Pepperdine University has won approval from the California Coastal Commission to expand its law school by 46,000 square feet and build 13 housing units for faculty at its Malibu campus.
A university spokesman said this week that the work to add classroom and library space at the law school will begin next month, and that construction of the faculty housing will occur next summer.
The state panel approved the projects last week at its meeting in San Diego.
Although no one opposed the projects before the commission, Malibu's leaders have publicly expressed their displeasure with the plans, as part of their opposition to Pepperdine's long-range development goals.
"We didn't bother to oppose the projects before the commission because we think the total development plan, which we do oppose, will ultimately be decided in the courts," Councilwoman-elect Missy Zeitsoff said.
Under the university's long-range development plan, which was approved by the commission in September, 1989, Pepperdine will be able to build nearly 1.5 million square feet of new facilities on an undeveloped 72-acre section of the campus and increase its student population to nearly 7,000 by the end of the century. Enrollment now is about 3,500.
The Malibu Township Council, a slow-growth group, and the Malibu Road Homeowners Assn. have filed a lawsuit against the commission to block the long-range plan, contending that the panel failed to adequately consider the environmental impact.
Relations between Malibu's leaders and the university have been strained since Pepperdine successfully lobbied county officials last year to exclude the campus from the future city's boundaries.
Malibu residents voted last June to form a city, but the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has delayed the incorporation until early next year to allow time for the county to start work on a regional sewer system that most of the residents do not think is needed.
Opponents of Pepperdine's expansion plans say they fear the university's growth will ultimately transform Malibu into a booming college town.
They insist that the expansion, which will require grading more than 3 million cubic yards of earth, violates the Coastal Act because it does not include adequate measures to offset an increase in traffic and damage to natural vegetation.
Although university officials say that they have no immediate plans to expand student enrollment, Malibu's leaders remain skeptical.
The elected, but unempowered, City Council two weeks ago formalized its opposition to the latest incremental expansion, saying that approval would jeopardize the new city's ability to implement its own land use plan.
University spokesman Jeff Bliss expressed pleasure at the latest approval, and said that "some progress has been made" in patching up the university's relations with the community.
"We're trying to work with the community to let people see the complete picture," Bliss said. "I would say we're getting more of a response."
The law school and faculty housing proposal marks the second time in two months that the university has won approval of an increment of its long-range plan.
In October, the state panel approved a 6,400-square-foot expansion of the university's Firestone Fieldhouse, which will add several classrooms, women's locker room space, and a small but unspecified number of luxury spectator seats for sporting events.
Although relatively minor, that expansion had also been opposed by members of the Township Council and the Malibu Road homeowners group.
In other matters related to Malibu, the commission:
* Postponed until January a hearing on whether to allow VMS Realty Partners of Chicago and its subsidiary, the Anden Group, to grade 3.8 million cubic yards of earth to build 69 luxury homes in Encinal Canyon. The developers had requested the postponement.
* Approved a developer's plans to demolish a house and build 23 condominiums on a 3.3-acre site at 6432 Cavalleri Road in western Malibu, despite complaints from residents and others that a septic system proposed for the project is inadequate and that the project will worsen traffic in the area.
* Approved plans by Frank Sinatra to tear down a two-story house on Broad Beach that the entertainer bought last month for $3 million and replace it with a 7,000-square-foot home.