Maybe I should just go ahead and move to Malibu, or at least open a satellite office there. The drama there just doesn’t quit.
My last dispatch from The Bu involved a dust-up on the mountain above Surfrider Beach just outside city limits, where the U2 guitarist known as The Edge wants to build not one, two, three, or four, but FIVE houses the size of aircraft carriers. And he’s calling the project -- I’m not kidding here, by the way -- Leaves in the Wind.
Attentive readers will recall that surfing legend and incoming mayor Zuma Jay was in a huff about the project, arguing that yet another famous supposed environmental do-gooder was destroying what’s left of paradise.
The Edge was unavailable for comment, though his lobbying/marketing people assured me that the project will be a model of sustainable, eco-friendly construction and referred me to leavesinthewind.com, where The Edge pledges to honor the sacred ground around his compound.
I noted in the column that Mark Massara, who made his mark as a crusading environmentalist for the Sierra Club, was featured in The Edge’s video in a way that made it look like he was sold on the guitarist’s mountaintop dreamscape.
Then, while I was away on vacation in late December, Massara went ballistic over my column. He argued in a letter to the editor that he did not think of his appearance on the video as an endorsement of the project. Massara’s letter ran in early January, which brought Sierra Club officials into the act.
They wanted to clarify two things:
First, that Massara had left the Sierra Club as of Jan. 1.
And second, that the San Francisco-based organization had not endorsed The Edge’s project, and was in fact awaiting an official position by members of its Santa Monica Mountains Task Force.
A club spokesperson said The Edge’s people will be asked to drop Massara’s designation as a Sierra Club representative on leavesinthewind.com.
Well, on Monday I finally caught up with Massara to hear how he ended up on a slick website promoting a project he insists he hasn’t endorsed.
And then I found out that the task force voted Monday night, 6 to 0, to oppose The Edge’s project for several reasons, including potential wildfire hazards and habitat destruction.
Let’s start with Massara, whose departure from the Sierra Club after many years of exemplary service had nothing to do with his appearance on the Leaves in the Wind video -- the surfing attorney has taken a position with the wetsuit company O’Neill.
He explained that when I tried to reach him before writing my first column last month, he was on a plane to the East Coast and had missed the call. If I’d gotten hold of him, he said, he would have explained that geological studies haven’t been completed and he doesn’t know enough about the specifics of The Edge’s proposal to be able to endorse it.
Well, I was sure fooled. It seems to me that if you appear on a video that exists for the sole purpose of promoting the project and overcoming opposition, you’re either on board or you’re being used.
“It’s going to take those visionary leaders being associated with projects like these . . . to make the California coastline a model of sustainability,” Massara says on the video.
Massara said he was referring generally to the work of the architects on The Edge’s project rather than to this specific proposal. He does think, however, that this project has many visually attractive and environmentally sensitive features, and he also thinks some of the people trying to spike it have allowed hundreds of monstrosities to be constructed in the area over the years.
No argument there. Driving along Pacific Coast Highway, you find yourself wondering who paid whom and why
more people haven’t been locked up.
Massara saved his sharpest stick for members of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, who wrote a letter to the California Coastal Commission denouncing The Edge’s project for violating the intent of the Coastal Act and for “unavoidable significant adverse visual and ecological impacts.”
Massara called the letter “one of the most inflammatory, useless, self-serving and disingenuous land-use analyses I’ve ever seen.”
Frankly, I thought the letter made lots of good points.
But to Massara, it was an act of hypocrisy, and so is much of the opposition to The Edge.
“I can’t believe anybody would jump out of their skin on this. Why aren’t they looking at all this other stuff?” said Massara, who said a proposal for one property near the ball fields along PCH in Malibu calls for several mammoth mansions that would destroy habitat. “And yet there’s all this rage over The Edge, 24/7, and he’s trying to do something 10 times more exemplary.”
Malibu councilman and incoming mayor Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner said Massara’s right about all the horrible construction approved in the past.
But “it’s not fair to compare one project to another,” he went on, saying the development near the ball field isn’t on a highly visible and pristine ridge line, and it’s closer to water supplies and existing construction.
“The Edge is building in the wrong place,” said Dave Brown, conservation chairman of the Santa Monica Mountains Task Force, the Sierra Club group that voted Monday to oppose the project.
“We’re not opposed to the efforts he’s making to be sustainable. He just doesn’t understand the environment he’s dealing with. This is not the Emerald Isle, and it does burn, and you have to take account of that.”
Making the Irish rocker’s compound safe would require clearing chaparral, Brown said. For a project spread across 156 acres, that means destroying a lot of habitat. And when that happens, Brown said, the quake-fractured ground becomes unstable and prone to landslides. Many millions of tax dollars have been spent, Brown said, on disaster relief for some of the wealthiest homeowners in the nation.
He also said that pumping water roughly 2,000 feet up the hill would burn a lot of energy and make development more attractive to other landowners. Then, of course, you’d have new roads and more piecemeal incursions into the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, a unit of the national park system.
No matter how discreet the architecture, Brown said, that mountain is visible from the Westside, the South Bay and the northwestern San Fernando Valley. And he added that L.A. County has adopted an ordinance, which awaits action by the Coastal Commission, “to make building on a ridge line illegal.”
Stay tuned, folks.
This is going to be a good fight, and it’s only just begun.