Coastal Panel Refuses to Greenlight Project(s) Viewed as Over The Edge
• Controversial Development's Impact Deemed Unacceptable
BY BILL KOENEKER
The California Coastal Commission members had almost finished deliberating on the request for the five mansions sought by David Evans, better known as The Edge, and his purported partners on a hillside above Sweetwater Mesa.
Anyone who could count knew what was next when it came time for the vote—denial.
Suddenly, the attorney representing one of the five applicants wanted to withdraw. "Yes," said the Coastal Commission.
This gave Don Schmitz, ostensibly representing the other four applicants, an opportunity to plead for postponement or a withdrawal.
He nearly had an ally when Commissioner William Burke asked if the applicants wanted to waive the permit streamlining deadline. Schmitz said yes, but asked if the application fees could be waived.
"This isn't a negotiation," shot back Burke. The moment was gone.
The motion to allow for a postponement was voted upon with only one vote for approval. At that point, even Burke voted no, saying he wasn't "going to waste my vote."
The main motion was made for a denial of the four remaining permits when eight commissioners agreed they wanted to deny the permits and only four voted yes.
It could be said it was anybody's guess how the commission might vote, given that there were so many new members on the panel.
Listening to the commissioners' comments gave everyone, including the CCC staff, a chance to size up the newest members of the panel.
Commissioner Mark Stone said he had met Evans a year ago and had agreed the houses were lovely. "The problem is the location. They are too heavy on the impacts. There is a project. It was intended to be a project. It is a development," he said. "It is too heavy a footprint. I am going to follow the staff's recommendation and ask them to come back to minimize [the impacts]."
Panelist Bruce Reznik, who is an alternate for Commissioner Esther Sanchez, appointed February, 2011, said he is a huge fan of U2, has gone to all of their concerts and found the matter difficult for him. "[Evans] has the best of intentions. Overall it is the scale of the project. It is the wrong scale and the wrong place," he said.
Reznik said he did not know how to approach the unity of ownership issue. "Even the advocates talk about 'The project.' I worry about the precedent of scale and the precedent of ownership, I support the motion [of denial]," he added.
Panelist Sarah Gurney, an alternate for Commissioner Steve Kinsey, appointed May, 2011 wanted to know why there had not been all of the review and testing of the possibility of cultural and anthropological resources.
"You did not address the issue? Did the applicant do a survey?" she asked.
She was told the applicant was not directed to do a survey for the upper portion of the site and that it could be done if so directed.
Commissioner Jana Zimmer, appointed May, 2011, wanted to know what the zoning is and if the site was an Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area. "The applicant has not shown visual resources are mitigated," she said.
Zimmer indicated the policy is, if it is feasible not to build on ridgelines, not to do so. "They did not do that," she said. "I have problems with fire access and impacts. I was surprised to find back in 2003 a definition of ESHA in the Santa Monica Mountains. There is room here for the applicant to get approval for an alternative," she said.
On the question of the unity of ownership, something the staff presentation had provided in detail, Zimmer said she thought it is a legal question that would have to be resolved in court.
Commissioner Dayna Bochco, appointed May, 2011, stated the proposed structures were just too big for the area chosen. "This is not a good place to have big houses. It is too much for the site," she said.
Commissioner Martha McClure, appointed May, 2011, who said she was from the Northwest countryside, noted the applications are for properties that are on the proper land designations.
McClure said her family lived on a farm where they shared the same boundaries. She said they were like many rural families who built houses all on the same land and worked together to maintain roads and other infrastructure.
"If I own five parcels, I can build on them. I'm still allowed to build on each parcel. I see this unity of ownership as a slippery slope. The National Park Service should have purchased it," she said.
Burke agreed, "I don't buy the unity of ownership issue. How can you deny the people's right to build a house? Some things are not clear. If Evans walked in and said, 'I want to build one house,' he has to have the road. He needs the water. We are arguing about the number of houses. I agree, it ends up in court. We need to deal with the commission requirements," the commissioner said.
Commissioner Wendy Mitchell said, "I don't know how we say no. I wish the NPS bought it. But I don't know how we legally deny it. There is nothing green about a 10,000-square- foot house. I would like it to be open space."
Commissioner Bruce Brennan, appointed April, 2011 said, "I believe in property rights. I agree with Commissioner Burke about the road. I back up the side of property rights."
Panelist James Wickett, appointed last year, said there were a lot of issues to consider. "The road is a non-starter. They are wonderful environmental houses. There are infrastructure problems. A ridgeline is not a great place to be," he said. "I agree with Commissioner Zimmer about the ownership issue. It is a matter of fact. I go with the staff on that. I am voting a no vote," he said.
Chair Mary Shallenberger said she did not find the applications to be a hard call. "There is a unity of ownership. The whole property is an ESHA. It's no threat to other properties in California. Mr. Evans told me it was one project with him and his partners. They don't have a right to this road. They built on the ridgeline. The proposed houses do not minimize the impact on ESHA. People do not have a right to build on a ridge," she concluded.
Another element that was new for seasoned commission observers, especially of Malibu agenda items, was the lack of supporters or opponents from Malibu.
The NPS made a joint presentation with State Parks pointing out the project's shortcomings.
A representative of the Las Virgenes Homeowners Association was also present. Malibu attorney Frank Angel, spoke on behalf of Agoura-Hills-based Save Open Space.
Other out-of-area speakers included the Las Virgenes Federation, Save Our Mountains, Inc. from Mandeville Canyon, a spokesperson from Heal the Bay and other individuals.