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What does AB250 mean for Malibu?

Suzanne Guldimann, Freelance Reporter
8:37 am PDT August 1, 2017

Local activists are concerned that a California assembly bill intended to facilitate low-cost beach accommodations could generate a building frenzy in Malibu.

The bill was introduced by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, who represents San Diego’s 80th District, and has the support of State Sen. Henry Stern, who represents Malibu and most of the Santa Monica Mountains. 

If AB250 is adopted, it would require the state Coastal Conservancy to “develop and implement a specified Lower Cost Coastal Accommodations Program” intended to facilitate improvement of existing, and development of new, lower-cost accommodations within 1.5 miles of the coast, according to the text of the bill.

The intention is to enable the state to purchase existing lower cost accommodations from willing sellers, and to operate those accommodations through leases or operating agreements with other agencies, nonprofits or concessionaires. However, the bill also appears to relax restrictions on building new facilities in existing parkland, including campgrounds, cabins and even hotels. 

The bill requires the Coastal Conservancy to examine “specific opportunities to improve existing and develop new lower cost accommodations on coastal public lands and coastal lands owned or operated by nonprofit organizations,” and develop a list of “potentially suitable sites for the location of these accommodations.”

It also states that those lands may include, but are not limited to, “state, regional, and local parks, lands held by harbor or open space districts, lands owned by the public but not yet designated as parks, lands owned by nonprofit organizations, and national parks and other federally managed lands.”

Although AB250 includes the entire California coast, critics of the proposal say it unfairly targets the Santa Monica Mountains and Malibu, the largest remaining open space area on the coast near a major urban center.

Malibu Planning Commission Chairman John Mazza, speaking as a member of the public, brought the bill to the attention of the Malibu City Council last month.

“It’s the biggest threat to the sovereignty of Malibu since we became a city,” Mazza said, criticizing provisions in the bill that would open parkland to development. 

“The city has over two square miles of public open space within our boundaries,” Mazza explained. “[The city is] surrounded by national, state park and conservancy land. This bill would allow camping on all of that land, it would allow hotels on all of that land. The bill authorizes these agencies to go to private developers and get them to do it.”

Like communities all along California’s coast, Malibu’s golden age of low-cost accommodations peaked in the 1950s when half a dozen motels offered inexpensive access to pristine beaches. 

They ran the gamut from the elegant Holiday House, designed by legendary architect Richard Nuetra and owned and operated by silent era film director Dudley Murphy, to the tiki-themed Tonga-Lei and the Albatross, a hotel with a reputation as a site for secret assignations. 

A generation before the “motor hotels” designed to accommodate baby boomer families on roadtrip vacations that were part of the mid-century modern American dream, tent cabins lined the beach east of Las Flores, offering Angelenos an escape from stifling summer weather in the era before air conditioning.

However, by the 1970s, the motel era was waning fast. Activists successfully defeated plans for the last motel proposed for the city, the 110-room Zuma motel, which would have been located across from Zuma Beach. Several motels were converted into shopping centers or office space. One became the Malibu Country Mart — the popular children’s playground was the motel’s courtyard and pool. Others, like the Holiday House, were converted to apartments or condominiums, or transformed from inexpensive motels into high-priced boutique hotels.

A quick look at hotel comparison sites reveals that the cheapest hotel rate in Malibu today is in the $200 range, with the priciest hotel going for $1,000-$2,000 a night.

Campers still have low-cost options. California State Park campsites at Leo Carrillo State Park and Malibu Creek State Park cost roughly $45 a night. A site at Thornhill Broome State Beach, the only place in the Malibu area where camping is available directly on the sand, goes for $35 a night, according to the California Department of Parks and Recreation website.

The City of Huntington Beach is the first municipality on record opposing AB250, but a variety of homeowner and local activism organizations, including the Las Virgenes Homeowners Federation and Preserve Malibu, are marshaling opposition. Both local groups express concerns that the bill will enable developers to circumvent environmental protections and local government oversight.

Mazza asked the Malibu City Council to consider placing the issue on a future agenda for discussion.  

“It’s not good for Malibu,” Mazza told the Malibu Surfside News. “Fire danger is a big political item in Malibu. This bill would allow camping in a state-declared high fire danger area. It takes planning decisions away from the City. It takes away the City Council’s rights, it takes away all of our rights.” 

More information on AB250 can be found online at leginfo.legislature.ca.gov.