In the developer's dream, celebrities like Arnold Palmer, Bob Hope and others tee off from the 18th hole, enjoying the spectacular ocean views along the Malibu coastline, a tribute to a grand game, the good life and good planning.
In the resident's nightmare, the bulldozers turning over 5 million cubic yards of earth destroy one of the last natural coastal canyons in Los Angeles County, transforming a wild ecological preserve into a private playground of wealthy, cardigan-clad golfers.
The two visions form the battle lines over what Los Angeles County planners call one of the most unique cases ever presented to its commissioners, who Wednesday heard the pros and cons of turning a 339-acre, ridge-lined canyon near the center of Malibu into an exclusive, 18-hole golf course. The project also would contain 60 homes, a 52,000-square-foot clubhouse, six tennis courts, two restaurants, a swimming pool and underground parking.
The proposed $35-million project is located on land recently sold by comedian Hope to a development group, which contends that the golf complex would be a perfect match for a "vital, upscale, sensitive area" such as Malibu.
But local residents and conservationists say the Malibu Country Club proposal would lead to increased traffic congestion and would threaten sensitive watersheds. The Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission, which heard the proposal for the first time Wednesday, must decide whether to allow the project to go forward after further testimony and study.
The residents particularly object to the developer's proposal to move and grade 5 million cubic yards of dirt on the property and fill one entire canyon, with the promise to restore the natural vegetation later and incorporate it into their golf course. They also say that the use of pesticides and herbicides needed to grow vegetation on the property, located between Corral Canyon and Puerco Canyon roads north of Pacific Coast Highway, would endanger plants and animals.
"It takes a lot of years, and not just man's hand, to perform plastic surgery on an area like this," said Frank Angel, president of the Corral Canyon Homeowners Assn., one of the Malibu groups opposed to the project. "The natural beauty of this area doesn't need to be destroyed before being substantially repaired. It's not something that you can recreate."
However, Sidney McClue Jr., executive vice president of Sun Pacific Co., told commissioners that his project offers a chance to preserve more than 90% of the parcel's open space and still provide an attractive recreational facility in Malibu. He deliberately played down the exclusive, members-only nature of the complex.
"Malibu is a specific, unique area and this is a specific, unique project," he said. "Yes, we're doing a lot of grading, but this is a huge site. The way that we're developing it allows the natural areas to be integrated into the (golf) course. We've gone that extra step."
So far, a compromise proposal offered by actor Martin Sheen, Malibu's activist honorary mayor, is not being considered by the developer. Sheen sent a message from his filming location in Canada suggesting that a "more fitting tribute to one of our great citizens" would be to turn the land into a park.
"Mr. Bob Hope, Corral Canyon's former landlord, is highly respected and treasured throughout the world as a truly great humanitarian who preserved the canyon for decades," Sheen wrote. "That he may be rightfully remembered and duly celebrated for being far more than a good golfer and a great comedian, perhaps the Malibu Country Club development project will very generously choose to release their possession of the site to honor Mr. Hope by renaming Corral Canyon Bob Hope State Park."
Instead, the developers hope to persuade county planning commissioners to approve several zoning changes and building permits that would allow them to construct the course, which will use the area's natural vegetation and grasses to landscape between the manicured greens.
The commissioners continued the public hearing on the project until July 12 to allow their staff to respond to questions raised by various state agencies and environmental groups. A final environmental impact report on the project must still be completed.
Although 250 people have written letters opposing the project and another 26 have written in support, only one golfer testified Wednesday to praise the proposal.
"In my mind, golf courses are the most beautiful things in the world," Otis Ellerbee said.