A stretch of Pacific Coast Highway, from Pacific Palisades to the Malibu Pier, appears destined to become a public-property Restaurant Row within the next two years. Los Angeles County, the city of Los Angeles and the state are planning to open five dining spots--two new ones and three replacements for closed restaurants.
Officials of the three governments say they hope to provide another form of recreation along the coast--and, not incidentally, raise some sorely needed cash to maintain public beaches and parks.
But residents’ groups object to the prospect of a spate of new restaurants along the highway. Homeowner representatives express concern that already-congested traffic will get worse and already-insufficient parking will be even scarcer when the restaurants start operating.
All of the new restaurants would be located on public land leased to private entrepreneurs, under arrangements similar to that of Gladstone’s 4 Fish, a 7,250-square-foot restaurant on county-managed, state-owned land on the coast highway at Sunset Boulevard.
The proposals are:
A 5,000-square-foot restaurant (along with another 5,000 square feet of beach concessions) at Will Rogers State Beach, at PCH and Temescal Canyon Road. The county, which manages the beach for the state, would collect the rent. The money would go toward alleviating an annual $7.2-million beach operations deficit, said Larry Charness, chief of planning for the county’s Department of Beaches and Harbors.
A renovated restaurant at the city-owned Sunspot motel, on the landward side of the highway about half a mile southeast of the planned Will Rogers facility. Keith Fitzgerald, an administrative assistant in the Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department, said he did not know the specific square footage, but “it will be about one-third the size of Gladstone’s.” Twelve years have passed since the restaurant there closed. The money would go toward development of the Potrero Canyon Park from the Palisades to the sea.
A new 7,500-square-foot restaurant at Topanga State Beach, along the highway at Topanga Canyon Boulevard. The county also would receive the rent.
A second new restaurant at Topanga to replace the Jetty, which was destroyed by fire in 1984. Grace Restaurant Co., which operated the Jetty, has a 20-year contract for the replacement facility, which will be about 8,000 square feet. The state will receive at least $150,000 annually for the general fund from the restaurant, said Todd Neiger, concessions program manager for the state Department of Parks and Recreation.
A restaurant in a vacant building at the end of the Malibu Pier. The building housed a seafood place before the state bought the landmark six years ago. Another restaurant, Alice’s, operates in a pier building along the highway.
The county’s proposed facilities could be open by 1988, Charness said. The state expects its Topanga restaurant to open within the year, and the pier restaurant to start operations within two years.
The city expects its restaurant to open within six months, Fitzgerald said. Private-sector proposals are being sought for a three-year contract, with a possible three-year extension.
The adjacent 14-room Sunspot motel will be razed soon so the city can fill in adjacent Potrero Canyon and install a drainage system. Afterward, the city will seek a longer-term contract, for at least 20 years, with an entrepreneur who would commit at least $3 million to a new complex, Fitzgerald said.
None of the government officials involved are daunted by the prospect of an assemblage of restaurants on public land along the highway. They say that each eating place will probably benefit from the proximity of others.
Rather than state restaurants competing against county restaurants competing against a city restaurant, “there’s likely to be a synergistic effect, as long as they’re all different from each other,” Charness said.
Besides, said Fitzgerald, “there seems to be quite a demand for restaurants along Pacific Coast Highway and there are so few there.”
Said Charness: “Going to a bowling alley is recreation and going to a movie is recreation and eating at the beach is recreation. It provides an opportunity for what I consider to be a large . . . segment of people who never use the beach any other way, whether it’s because of their age or they don’t like to get sunburned or some other reason.”
The city’s short-term plans must be authorized by the municipal Recreation and Park Commission; the long-term project would have to go before the City Council.
The county will hold a public workshop on its beach restaurant proposals Sept. 13 from 10 a.m. to noon at Pacific Palisades High School. A formal hearing is scheduled for Nov. 14 before the state Park and Recreation Commission in Marina del Rey. California Coastal Commission approval also will be required before the projects can proceed.
The restaurant plans have prompted an angry reaction from the Pacific Palisades Residents Assn., which represents about 1,700 Palisades families, and the Malibu Township Council, which represents about 1,000 Malibu families.
“With the horrendous traffic on Pacific Coast Highway, how can they put in these extra restaurants?” said Ronald Dean, president of the Palisades residents group. Leon Cooper, president of the Township Council, said he fears that traffic backups could slow the flow along the highway far into Malibu.
Added Frank Basso, chairman of the Malibu group’s parks and recreation committee: “The problem with a lot of restaurants is that they serve alcohol. We already have a drunk-driving problem” on the highway.
Both men said they were also concerned that restaurant-goers would take up precious parking space in beach lots and along the highway.
A preliminary county report on the restaurant proposals addresses those questions.
Because so many cars already jam the coast highway, “in relation to current . . . traffic volumes, the increase in traffic generated by the two proposed restaurant concessions is not anticipated to be significant,” the report says.
Dean’s response: “I scratch my head at that. No matter what, it’s going to make the problem worse; it’s certainly not going to make it better.”
The report says the county intends to create some additional parking spaces at its restaurant sites and expects that patrons will use the lots most often after beach visitors have left for the day. “I’ll believe it when I see it,” Dean said.
The report says the restaurants are necessary because the county cannot increase its parking revenue--which provides about 55% of the money taken in each year from beach operations. The report says there simply is no space to build additional lots.
Basso questioned that conclusion. “You could put a parking building in, or you could put a seawall in and extend parking out into the ocean,” he said.