Calvin Barginear looks out across the 36 acres of spectacular Malibu land into which he has poured his life for the past decade and speaks, in disbelief, about the nightmare it has become.
Locked for seven years in a complex zoning battle with the county, the soft-spoken former owner of the Malibu Auto Supplies store can neither sell the land he bought in 1976 nor hang onto it.
In a drawer at the Barginear home in Agoura, a foreclosure notice from a bank warns that soon he will lose the land if he cannot come up with a $350,000 payment on a $1-million debt incurred to finance his fight.
'Unable to Go On'
The Barginears have already lost their once-thriving 15-year-old business. Sales fell off as their fight occupied more and more time, and, for the first time in their lives, they could not meet the rent on their store.
Last month, Barginear, his wife, Barbara, and one of their three children, Gene, dejectedly packed up the inventory and hauled it to a storage yard.
"Just unable to go on with it anymore," Barbara Barginear said, weeping.
Theirs is a tale of broken promises, bureaucratic red tape, the changing politics of the county and California Coastal Commission and of a family that stubbornly and, some say, ill-advisedly, refused to give up.
'One of These Nightmares'
"It's one of these nightmares, a classic example of someone who has been hurt by this whole coastal planning process, and there may be other examples of it," said Peter Ireland, an aide to county Supervisor Deane Dana, who has tried to find a solution to the case.
It began in early 1980, when the county Regional Planning Commission gave the Barginears tentative approval for a 12-lot subdivision on their emerald-green parcel of land that rises above Latigo Canyon Road. They planned to build a family home there and sell off the other 11 lots.
Jubilant, the family talked of little else. Calvin and Barbara, sweethearts since high school, excitedly sat down with an architect at their kitchen table, making drawings of their dream home.
But what should have been a routine final approval was never granted by the county because the California Coastal Commission refused to grant the Barginears a coastal permit for 12 lots.
The family was caught in a Catch-22. Without a coastal permit, the county would not approve the project. And the Coastal Commission would not grant the permit because the county had recently changed its plans for Malibu, and the new plans did not allow a 12-lot subdivision.
County planners, engrossed in a master planning effort for all of Malibu, had not included the Barginear's subdivision--and several other projects--on critical land-use documents approved by the county late in 1980. In mountainous foothill areas such as Latigo Canyon Road, the county was proposing far lower housing densities.
Relying upon those proposed reductions, the Coastal Commission in 1981 refused to permit more than four lots on Barginear's 36 acres unless the county changed its documents to allow the 12 lots.
Ralph Faust, chief counsel for the Coastal Commission, said his agency "takes the information submitted to it at face value," regardless of the desires of the county.
County officials said they failed to include the subdivision because they mistakenly assumed that the Coastal Commission would honor the State Map Act, which protected a smattering of already-approved projects, including the Barginears', whether or not they appeared on land-use documents.
"Because he had a tentative approval, he should have been given a (final approval) that reflected the 12 lots he was given," said Ireland of Dana's office. "But when he went to the Coastal Commission, he was told, 'No.' He was a victim of dual planning requirements."
Barginear and his attorney at the time, Charles Greenberg, say they were assured by a former aide to Dana that the 12 lots would be included in corrections and revisions in the land-use documents a few months later.
However, when the revisions were made, the Barginears' file was mislaid and the opportunity was lost, Greenberg said.
Despite that snafu, county planners assured Barginear that the project would be protected by a "grandfather" law that safeguards previously approved subdivisions.
"We believed in grandfathering and we still do, because there are a minimal number of projects affected by it," said county planner Bob Hoie, who tried to help the Barginear's save their 12-lot subdivision. "The grandfathered projects really would have had very little effect on Malibu."
However, the slow-growth wave was cresting in Malibu. Some coastal commissioners and environmentalists saw grandfathering as a potential loophole that could allow the coast to be overrun by developers with blueprints in hand.