Pepperdine University says it needs to expand its seaside campus in order to be considered in the top rank of the nation's private liberal arts colleges. Malibu activists say that if the school is allowed to grow, it will transform the community into a booming college town.
The long-running conflict resurfaces this month when the California Coastal Commission reviews the university's latest plan to expand its Malibu campus. The commission, which must approve all development proposals in the state's coastal zone, last year rejected the plan after its staff cited "numerous environmental concerns" created by Pepperdine's plan to double its student enrollment and nearly triple the size of its campus by 1997.
But a year of further study and planning revisions has not erased the concerns, and the commission staff is recommending denial of a portion of the university plan to add nearly 1 million square feet of buildings on undeveloped campus property. A staff report released late last week asked the commission to confine all new construction to the 225 acres that Pepperdine has already developed.
Plans for 7,000 Students
The staff also recommends that as a condition for approval of any expansion, Pepperdine set aside 150 undeveloped acres as open space and allow public access to two mountain hiking trails.
The university, which owns 830 acres in the hills between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Monica Mountains, has been seeking to expand the size of the campus since 1982. Pepperdine is asking for approval of nearly 2 million square feet of new campus facilities to house more than 7,000 students by the end of the century. Current enrollment is about 3,200.
Pepperdine wants to build new student and faculty housing, an expanded law school library, a new business and management school, a student recreation center, and an expanded tennis facility. Most of the money for those projects, estimated at $45 million, has already been raised, according to school administrators.
However, the conservative Christian school has yet to win over community leaders, who are still upset that university officials lobbied successfully to be removed from the boundaries of the proposed city of Malibu. Local officials have vowed to fight the plan when the commission reviews it at a public hearing in Marina del Rey on Sept. 12.
Many residents and activists say the university's plan to expand into the open hillside property the college owns would spoil the coastal area's spectacular natural beauty. In addition, the future expansion would require completion of a proposed $43-million sewer system for Malibu that thousands of residents oppose. The commission will review the county's sewer plan at a public hearing the next day.
'Will Overwhelm Us'
"As Pepperdine grows, its overall impact on the community becomes even larger," said Sara Wan, a member of the Malibu Township Council. "If this plan is allowed to go through, they will absolutely overwhelm us. And I think the majority of people in Malibu don't want to see the community turned into another college town."
Wan said that with the influx of new students, faculty and staff, the population of Pepperdine will approach nearly half the size of the estimated 20,000 people now living in Malibu. "And that will just change the whole nature of the community."
But Pepperdine officials say the overall impact will be offset by spreading the development and student population around the campus and by making needed improvements on Pacific Coast Highway and connecting streets.
"I believe we've now demonstrated that it is possible to develop other areas of the campus in a thoughtful and creative way," said Andrew Benton, vice president of university affairs. "But what we've run into is a fairly rigid policy--so rigid, in fact, that any educational facility trying to plan its future would have difficulty."
Coastal Commission staff analysts have objected to the proposed construction in the undeveloped areas of campus, saying the extensive grading required would destroy natural vegetation in the scenic coastal area.
However, Benton said the university objects to the recommendation to confine development within 225 acres because it would make the campus too dense. He said Pepperdine planners have gone to great lengths to revise the university's long-range plan to help it conform with its rural surroundings.
"I think we've demonstrated that we can carry out this plan safely and thoughtfully . . . and I just have to hope that our work will be persuasive to the commission," he said.