The one-time "perfect master" of the Divine Light Mission has been denied permission from the county's Regional Planning Commission to triple the number of helicopter landings annually at his Malibu mountain-ridge estate.
Maharaji--the professional name now used by Prem Pal Singh Rawat, formerly known as Guru Maharaj Ji--can continue descending from the skies to his landing pad 12 times a year, the annual limit imposed for five years in April, 1983. Six landings were originally allowed in 1980 because Maharaji agreed to install a 45,000-gallon emergency water storage and pumping system that would be available to county Fire Department helicopters.
But planning commissioners rejected, by a 3-1 vote Wednesday, Maharaji's request to increase the limit to 36. The majority said it was constrained by a commission policy adopted in September, 1984, that forbids additional copter flights except for those that provide a public benefit.
"First, you wanted six; then you went to 12; now you come back and want 36," said commission Vice Chairman Sadie Clark to Maharaji's attorney, Linda Gross.
"I can absolutely see no reason why this is necessary. We cannot favor one applicant over another, and there's not any justification for this."
Maharaji's need for more flights "has to do with a change in circumstances," Gross said. Until the spring of 1984, the one-time guru was seldom at his mansion, called Anacapa View Estates, off Trancas Canyon 600 feet above Pacific Coast Highway.
He and his family visited there a few times a year but they also spent time in Miami and abroad.
Then Maharaji dropped his ties with the Divine Light organization and settled full time at the Malibu estate, Gross said.
He continues to lecture around the world on self-awareness, however, and needs the helicopter mostly for travel between Los Angeles International Airport and his home, the attorney said.
Gross said the firefighting equipment at the helipad should qualify as a public benefit. She said that Maharaji also intends to place utility lines underground near his estate, to minimize the danger to copters flying over Trancas Canyon.
But when questioned by Commissioner Delta Murphy, Gross said that Maharaji would continue to allow county access to the emergency equipment even if the limit remained at 12 flights.
Then Murphy asked about burying the utility lines. "If it's really a safety factor, wouldn't he want to do it now? Is it predicated on additional flights?" Gross said it was not.
Only Commissioner Norma Bard supported the increase, saying few helipads provided the added fire protection that Maharaji's does. "I do not regard this as precedent-setting," she said. "I don't think we will ever find a similar situation."
A representative of the county Fire Department, Capt. Jerry Peskett, said Maharaji's helipad is "acceptable, but not necessary" for battling blazes in the brush-covered Malibu hills.
That led Commission Chairman Stanley Gould to say, "I can see nothing to gain by granting the additional flights."
Gross said she did not know if Maharaji would appeal the decision to the county Board of Supervisors.