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Panel Gives Developer’s Road Project Belated OK : Development: Despite complaints by residents and environmentalists, the Coastal Commission approves an after-the-fact permit for the work.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A developer accused by the California Coastal Commission of illegally grading a 2 1/2-mile road in Malibu’s Upper Ramirez Canyon in 1989 this week won the panel’s approval for an after-the-fact permit for the work.

By an 8-1 vote, the commission on Thursday approved the permit for developer Charles Tarrats, whose paving of the rugged roadway in the Santa Monica Mountains two years ago had enraged the panel.

Commissioner Madelyn Glickfeld, who lives in Malibu, cast the dissenting vote.

But the after-the-fact permit does not end Tarrats’ troubles. The state attorney general’s office is seeking millions of dollars in damages from a group of about 40 Malibu property owners, headed by Tarrats, for allegedly pooling their money to do the work.

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Opponents ridiculed the commission’s decision, saying it will open the floodgates to developers who may prefer to “pave now and pay later” under similar circumstances.

“It sets a terrible precedent,” said Jean-Marie Webster, vice president of the Malibu Trails Council. “They’ve just given the green light for every developer who wants to, to start carving up the Santa Monica Mountains.”

Tarrats’ opponents had asked the commission to force him to tear up the pavement and restore the winding, scenic roadway--long used by equestrians and hikers--to its original condition.

In approving the permit, the commission stipulated that hikers and equestrians be granted access to the private roadway. Vehicular traffic would be restricted to about 26 families who live in the area.

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The action opens the way for Tarrats and his associates to attempt to develop several residential housing sites in the area.

However, any future development along the road may hinge on the outcome of the state’s lawsuit against Tarrats and the others. In addition, the relatives of a motorist who died after his vehicle careened off the roadway have filed a lawsuit against the developer, contending that the road was unsafe.

Tarrats, who attended Thursday’s hearing but did not testify, declined to be interviewed, referring questions to his attorney.

“I think he’s glad it (the permit effort) is finally over,” said Joe Gughemetti, the attorney. Gughemetti said that his client had not abandoned hope of building houses near the road, but added that there were no immediate plans to do so.

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Tarrats began paving the road in May, 1989. The Coastal Commission ordered him to stop and the work was discontinued for two days. Investigators for the commission contend that he completed the work unlawfully after the panel turned down his request for an emergency permit.

Thursday was Tarrats’ second attempt to obtain an after-the-fact permit. The commission unanimously denied a similar request last January.

Environmentalists and nearby residents complain that the asphalt road, which winds as high as 2,000 feet into the hills between Kanan Dume Road and Latigo Canyon Road, threatens to speed development in the largely unspoiled area overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

They insist that the road is poorly built and dangerous, and that its construction resulted in the unlawful destruction of several plant and animal habitats.

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Last January, less than a week after the commission denied Tarrats’ request, Harold Halley, 73, died after his pickup truck went off the roadway and plunged 280 feet into a ravine, about a quarter of a mile from where the road connects with Kanan Dume Road.

At Thursday’s hearing, Tarrats’ representatives insisted that the road was safe.

“We’ve had geologists look at it, and, despite the histrionics to the contrary, they have found the road to be safe,” said Don Schmitz, a consultant who represented Tarrats.

Others disagreed.

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“It’s so dangerous . . . you can’t even walk a horse there, much less ride one,” opponent Sandy Mitchell said.


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