The Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission paved the way Wednesday for approval of a Pepperdine University plan to expand the Malibu campus and nearly double the current 2,843-student enrollment.
If the County Board of Supervisors accepts the commission's unanimous recommendation and approves the university's development blueprint, Pepperdine still would have to get the commission's OK for each phase of the project.
In addition to voting for the overall proposal, the commission Wednesday approved the first stage, which includes a reception center near the entrance to the 830-acre campus and additional classrooms. It also gave the school permission to expand its sewage treatment plant, but only if the county gives up plans to construct a regional sewage system.
8% of Plan
The first phase accounts for only 8% of Pepperdine's ambitious expansion program, which calls for enough new classrooms, dormitories and offices to accommodate 5,000 full-time students, more than twice the present enrollment. About half of the proposed construction would take place on undeveloped property.
Pepperdine officials estimate that the entire expansion plan would cost between $80 million and $170 million.
"Even though we will have to get approval on a project-by-project basis, it will be simpler because we've gotten conceptual approval," said Donald B. Bright, a planning consultant hired by the university. "Each time, we'll have to worry about things like sewage, traffic and the protection of wildlife, but not over the question of will we or won't we be able to expand."
Leon Cooper, president of the Malibu Township Council, a residents group that represents 1,000 families, said the expansion would worsen an already severe traffic problem on Pacific Coast Highway. An environmental impact report submitted by Pepperdine estimated that doubling enrollment would generate 16,000 additional trips on Pacific Coast Highway and Malibu Canyon Road.
"It's sheer folly for Pepperdine to propose this when they know full well that it will impose an impossible burden on PCH," Cooper said. "We're not anti-Pepperdine, but in this instance, the university should act in a more responsible manner."
Andrew K. Benton, Pepperdine's assistant vice president, said the school has no internal plan to increase enrollment to 5,000 full-time students. That figure was conceived to satisfy the Coastal Commission, which asked Pepperdine in 1984 to devise a long-range development plan, he said.
Under the school's long-range plan, Benton said, development of a 64-acre site on the northwest portion of the campus and a 7.5-acre parcel to the west would not begin for at least five to seven years.
Pepperdine officials have spent the past five years seeking county approval of the 15-year development blueprint. Initially, they applied for a permit that would have involved county approval of all phases of the plan. At hearings before the zoning board, however, representatives of various county agencies warned that the university's growth plans were too vague and gave no assurance that serious traffic and geology problems would be averted.
Pepperdine then agreed to seek the more restrictive type of permit that was approved by the commission Wednesday. Called a "development program zone," it allows the county to impose requirements to mitigate the impact of each new stage of development, such as requiring road improvements to accommodate increased traffic.
Pepperdine also revised its waste-water treatment plans. An earlier plan called for expanding the capacity of the school's sewage treatment plant from 200,000 to 500,000 gallons a day, and spraying the treated waste water on fields around the campus.
Unable to assure county engineers that the water would not exacerbate a natural landslide area along Malibu Road, Pepperdine officials then proposed that the waste water be discharged into Malibu Creek, which the commission approved.