For the third time in three years, Los Angeles County has resurrected a plan to build a beachfront restaurant in Pacific Palisades, and once again it faces opposition from area homeowners.
The county has been attempting to build new commercial projects along the beach for years to generate revenue that would help offset the Department of Beaches and Harbors' mushrooming operating deficit, now estimated at nearly $10 million a year.
Members of the State Park and Recreation Commission, echoing concerns voiced by nearby residents about congestion, in 1987 twice rejected a similar plan to build a 300-seat restaurant at Pacific Coast Highway and Topanga Canyon Road.
The latest proposal by the county calls for the construction of an 8,000-square-foot, 330-seat restaurant to be built in the parking lot at Will Rogers State Beach, west of where Sunset Boulevard intersects with the coast highway.
For the Topanga State Beach site, the county now proposes a 2,500-square-foot snack bar and construction of a new parking lot and picnic area.
Opposition to Businesses
Beachside residents, who were unmoved by the county agency's financial woes in the past, soundly rejected the latest plan last weekend when county officials unveiled it at Palisades High School. In addition, two key political groups, the Pacific Palisades Residents Assn. and the Palisades Town Council, have vowed to oppose the plan.
"We just don't think that commercial use of the beach is the best use for the beach," said Jack Allen, president of the residents' group. "It's our belief that you shouldn't sacrifice beach use for commercial gain, and we would like to see all restaurants removed from public beaches.
"It's a regional problem, and we feel we represent the region in opposing it," Allen said. "Commercialization of the beach only benefits the restaurant owners. And if the county has a funding problem, then they should get the state to assist them with funding."
Larry Charness, chief of planning for the Department of Beaches and Harbors, said the revised project was designed to minimize the impact on traffic along Pacific Coast Highway. He said the proposed restaurant site, at the foot of Potrero Canyon, was chosen in part to capitalize on a continuing city project to reopen the restaurant at the Sunspot Motel just across the highway. The Sunspot sits on land leased from the city of Los Angeles and is being renovated. The project includes construction of a pedestrian bridge over Pacific Coast Highway.
"We think it's only fair to have some opportunity to create some revenues," Charness said. "Unlike health services, nobody mandates you to have beaches or parks, and we wonder how long we can continue to operate like this and still provide a high level of services, such as the best lifeguard service in the world.
"It's become a local issue with the (area) residents, but they don't express the views of the regional aspects of the beach. For most working people, the only time they get to use the beach is in a dining experience, and there aren't many other restaurants where people can look out at a sandy beach. It would draw people from Pasadena, El Monte or wherever, and the traditionalists may not like that."
When state park commissioners rejected the Topanga Canyon beach proposal in 1987, they agreed with residents' contentions that the restaurant would worsen traffic congestion and also block ocean views from across Pacific Coast Highway. Angry county beach officials said then that they might consider ending an agreement to manage the beaches for the state, but backed off that stance and went back to the drawing board.
Charness said that, even if the restaurant and snack bar were approved by the commission, the project would only recoup a tiny portion of the department's annual deficit. He said the restaurant was expected to generate about $250,000 annually beginning with the third year of operation.
"Nobody really cares that much about the snack bar, but we get no support when it comes to the restaurant," he said.
The plan is expected to go to the state parks commission in December and would require final approval by the California Coastal Commission. Charness said it would take at least several years to complete the project.