Aloof Pepperdine? : Many Dislike Its Decision Not to Join Proposed City of Malibu

Times Staff Writer

If Malibu becomes Los Angeles County’s 86th city next year, the new town will not include the community’s biggest landowner, one of its largest employers and the most visible occupant in a town filled with celebrities.

Pepperdine University, which has had a rocky relationship with the coastal community for more than a decade, recently conducted a successful lobbying campaign to remove the seaside college from the proposed city.

It could be a rancorous divorce. If voters approve the cityhood proposal, which could come to a vote as early as March, Pepperdine would be bordered on three sides by the city. Nearly 2,200 students would drive through the city’s streets each day, contributing to the heavy congestion on Pacific Coast Highway and using other city services. Yet Pepperdine would not contribute any fees to Malibu and would not be required to meet city planning guidelines for future development.

Resentment Surfaces


As a result, resentment that bubbled under the surface spilled over earlier this year when university officials decided to ignore the wish of many Malibu residents to join the proposed city. The Local Agency Formation Committee, the state agency that handles incorporation issues, voted 4 to 3 last month to exclude Pepperdine and let it remain under county jurisdiction.

That takes a big chunk out of the proposed city and means Malibu’s civic center might be subject to two different planning guidelines.

One of the biggest questions is how the proposed city of 20,000 and the university will handle their sewage. The cityhood campaign was begun by residents opposed to a county plan to build a $86-million sewer system along the Malibu coast, and the sewer issue was the most contentious in the incorporation drive. Meanwhile, Pepperdine must find a way to expand its own private sewer system, already at capacity.

“Historically, Pepperdine has been a symbol of aloof, ambitious, large-scale development in a community that is scared as hell of such expansion,” said Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica), himself a target of the university’s recent lobbying efforts. "(University President) David Davenport has made great strides to become more involved in community affairs, but now bad feelings have re-emerged because of Pepperdine’s ambivalence about where it wanted to belong. How would you feel if your neighbor said they wanted to belong to another community?”


In Pepperdine’s case, the other community is Los Angeles County, which has already approved development projects at the university totaling $32 million. University officials say their decision to be excluded from the proposed city hinged on the fact that they would have been required to resubmit their building permits, without any guarantees they would be approved. Davenport said any delays would have jeopardized $100 million for expansion that the university has raised through private donations.

Problem of Two Masters

Pepperdine administrators also argued that the boundaries, which cut the campus nearly in half, would leave it in the awkward position of having to serve two masters, the county and the new city.

Community leaders who have praised Pepperdine for its largess--the university often donates its facilities to local groups and its students have volunteered to sandbag beaches during some heavy winter storms--say they are disappointed that officials rejected a chance to assume a powerful role in the formation of a city.


“It’s going to create problems for them and problems for the city,” said Madelyn Glickfeld, a California Coastal Commission member who lives in Malibu. “Pepperdine is willing to participate in positive community activities, but they very clearly draw the line where they think the community might influence the direction of the university.”

Although many residents say it is a long shot, the university has left open the possibility that it might eventually join a city of Malibu. Davenport said the incorporation drive was poorly timed, but that the university would consider letting a city of Malibu annex the campus sometime in the future.

“In my personal view, the cityhood issue came up so rapidly and had enough rough spots that needed to be worked out that I had some doubts about it,” Davenport said. “We were just faced with an untenable situation with regard to cityhood and we didn’t think it was the right time for us.”

It remains unclear what role Pepperdine will play in the upcoming cityhood campaign. The university has hired the veteran political consulting firm, Cerrell Associates Inc., but Michael Adams, vice president for university affairs, said that no decision has been reached on Pepperdine’s role in the incorporation drive.


Still, cityhood advocates were angered by Pepperdine’s refusal to discuss the issues with them prior to the LAFCO hearings, which added to the university’s aloof reputation.

“We’re going to have to paint huge billboards saying ‘Leaving the city of Malibu’ all around (the university),” Walt Keller, co-chairman of the Malibu Committee for Incorporation said after the LAFCO hearing.

Most of the resentment among community residents about Pepperdine stems from the behind-the-scenes politicking waged by university officials to be excluded from Malibu.

After LAFCO rejected an early bid by Pepperdine to be excluded from the proposed city, Davenport, university lobbyist Paul Priolo and campus Vice President Andy Benton undertook an intense lobbying effort to persuade Hayden and Sen. Gary K. Hart (D-Santa Barbara), whose districts include Malibu, to support legislation that would delete the campus from the city.


The three spent nearly three days in Sacramento during state budget hearings, searching for a bill in which they could place a clause that would remove Pepperdine from the proposed city. When their efforts failed, they asked LAFCO to reconsider its decision.

LAFCO did, over the objections of three of the seven commissioners, who argued that it made no sense to take an integral part of the community out of the proposed city.

Yet the university’s action was hardly unexpected.

In 1976, when a cityhood measure was defeated by about 100 votes, Pepperdine bused hundreds of students to voting booths to cast ballots against incorporation. And there is much speculation among cityhood backers that although Pepperdine won’t be in the city, it might become involved in the upcoming cityhood campaign.