General Motors may abandon plans to build an $11-million design center in Malibu because two active fault lines have been discovered on the site, according to Coastal Commission and Los Angeles County officials.
State law prohibits the placing of most buildings on active faults, said Earl Hart, a senior geologist with the state Department of Conservation's division of mines and geology. The only exceptions are single-family homes and facilities not intended for human habitation.
GM spokesman Bill Knight said there are "geological difficulties" at the site, but added that the company has not reached a decision on whether to abandon the project. He declined to say when a decision would be made and would not give details about the faults or how much the company has spent on the project.
The giant auto maker has proposed constructing a three-story, 85,000-square-foot building on Pacific Coast Highway across from Pepperdine University. About 70 employees at the company's Newbury Park office in Ventura County would be transferred to Malibu, a spokesman said.
If the plan is scrapped, GM will keep its leased offices in Newbury Park until another permanent home is found for the design center, Knight said.
The property's owner, Roy Crummer, said he expects GM to decide by the end of this month. The auto maker's option to purchase the site for $5 million expires then.
State and county officials said they were told by the auto maker that two active faults were discovered in November. The location of the fault lines make it unlikely that the GM facility could avoid them, the officials said.
"In talking to consultants for General Motors, they indicated they could not fit the building on the property" without building on a fault, said Mike Johnson, the head of engineering for the geology and soils section of the county's Department of Public Works.
Law Defines Active
Howard Stellman, a geological consultant for General Motors, said, "We have not been authorized to proceed any further." He would not discuss the geology of the site.
The Malibu center received preliminary county approval last Spring on the condition that GM look for active faults, Johnson said.
Under state law a fault is considered active if it has moved within the last 11,000 years, Hart said.
Crummer said GM consultants told him that the two faults had moved as recently as 6,000 years ago.
The project was approved by the Coastal Commission on Nov. 13 with some hastily drawn conditions that addressed concerns raised by its staff, said executive director Peter Douglas.
A commission staff report had urged commissioners to reject the project because of sewage disposal and landslide problems.
Douglas and commission planner Gary Timm said they were not aware at the time of the hearing that General Motors was still investigating the 24-acre site.
"It was not the best way to do things," Douglas said recently. "There was no time to think and reflect about the various aspects of the project. This geological problem is one that fell through the cracks, no pun intended."
'We Screwed Up'
Douglas said he and his staff should have insisted that the proposal be continued to a later meeting to give staffers more time to draw up a plan for conditional approval.
He also said the staff failed to ask that all geological studies be completed and approved before the project could go forward. "From my perspective, we screwed up," Douglas said.
Johnson and Timm said GM officials told them about the faults in late November after the commission had approved the project.
Despite state and county approval, GM can't proceed unless it also obtains county grading and building permits, Johnson said. The company will have to submit a final geological report before any permits are granted, he said.