If the county department of Beaches and Harbors gets its wish, aging Zuma Beach will get its first major face lift in 1987, when a year-round park for 125 recreational vehicles is opened in what is now the county's pay parking lot.
But if homeowners' associations in Malibu get their wish, the plan, which has quietly wended its way through much of the county's approval process without opposition, will undergo a fresh round of scrutiny.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors voted to seek bids on construction and management of the park, which would be the first public facility on the 30-mile Malibu coastline to have an overnight park for trailers, motor homes and campers. If feasible proposals from the private sector are submitted, the county will seek approval from the California Coastal Commission.
Angry leaders of the Malibu Township Council and the Malibu Park Homeowners Assn. say they last heard about the RV park proposal during a public meeting in 1984 and had no idea the plan was still under serious consideration.
This week they voiced concern over the park's effects on parking--which already overflows from the county's pay lot to local streets each summer--and on the community, which is rural and has only a handful of commercial enterprises.
(The county's pay parking lot, which runs the entire length of Zuma Beach, would lose about 500 of its 2,100 parking spaces to make way for the camp.)
"This comes as a complete surprise to me and I am shocked to hear about it," said Leon Cooper, president of the Malibu Township Council.
"When they told us about the plan a couple of years ago, we asked, 'Surely you're not serious about this, about destroying a vital public resource like a beach for a bunch of RVs?' We didn't even bother putting it to a vote of our board because we couldn't believe they would do it. Obviously we were wrong."
Carol Kivo, a spokeswoman for the Malibu Park Homeowners Assn., said she and her neighbors had no idea the proposal was moving forward, although their homes are just across the Pacific Coast Highway from Zuma Beach.
"We don't even know the who, the what or the where of this," Kivo said. "We are directly north of that area and I can't believe that we haven't been informed. It utterly amazes me."
Larry Charness, chief of planning for county beaches, said his staff presented the plan at a public hearing in 1984, along with the county's proposal to build restaurants in Topanga and Temescal canyons and a second recreational vehicle park in Nicholas Canyon.
Don Knabe, chief deputy for Supervisor Deane Dana, said the county is not required to notify the public when it seeks bids on projects, and that a public hearing on the park will be held before the board takes a final vote.
"There will be plenty of time for residents to review this," Knabe said.
The park, next to Trancas Beach, would include a convenience store, showers and sewer hook-ups, and would draw about 100,000 new visitors annually, according to a county consultant's report. A $10-a-day fee proposed by the county would generate $66,000 in annual revenues, based on conservative estimates of occupancy levels, the report said.
Charness said no major public opposition to the facility had been anticipated.
In fact, he said, the park is expected to satisfy the state Coastal Commission because it would raise Zuma's 5 million yearly attendance by about 100,000, increasing public access to the beach.
Pam Emerson, a staff analyst for the California Coastal Commission, said she has just begun reviewing the proposal and will have to be convinced that the new park would increase--not limit--beach use by the public.
"It is true that beach camping is just jammed, even throughout the wintertime, and more parks are needed," Emerson said.
"But on the other hand, we'll be looking into how it would affect day use. . . . The question is, what do you do with all that overflow parking?"
Charness conceded that removing 500 parking spaces at Zuma would create a parking crunch during the 12 biggest summer days, generally Sundays. On those days, he said, some daytime beachgoers would not be able to find parking.
"There's no doubt that on the big days, some people are not going to be able to get in there," Charness said. "But if you take 12 days out of 365, that's not too many for it to be full. When that happens, people can drive on to the next beach."
California Highway Patrol Sgt. Terry Enright said his office supports the proposed park and does not believe it will add to parking problems.
Enright attributed Zuma's parking congestion to motorists who park on Pacific Coast Highway and other local streets to avoid the county's $3 parking fee.
"We're always amazed by the number of people who park on the other side of Pacific Coast Highway and have to cross it, risking their lives to save $3," Enright said. "Those people park on PCH even when that upper parking section is empty, so we don't think the RV park is going to cause any increase in the problem."
Charness said the park proposal was inspired partly by the success of a recreational vehicle park that opened in 1982 at Dockweiler State Beach in Playa del Rey.
The Zuma facility would be expected to draw large numbers of Southern Californians in addition to visiting motorists who are making the traditional scenic drive along the coastal highway, which stretches from Oregon to San Diego, he said.
"We expect the out-of-towner as much as we expect the family from West Covina who has an RV parked in the side yard and would like to come down to the ocean on a Friday and leave on Monday," Charness said.