Los Angeles County's proposal for a restaurant at Topanga State Beach has been rejected for a second time by the state Park and Recreation Commission. The decision angered county officials who are trying to raise money for beach maintenance and encouraged homeowners who are battling a spate of plans by public agencies to open dining facilities along the shoreline in Pacific Palisades and Malibu.
At a meeting in Marina del Rey on Wednesday, the park panel voted 6 to 2, with one abstention, to uphold its November denial of a permit for a 7,500-square-foot restaurant with about 300 seats at Pacific Coast Highway and Topanga Canyon Road. The county manages the beach for the state and expected to collect at least $725,000 over five years in rent from the restaurant.
Ted Reed, director of the county Department of Beaches and Harbors, said, "Of course, I'm disappointed." The restaurant, he said, could have provided a way to enjoy the beach in the winter, when the crowds ebb--and, not incidentally, a way to bring in some cash to help alleviate an annual $7.2-million beach operations deficit.
"We will never balance off, but I have been charged with trying to reduce that deficit," Reed said.
Changed Suggested Site
Although the county had changed its suggested site for the restaurant, from high ground to the bottom of a bluff, park commissioners continued to express concern that it would block ocean views from the coast highway.
And commissioners echoed the fears of residents that the restaurant could worsen traffic congestion on the clogged highway and take up scarce parking at the beach.
"I feel great sympathy for the county in its need to raise more revenues," said Commissioner Charles Hostler. "I think we have cooperated with them. We did agree to raise parking fees (from $3 to $4). We agreed to liberalize advertising standards. However, I think this is a situation in which we cannot go further."
Reed was not mollified. After the meeting, he warned Hostler that the rejection could intensify the county's reluctance to keep managing state beaches for free. The county spends more than $3 million a year to operate state beaches, he said.
"I think this may lead a long way toward our giving the beaches back," Reed said. "Our board (of supervisors) is strapped for money."
"So be it," Hostler replied. "I had to vote my conscience."
To Meet With Officials
Reed said he plans to meet with parks officials about the county's management role and report to the supervisors within several weeks. "This will be a factor," he said.
The park commission did not address other proposed beach restaurants, but those plans were mentioned often in public testimony. "The cumulative effect of all these restaurants is really what we're trying to deal with," said Barbara Kohn, representing the Pacific View Assn., a homeowners group.
The state plans to reopen two closed restaurants. One is also at Topanga State Beach, on the site of the Jetty restaurant at Pacific Coast Highway and Coastline Drive. The Jetty was destroyed by fire in 1984. Grace Restaurant Co., which operated the Jetty, has a 20-year contract for the replacement facility.
The other is at the end of Malibu Pier, in a vacant building at the water's edge that housed a seafood place before the state bought the landmark six years ago. Another restaurant, Alice's, is open now in a pier building along the coast highway.
The city of Los Angeles will reopen the restaurant at the Sunspot motel on the coast highway at Potrero Canyon in Pacific Palisades.
Intends to Press Forward
And the county still intends to press forward with another restaurant proposal for Will Rogers State Beach, which would include 5,000 square feet of dining space and 5,000 square feet of other beach concessions, Reed said.
In November, the park commission approved the Will Rogers restaurant but only if it was moved from the county's preferred site at Temescal Canyon Road to a location about 200 yards north.
But the county does not want to disrupt a beach maintenance yard at the authorized site. Instead, Reed said, the county will seek permission to build the Will Rogers restaurant across the coast highway from the city's Sunspot.
Frances Shalant, representing the Pacific Palisades Residents Assn., told the park panel that the county had failed to consider truck traffic that will be generated by a city project to stabilize the landslide-prone canyon behind the Sunspot. That omission is "an amazing, astounding oversight," she said.
Reed expects to hear more criticism when the project is officially brought back to the commission. "There's not a site that someone's not going to be unhappy with," he said.
Other Potential Locations
He said he wants to pursue other potential restaurant locations. The next, he said, probably will be at White Point in San Pedro, where the state and county both own beachfront. Another possibility is a county beach at Nicholas Canyon in western Malibu, said Larry Charness, chief of planning for the county Department of Beaches and Harbors.
Ironically, the county's Topanga proposal apparently was revived as the result of a misunderstanding. Commissioner Raymond J. Nesbit, who was the panel's chairman in November, said he asked the county to resubmit its plans for both restaurants after a phone call from Chris Klinger, the beach department's chief of revenue properties. But Klinger said he asked Nesbit to reconsider only the location for the approved Will Rogers restaurant.