In response to a proposal to build a major hotel on the site of the former Marineland aquatic park in Rancho Palos Verdes, local activists have organized a watchdog group to fight coastal development.
Calling itself Save Our Coastline 2000, the 160-member group contends that the city is ignoring planning guidelines that prohibit large-scale commercial development on the coastline. The group charges that construction of a big hotel on the site would clearly violate the city’s General Plan, the planning document that outlines the city’s development standards.
Arizona developer James Monaghan, who bought the Marineland property four years ago, wants city permission to build a 450- to 500-room hotel on the property. He has yet to obtain the necessary approvals, although all five of the city’s council members have said they could support the idea of a hotel on the site.
“The plan says there shouldn’t be any major commercial activities,” said Gar Goodson, chairman of the watchdog group. “And a hotel is clearly a major commercial activity.”
City officials dispute that contention. Although the General Plan does say that major commercial activities along the rugged coastline should be discouraged and carefully controlled, the document is primarily designed to provide guidance to city officials, not necessarily to determine how land is actually used, they say.
Also, officials say that the 100 oceanfront acres on which the former aquatic park sits are already zoned for commercial and recreational uses and that a hotel clearly falls within those categories.
“If they are going to interpret the General Plan literally, we would have to go out and find another oceanarium,” Councilwoman Jacki Bacharach said.
Mayor Douglas Hinchliffe said: “When they tell us we are violating the General Plan, it makes no sense to me.”
The residents group took its name from a group that was formed in the early ‘70s and called itself Save Our Coastline. That group led the successful fight to incorporate Rancho Palos Verdes in 1973, after residents lashed out at county zoning laws they thought allowed too much development along the coastline.
After the city was incorporated, city officials drafted a General Plan and downzoned the coastal area from 25 homes per acre to one, according to Bob Bernard, Rancho Palos Verdes’ director of environmental services. Only three acres in the coastal zone were set aside for commercial development, but the Marineland site was zoned for commercial and recreational uses because the park was already in operation.
Goodson and other Save Our Coastline 2000 members said a handful of development proposals expected to come before city officials in coming months could threaten the coastal environment. More than 1,200 acres along the coastline or immediately adjacent to it are undeveloped and belong to private property owners.
The group, unhappy with previous projects that members contend have destroyed scenic canyon areas and natural vegetation, intends to closely monitor the proposals to ensure that the city’s General Plan and zoning laws are strictly enforced, Goodson said.
“We are going to bird-dog each one of those (projects),” Goodson said.
But the group has focused most of its energy on the vast Marineland property and Monaghan’s efforts to build a large hotel and golf course there.
Although the Planning Commission has not approved any project for the property and city planners angered Monaghan last week when they recommended that only 360 to 370 rooms be built on the land, Save Our Coastline 2000 members say the City Council has previously indicated a willingness to go along with a larger hotel.
Moreover, the group contends that the council’s willingness last year to talk with Orange County developer Barry Hon about a plan to build a 450-room luxury hotel on land he owns near the San Pedro border clearly indicated a pro-hotel stance on the council’s part. Hon’s proposal is currently dormant.
“They just don’t have any concern to preserve a beautiful coastline,” said Goodson, adding that the group intends to take legal action if the city approves construction of a large hotel anywhere on the coastline. “They are just not environmentalists.”
“I don’t think we should commercialize the coast,” said Kay Bara, another Save Our Coastline 2000 member. “One hotel begets another.”
Hinchliffe defended the council’s record on coastal development and predicted that any future building would be well within existing guidelines.
“In terms of the coastline, I think there is going to be less development than what our General Plan allows,” he said. “All of us have been very true (to the General Plan), and Gar Goodson and others would like you and others to believe we have gone hog-wild.”
Bacharach contended that it was in the city’s interest to speak to Hon and Monaghan to determine which project would have been most beneficial to the city, and have the fewest adverse environmental impacts. She said she did not believe that the city will ever allow two hotels to be built along the coastline.
Bacharach said the council last year did indicate to Monaghan that it might be willing to consider a 450-room hotel, but only if he would give up his right to develop land he owned elsewhere in the city. That property would be left as open space for the public.
Goodson said that Save Our Coastline 2000 might be willing to compromise and support construction of a small hotel. However, he said the group will demand that steps be taken to ensure that the land is not ravaged by bulldozers and that public access to it is provided.
“It is just something in our mind that shouldn’t have come up in the first place,” he said.