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March 07, 1993|RON RUSSELL

Pepperdine University is a private, independent university with an enrollment of 7,500, including 3,500 students on its main campus in Malibu.

It began in 1937 as a small liberal-arts college in South-Central Los Angeles, founded by businessman George Pepperdine, who earned a fortune as founder of the Western Auto store chain.

George Pepperdine was a lifelong member of the Churches of Christ, and although the university maintains a relationship with the denomination, it is non-sectarian and independent of ecclesiastical controls, in keeping with his wishes.

Today, Roman Catholics outnumber other religious groups on the Malibu campus, and fewer than one in eight students is affiliated with the Churches of Christ. Undergraduates are required to attend a weekly nondenominational convocation.

Pepperdine became a university in 1970. The Malibu campus opened in 1972 on 138 acres overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Malibu's main commercial area. The land was donated by descendants of the Rindge and Adamson families, who once owned the entire Malibu coast.

The university has since come to own a total of 830 acres, including much undeveloped land in the rugged hills above the main part of campus.

The university's presence, and potential for growth, has not endeared it to the community.

Despite widespread opposition, Pepperdine in 1989 persuaded the California Coastal Commission to approve a long-range development plan that would allow it to grade up to 3 million cubic yards of earth.

Malibu's leaders were upset after the university persuaded a Los Angeles County commission to exclude the campus from the city's boundaries before Malibu's incorporation in 1991.

They were also angered by Pepperdine's support of the county's now-discarded sewer plans for Malibu, which opponents had argued would have brought widespread development.

Relations with the community suffered further in 1991 following disclosure that Pepperdine had quietly invested in commercial real estate in Malibu at a time when the university was cooperating with the county to delay cityhood.

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