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Permit for Yurt Tents Revoked

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Authorities have ordered a halt to development of a controversial spiritual retreat consisting of 95 Mongolian-style yurt tents in a canyon in Malibu.

Los Angeles County planning officials have rescinded a construction permit issued in 1994 and renewed last year for the circular tents and companion meeting halls and fitness facilities at 3660 Latigo Canyon Road.

The permit revocation means that developer Richard Weintraub must start from scratch with permit applications if he hopes to build the $8 1/2-million project. This time he will be required to undertake extensive geological, environmental, transportation and fire-safety studies as well as a series of public hearings--all of which were not required six years ago.

Weintraub, who began site preparation, said he will appeal the revocation and file a lawsuit against the county if necessary to win permission to proceed with the project.

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Neighboring Latigo Canyon residents applauded the county action. They say they have long been worried over traffic problems and brush fire dangers they contend the yurt campground would create. They hope the state will now acquire the site as Santa Monica Mountains parkland.

Opponents of the 93-acre yurt retreat have long complained that the 1994 permit was issued by mistake by county planners and that its renewal last year was the result of yet another bureaucratic mix-up.

Both times county planning staffers routinely signed off on the permit, figuring it needed no further environmental review because the state Coastal Commission had approved it.

County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky last fall labeled the permit “an embarrassment” to the county, pledging to block the project until it could undergo public and governmental scrutiny.

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“It’s not a campground. It’s a conference center, a spa, a hotel. The tents are not really tents, they are more like cottages,” Yaroslavsky said.

County Planning Director James E. Hartl said the reversal was based on oak trees, which are protected by a county ordinance.

Officials said that county inspectors visiting the remote site two miles north of the ocean in unincorporated Escondido Canyon on Feb. 3 discovered that some of the proposed tents would “encroach” on oak trees.

It was also learned that some oak trees had been trimmed without obtaining a county oak tree permit.

Separate from the revocation, county officials ordered Weintraub to immediately stop cutting the oaks or face a criminal complaint.

Residents living in the sparsely settled canyon said Monday that they will be watching to see if other oaks are chopped or pruned.

“I’m thrilled the county finally did the right thing. It took a long time for them to get out here. Unfortunately a lot of oak trimming occurred,” said resident Candace Brown, who has helped lead the protest against the yurts.

Brown said residents probably would support any move by Weintraub to substitute residential housing for the yurt campground. Even better would be parkland, she said.

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Weintraub said it is unlikely he would be able to get Coastal Commission approval to build houses on the site. He said he remains committed to the yurt retreat concept.

“It’s tragic. I tried to do everything by the book,” Weintraub said. “But once Zev went out on a limb and said he was going to kill the project there wasn’t much I could do.

“This is a project my wife and I are passionate about--bringing people to the Santa Monica Mountains who would normally not go there. I have neighbors here who don’t even know what they’re unhappy about.”


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