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‘Edge’ project hearing postponed until 2015

Pictured is part of David Evans’ “The Edge” property in Sweetwater Mesa. Suzanne Guldimann/22nd Century Media
Suzanne Guldimann, Freelance Reporter
2:01 pm PDT October 13, 2014

National news headlines proclaiming, “Edge has edge in building his long-planned compound in Malibu,” and “U2’s Edge given permission to build five Malibu homes” were premature.

The hearing on the controversial project scheduled for the Oct. 7 California Coastal Commission meeting in Newport Beach was postponed until January 2015 at the earliest. And when the project returns to the Commission for consideration, it appears that it will be subject to the strict new Los Angeles County Santa Monica Mountains Local Coastal Program, which received unanimous final approval from the Coastal Commission hearing in on Friday, Oct. 10.

As of Monday, Oct. 13, the LCP is now the official planning document for development in the 80-square mile section of the Santa Monica Mountains within Los Angeles County and adjacent to the City of Malibu. It includes prohibitions on ridge-top development and “mansion” driveways and imposes limits on grading, and “The Edge” David Evan’s controversial five-house subdivision on a 150-acre property on Sweetwater Mesa, above the City of Malibu may be the first major project to fall under the authority of the new plan.

The Edge project was first proposed in 2006 and instantly attracted a firestorm of controversy. Critics, including many environmental watchdog organizations, argued that the development, located on a 3,000-foot expanse of mountaintop above the Malibu Pier and visible for miles along the coast, would have a permanent negative impact on environmentally sensitive habitat and views, that the project would increase fire danger, harm wildlife and potentially degrade the local watershed.

The late Peter Douglas, former CCC executive director, described the plan as “one of the three worst projects in terms of environmental devastation that I have ever seen.”

“It’s a contradiction in terms,” Douglas said when the project was first submitted. “You can’t be serious about being an environmentalist and pick this location,” 

Edge was also blasted by the coastal agency for attempting to pass the project off as five separately owned properties, instead of one subdivision. When the project was rejected by the Coastal Commission in 2011, the project’s backers sued. When the suit failed, Evan’s lobbyists reportedly pushed for a state bill that would have facilitated the development. The bill, described by environmental groups as a developer power grab, never made it past the committee level.

The project that was expected to be heard by the Coastal Commission on Wednesday, was a modified version of the original plan. After negotiations with Coastal staff, the project developers agreed to move the houses away from the most prominent ridgeline to a slightly lower site, cluster them closer together, and shorten the road to the site, according to the staff report, which recommended approval of the project.

The modifications appear to have done little to allay opposition concerns. In the days leading up to the meeting, letters poured in from project opponents, including state Senator Fran Pavley, questioning why the hearing for the project was scheduled before the LCP was finalized. However, it was a technicality, not public outcry, that prevented the hearing from taking place. 

In closed session discussion, the Commission concurred that there was defective notice and that Coastal staff failed to notify Serra Retreat residents of the hearing, despite the fact some neighboring properties are within 100 feet of the proposed development, and they postponed the hearing.

Malibu attorney Frank Angel represents the Sweetwater Mesa homeowners and brought the noticing error to the attention of the Commission. 

“The Edge project applicants made a sinister attempt to rush their controversial development to approval two days before the new Santa Monica Mountains local coastal program goes into effect,” Angel told the Malibu Surfside News in an email. “Thankfully, on Wednesday, a unanimous Coastal Commission refused to let them get away with it.”

Angel said that the Serra Canyon POA, including the homeowners on Sweetwater Mesa Road, which is the access road for the project, were not given notice of the hearing although they are “interested persons” entitled to notice.

“When permit applicants spurn their duty to provide Coastal Commission staff a complete list of properties adversely impacted by their development, they shut interested persons out of the hearing and deprive them of the opportunity to share relevant points of view and objections with the Commission,”  Angel said.

“My understanding is that the new LCP will apply to the project,” Malibu activist Patt Healy told the Surfside News, who attended the Newport Beach hearing as a spokesperson for the Coalition for Slow Growth.

Another activist told the Surfside News that she hopes Evans will be inspired by his Sweetwater Mesa neighbor James Cameron, who abandoned plans to develop 703-acre Puerco Canyon in Malibu, opting instead to sell the land to the Santa Monica Coastal Conservancy for less than half its market value. “Cameron Nature Preserve officially opens in November,” she said. “It’s not too late for Evans to consider creating an Evans Nature Preserve.” 

The LCP for the Santa Monica Mountains was implemented on Monday. Los Angeles County Third District Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who has championed the LCP process, told the Commission that “We are ready to roll. We are going to hit the road running on Monday.”

This has been a real team effort,” the supervisor said. It’s a big deal for our county, a monumental achievement that will serve the people of the county for generations to come. It’s something to be proud of.”