The city attorney of Malibu is investigating potential violations of local zoning if the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy allows its newly acquired Streisand Center for Conservancy Studies to be used for non-governmental conferences and meetings.
The conservancy, which buys open space for conversion into parks, has asked the state Coastal Commission for a development permit that would allow it to rent out the 24-acre site to groups of 35 as often as twice a week and to groups of 400 once a year.
The permit would allow the conservancy, a state agency, to produce more waste water than is now allowed at the secluded site in Ramirez Canyon.
City Attorney Christi Hogin said that city laws do not apply to the state agency as long as the center is used strictly for governmental affairs. But when private entities lease the facility, which is situated in a residential area, they must seek a conditional-use permit from the city, she said.
"The lessee would have to comply with our zoning laws and get a temporary-use permit to control traffic and noise in relation to an event," said Hogin, who met with conservancy officials last week. She scheduled the meeting after residents voiced their protests at a recent City Council meeting.
"We just want to make sure that the conservancy understands that the city has to protect the neighborhood when the center is not being used for governmental purposes," she said.
But Liz Cheadle, an attorney for the conservancy, said that the state agency is outside the jurisdiction of Malibu zoning laws under a sovereign immunity doctrine that allows higher-ranking governmental entities to preempt the codes of local governments.
"We feel we have a good legal position," Cheadle said. "We don't think we need to get a temporary-use permit from the city for anything we are using the center for. We agreed with the city that we need to go through the Coastal Commission to get a permit."
Ramirez Canyon is populated by about 60 residents, most of whom have opposed plans by center officials to lease the facility to other groups.
Residents said they are particularly concerned about the stress such events would put on the private road that is the neighborhood's only access and leads to the center. The road is maintained by an assessment fee paid by each household.
The state approved the 1993 donation to the state of singer Barbra Streisand's former estate on the condition that the conservancy make the facility financially self-supporting. To that end, conservancy officials have said they hope to find a broader source of income by leasing the facility for conferences and meetings.