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Coast Guard Housing Plan Causes a Stir

July 19, 1987|GERALD FARIS | Times Staff Writer

A Coast Guard proposal to build housing at its scenic Point Vicente lighthouse has provoked Rancho Palos Verdes officials and the California Coastal Commission, but Coast Guard officials believe that their primary concerns about interference with views of the lighthouse, increased traffic and providing public access can be resolved.

The Coast Guard wants to build 24 three- and four-bedroom housing units at the 18.9-acre lighthouse facility near Marineland at a cost of $2.7 million to provide affordable housing for personnel and their families who serve in the Los Angeles area.

The white stucco lighthouse with its red tile roof--which stands in relative isolation on a point of land--has warned ships away from the dangerous Peninsula cliffs since 1926. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Concern for Visitors

The city and the Coastal Commission are concerned that housing could detract from the ambiance of the distinctive lighthouse, particularly as seen by visitors to the Point Vicente Interpretive Center, a Peninsula history museum immediately north of the station.

They also cite traffic problems that could result from a sharp increase in vehicles at the station. And the agencies want the public to be able to visit the lighthouse, perhaps through docent tours.

The Coast Guard provides assistance for personnel renting private housing, but says it is more economical to provide its own whenever possible.

"We are facing in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area a high cost of living that continues to get higher and higher, particularly for junior enlisted members who have large families," said Coast Guard Cmdr. Richard Davison.

The Coastal Commission rejected the specific proposal submitted by the Coast Guard at a public hearing July 10 at Marina del Rey, but it endorsed the housing concept subject to resolution of traffic, view and access concerns. There will be subsequent commission reviews of the project, which is now in the planning stage.

The project has drawn opposition from the Rancho Palos Verdes Council of Homeowner Assns., which said the historic significance of the lighthouse could be impaired by providing housing for more than the three families now living at the station.

Staffs from the Coast Guard, the city and the Coastal Commission have been working to resolve the problems.

Davison, planning officer for the 11th Coast Guard District, recently told the Rancho Palos Verdes City Council that the Coast Guard will bow to as many of the city requests as possible. He said the agency wants to preserve the scenic view of the lighthouse and harmonize the new residential buildings with the white stucco and red tile Mediterranean look of the city.

Can Do What It Wants

Though the Coast Guard, as a federal agency, could do what it wants with its property, that is not its intention, agency officials said.

"We feel they are willing to work with the city," said Robert Benard, city environmental services director.

Davison told the council the traffic situation still has to be addressed: "We realize that is a problem."

Benard said the city fears traffic congestion where a road to the lighthouse station intersects with Palos Verdes Drive South on what he called a "high speed curve" with an intersection that is not designed for frequent access.

He said the few people who use the station now do not pose a problem, but daily trips by the approximately 50 cars Coast Guard families might own would create a hazard.

Public Access

The city and the commission said there should be regular public access to the lighthouse because of its history.

A key lighthouse and communication station during World War II, its lore includes a ghost story about a woman in a flowing gown seen walking near the lighthouse. She is said to be searching for her lover who was lost in a shipwreck. According to Cindy Woodward, historian with the state Office of Historic Preservation, a lighthouse keeper concluded that the apparition was created by an unusual reflection from the lighthouse's lamp as it rotated.

Davison said the Coast Guard is concerned about safety and damage to lighthouse equipment and has been permitting tours only on an "on call" basis. But he told the council docent tours would be feasible.

Davison said the housing cannot be built before 1990 because it requires a Congressional appropriation. He said the housing may be in a town-home arrangement, or in clusters of two to four units of one or two stories.

While the Coast Guard is working with the agencies, as a branch of the federal government, it can build on its property without their concurrence it if chooses, according to several sources.

No Veto Powers

A Coastal Commission review, to see that the project conforms to the state coastal management programs, is required under federal law, but Jim McGrath, a commission program manager, said the commission's role is advisory and there are no veto powers. "The feds can act on their own," he said.

"Legally, the federal government can do what it wants," said Lt. Cmdr. Michael Barrier, a Coast Guard legal officer, but he added: "The Coast Guard will not do that."

Davison said it is Coast Guard policy to work with local communities to reach agreement on local impact of projects. "We intend to work with the public regardless of what our authority is as a federal agency," he said. "Public opinion is very important to the Coast Guard."

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