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Planning Commission modifies, continues Malibu Memorial Park plans

Lauren Coughlin, Editor
2:37 pm PDT April 19, 2017

There is much to be said when it comes to the proposed 27.8-acre Malibu Memorial Park.

Commissioners pored over the details of what Chairman John Mazza emphasized is “a very complicated project” during the Monday, April 17 meeting of the Malibu Planning Commission.

Site hours were amended, rodenticides were banned and special event provisions were clarified, but many questions linger.

After more than four hours of discussion, the commission elected to continue the hearing to its Monday, May 1 meeting. On top of amending the lengthy list of modifications made during the meeting, Mazza requested that a staff report on allowable statues and art at the cemetery be presented at the upcoming meeting.

But there are some facets of the project that are likely to return to the spotlight again and again.

Sacred ground? 

Tensions ran high between representatives of the Chumash culture and the applicants, who butted heads over the significance of the site’s history.

Each side can agree that there are two Chumash sites on the property, which is located at Malibu Canyon and PCH, but the topic of previous Chumash burial sites is where it gets sensitive.

Luhui Isha, the Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation’s cultural resources and education director, noted that almost every historical site of its kind included a spot for human burials.

On the other hand, the applicant’s report states that “no burial sites were included.”

“Field surveys, literature reviews, and cultural resource reports have been completed on the project site and the surrounding area as early as 1962,” the report notes. “Capping of the sensitive area is incorporated into the project grading plans, and mitigation measures are included in accordance with study recommendations to ensure protection of any remaining subsurface resources.”

Still, Isha and Mati Waiya, Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation founder, executive director and waterkeeper, remained adamant.

“Malibu residents should campaign to make that a spiritual wellness Chumash garden,” Waiya said. “Quit destroying our culture.”

Commissioners heard out both sides of the issue, and some sought to find a middle ground.

“I have not dealt with Chumash sites before or trying to make decisions about them,” Commissioner Steve Uhring said. “I’m almost to the point of saying ‘Jesus, don’t build on the dam thing, put a little Chumash memorial there or something; make it part of the cemetery.’”

Mazza similarly proposed landscaping or a water feature to avoid disturbing the areas in question.

Commissioner Jeffrey Jennings disagreed.

“It may show respect, but it’s not mitigation of damage to the cultural resources,” Jennings said. “The cultural resources have to be protected by capping it if there are cultural resources there.”

Jennings also noted that design considerations fell outside of the Planning Commission’s purview.

“As far as I’m concerned, the design is for the designers, not for us to sit up here and move water features around or trees or whatever,” Jennings said. “As far as the sites are concerned from an archeologist’s point of view, capping is the way you preserve the site.”

Still, Mazza said he wished to see more landscape options throughout the site as a whole.

“This, to me, looks like a lawn with 53 trees on it,” Mazza said.

Site occurrences, access 

Another area of focus was the potential for the memorial park to host large events given the existing language that allowed for temporary use permits.

Mazza expressed concerns that the park would seek non-memorial uses, such as concerts or even memorial events with raucous components.

“It’s a memorial park,” Mazza said. “It’s not rock ‘n’ roll festival, Shakespeare in the park, amplified music, whatever.”

Further, the site can accommodate parking for 176 cars. Services that require additional parking will be subject to a transportation management plan, noted Planning Director Bonnie Blue. 

Mazza clarified language that called for Blue to inform the commission if there were to be more than 12 such parking cases within a year.

“That way it will automatically come to us if we have a problem,” he said.

The site would also be limited to five services a day.

The applicants clarified that while large services and special events may occur, the memorial park is intended to be a tranquil place. While open to the public, visitors would also be subject to rules, added Fred Gaines, of Gaines Estates, who spoke on behalf of the applicant.

Gaines and the commission also agreed on amended ground hours of 7 a.m.-6 p.m. or sunset, whichever is later. The chapel hours would be 7 a.m.-9 p.m.

Malibu Memorial Park details and documents can be viewed at