It is an epic struggle, even by the standards of Malibu, where the cost of a mere spite fence can exceed the price of a single-family home in less lush environs.
This time, the fight involves not just commonplace things--like huge sums of money--but more valuable, if less tangible, commodities: power, influence and the stuff that comes with them. Contentious little Malibu's latest controversy involves Mayor Richard Riordan and his wife, along with a couple of their very richest friends. They're opposed by some of Hollywood's historic figures, along with a would-be home developer and some local activists. Between them, the two sides have hackles raised high in Southern California's toniest beach town, an incorporated city that sits up the coast at the western edge of Los Angeles County.
The unenviable task of sorting it out falls today to the Coastal Commission, which will consider the strongly held views on both sides of the flap.
The conflict started conventionally enough. Trusts established by billionaire Eli Broad, television magnate Haim Saban and Nancy Daly, Riordan's wife, picked up six Malibu parcels from Pepperdine University and set out to demolish the houses that stood on them and then to replace them with three larger homes.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday April 25, 2000 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 3 Metro Desk 3 inches; 76 words Type of Material: Correction
Malibu property--As a result of an editing error, a Times article on April 12 misstated one aspect of a series of property transactions in Malibu involving billionaire Eli Broad, television creator Haim Saban and Nancy Daly-Riordan, wife of Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan. The article stated that those friends purchased a set of lots from Pepperdine University in order to build houses in Malibu. In fact, the only property purchased from Pepperdine was an 80-foot stretch of beach; the other parcels were purchased from different owners.
Given the size and configuration of what they had in mind, that meant cutting off the view of the ocean from Pacific Coast Highway. The Coastal Commission begged to differ, and demanded that each of the three home sites--which average about 100 feet along the highway--include 20 feet of "view corridor."
That didn't sit well with the trio. Broad, for instance, envisioned a house designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Richard Meier, the man behind the Getty Museum, and understandably was not happy with the idea of his landmark home constrained by a corridor so that passing motorists could glance at the water as they shot by at 50 miles an hour.
So Broad and his friends made the Coastal Commission an offer: If the panel would let them cut off the ocean views around their homes, they would buy an 80-foot stretch of a nearby beach and protect it from development. Their argument: The Riordans, Sabans and Broads would get their houses, and the public would not only get more view--in many ways, a better view, since it would be in one chunk rather than three 20-foot intervals--but also public access to that beach.
That was all well and good for them, and it satisfied the Coastal Commission staff. But for the neighbors who live near the beach, it was no good at all. Why, they asked, should their beach be made more accessible to the public just so their famous and powerful would-be neighbors wouldn't have to put up with anyone looking over their shoulders at the sunset?
And, this being Malibu, the neighbors who complained--though not necessarily of the stature of a big-city mayor and a couple of business titans known for their political savvy and lavish contributions to candidates and causes--are no slouches.
One, for instance, is Freddy Fields, a legendary Hollywood agent who founded Creative Management Associates and later served as president of MGM.
"This is a ramrod job," Fields said Tuesday. "It's totally immoral to take your problem and dump it on someone else. That's what they're doing."
Broad declined to comment on the flap, as did Riordan.
Meanwhile, Malibu's abuzz. Some residents learned about the proposal in recent months; more discovered some of the details last week when the local paper, the Malibu Times, carried a story about it.
"You know the expression 'hopping mad?' " one local real estate agent asked. "That's what you have here."
Lou Adler--a renowned record producer who grew up in Boyle Heights and handled such recording artists as the Mamas and the Papas, Carole King and Sam Cooke--seconds that emotion.
"What these people are doing is not nice. It's rude," he said. "And it's really rude to the people who live out here all the time, not those who just come out for a few weekends a year."
Adler lives two doors away from the site that would be preserved to clear the way for the Riordans and their friends to maximize their home sizes. He and others argue that not only is it wrong for Riordan, Broad and Saban to duck the view-corridor requirement, it is doubly ill-advised for them to have picked the property they did.
That's because Adler and other local residents say the proposed site is on a dangerous curve with no beach parking.
"I'm fearful that some kid is going to get hurt trying to cross the street to get to this beach," said Richard Gitlin, an independent film producer who lives in Malibu. "The mayor and the others are just asking for hatred from everyone. Someday, someone is going to get hurt, and then everyone is going to say: 'This is what you guys did because you wanted to enlarge your properties.' That'd be blood on their hands."