The California Coastal Commission on Friday will review a permit extension for a controversial 300-room hotel in Malibu that critics contend is incompatible with the community's "seaside village" character.
The six-story hotel is by far the largest planned in Malibu, and some community groups say it is a key segment of growth plans because it could open the area to widespread development.
The backers of the Adamson Cos. project, including Pepperdine University, support the development, saying that the hotel is needed so visitors won't have to travel to Santa Monica or the San Fernando Valley to find comparable accommodations.
Adding to the controversy is a geological discovery that an active fault exists near the proposed hotel site. When the Coastal Commission approved the planned development in January, 1986, the commission staff believed that all the connecting traces in the Malibu Coast Fault were inactive.
General Motors Site
The active fault was discovered almost a year after the hotel was approved, when geologists found earth movement on the top of a bluff across Pacific Coast Highway, where General Motors had planned to build an $11-million advanced design center. The Coastal Commission recommended that the GM center not be approved, and the American car maker ultimately decided to build it elsewhere.
But the commission staff has recommended that the huge hotel be set back an extra 50 feet from the original site, which geologists say would be far enough from any traces connecting with the active fault. As a result, the staff has recommended that the permit be extended for another two years.
As a condition of the permit, the 265,000-square-foot complex can't be built until Los Angeles County comes up with an adequate sewage disposal system for the coastal area, an issue that is being studied by a citizens committee. The committee was formed after more than 1,000 area residents, property owners and business officials joined in October to oppose an $86-million regional sewer system the county planned for Malibu.
"If it wasn't for the sewer issue, we would have started building yesterday," said Donald Bright, Adamson's planning and environmental consultant. "But it's a Catch-22 situation. We can get permits for the hotel, but we can't build until they solve the sewer question. So we just have to wait."
Pam Emerson, Coastal Commission analyst, called the requirement a "prudent condition." She said there is no way to know if the complex will be able to meet its sewage needs until the sewer question is decided.
The commission previously approved that permit by a 7-4 vote. If three commission members vote against the permit extension at Friday's meeting, another hearing will be set for the project proposal, which will be treated as if it were a new application.
Known as Rancho Malibu Mesa, the complex would include a two-story office building and a restaurant on a 27-acre lot at the northeast corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Malibu Canyon Road below Pepperdine University. Bright has estimated the project's cost as $60 million.
Some of the project's opponents are expected to speak at the hearing, which begins at 9 a.m. at Burton W. Chace Park, on Mindanao Way in Marina Del Rey.
Opposition to Project
"I am emphatically opposed to this," said Leon Cooper, president of the Malibu Township Council, a civic organization that represents about 1,000 families in the community. "The building is out of character with the rest of the community and to build something that large along Pacific Coast Highway is both unwise and insane."
When the project first came up for approval, Coastal Commission Chairman Michael Wornum said the project's design was "fascist in shape," and should not be approved. Several community leaders asked the commission to reduce its size and redesign it to conform with Malibu's seaside village character.
The seven commissioners who favored the project at the time, however, said that the 36 conditions attached to their approval would address all the sewage and geologic concerns.