than playing ball or horseback riding.

Although state beaches are scattered along the Malibu coastline and thousands of acres of mountain property are publicly owned, the residents "need places for kids to play on a daily basis," said James Park, a facilities planner for the county Department of Parks and Recreation.

For years, the high cost of property in Malibu and the scarcity of flat, usable land kept the county from developing community parks.

The league fields are on state property. And the equestrian center will be built on surplus land leased free from the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District until 2021, Park said.

The school district had planned to build a high school on the site, east of Malibu Park Junior High School, but decided against it because of declining enrollment.

Linked to Horse Trail Network

Malibu has no public riding arenas, although Park estimated that residents own hundreds of horses. The state and county have begun developing an extensive horse trail network through the Santa Monica Mountains that is planned to stretch for 200 miles.

The equestrian center is to include a connector trail to the nearby Zuma Ridge Trail, which is the major north-south riding and hiking path through the mountains. The Zuma Ridge Trail also intersects the Backbone Trail, the major east-west path.

The county expects to begin construction of the center next spring and open it next summer, Park said.

The nucleus of the equestrian center will be two exercise and training arenas. On weekends, organized horse shows could be held in the larger of the rings, Park said, but no overnight boarding of horses or rental stables will be permitted.

The 24 corrals included in the center plan will be for temporary use by riders who want to take their horses out of trailers upon arrival while waiting for space in the arenas. The county also will build 105 parking spaces for the general public.

The first phase of the project will cost about $800,000, Park said. The county has $480,000 in state and county money and hopes to obtain more by selling four acres near Zuma Canyon and getting more grants or bond money from the state, he added.

The county will later add a community meeting hall, picnic area and children's play area, Park said. The second phase would push the total cost to more than $1 million, he said.

The Coastal Commission staff originally recommended denial of the equestrian center, citing concerns over the amount of grading in the environmentally sensitive area and worry that "in light of the lack of community parks in Malibu, the county would be spending all this money just for the horse owners," said Teresa Henry, a coastal analyst for the commission.

Grading Reduced

In March, coastal commissioners postponed a decision until the county had revised its plan. At last week's commission meeting in Marina del Rey, however, the staff recommended approval.

The county had reduced the amount of grading requested from 300,000 cubic yards to 65,050 cubic yards. And the county agreed to conditions designed to ensure that the picnic, play and hiking areas are completed, Henry said.

Construction of the park's second phase must begin within 12 months after work on the equestrian facilities begins. And the second phase must be open to the public within 24 months of completion of the first phase, Henry said.

Peter Ireland, Malibu field deputy for county Supervisor Deane Dana, said the emphasis on equestrian activity is important. "When you're in a rural community like Malibu, there should be some kinds of programs . . . that deal with the types of life styles people have there," he said.

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