The Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission on Wednesday ordered completion of a final environmental impact report on a controversial project to transform a 340-acre Malibu canyon into a private 18-hole golf course and country club.
The project was widely attacked at Wednesday's hearing by environmental consultants and homeowners groups who want to preserve the wild area. Local conservationists say the Malibu Country Club proposal would threaten sensitive watersheds, destroy wildlife and vegetation, and worsen traffic congestion.
However, at least two planning commissioners, Paul Robinson and Lee Strong, said they favor the project, especially if the final environmental study, prepared by consultants to the developers, answers critical questions about sewage disposal and parking. That report is expected to be presented to the commission Aug. 17.
"I think some serious thought has gone into it, and I think it's a good project for that area," Strong said.
The $35-million project, if approved, would allow grading of more than 5 million cubic yards of earth and the construction of 60 homes, a 52,000-square-foot clubhouse, six tennis courts, two restaurants, a swimming pool and underground parking. It would be located on land recently sold by comedian Bob Hope to the Sun Pacific Co., a development group, which contends that the exclusive golf complex would be a good use for the upscale Malibu area.
Several environmental consultants hired by the Corral Canyon Homeowners Assn. disagreed during the three-hour public hearing Wednesday. They said that the development would irreparably harm several environmentally sensitive wildlife habitats and that the proposed use of pesticides would threaten drinking water supplies. And they said not enough study has been done at the site, which is in a landslide area and is crossed by the Malibu Coast Fault.
"It is a fantasy to even think that you could restore the area to its natural state," said Rudi Mattoni, a population biologist. The developers have said they plan to restore natural vegetation and wildlife once the golf course is built.
The site, between Corral Canyon and Puerco Canyon roads north of Pacific Coast Highway, has been sought by the National Park Service for inclusion in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. However, insufficient funds and the developers' wish to pursue the golf course project have blocked acquisition plans.
Sidney McClue Jr., executive vice president of Sun Pacific, told commissioners that the project offers a chance to preserve up to 95% of the project as open space.
"Golf course management is an extremely sophisticated science today," he said. "We will avoid significant impacts to vegetation, water and wildlife."
McClue downplayed the impact of the vast amount of grading proposed at the site, saying the commissioners should "look not at each individual part . . . but at the sum of the parts."
However, Commissioner Betty Fisher said the panel needs to consider the large scope of the project, its impact on traffic and sewage and whether it is consistent with the lland use plan for Malibu.
"This is a huge project, and we might as well admit as much," she said. "We just can't put that aside. And we'd better be very, very sure that if we approve this project, all of these important questions are answered."