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'Malibu Days' May Become Agony of the Past for State

Environment: Residents incessantly lobby coastal panel for projects. Bill would force decisions on the city.

September 29, 2000|JAMES RAINEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

They call them "Malibu Days." At the California Coastal Commission, they are the prolonged sessions when state officials charged with protecting the entire 1,100-mile coastline become mired in the minutiae of deck rebuilds, garage add-ons, even bathroom additions for some of the state's most affluent residents.

Coastal commissioners loathe Malibu Days. They always have--saddled with duties that should belong to municipal planning commissioners because Malibu has never gotten around to writing its own coastal development plan.

This year, lobbying by the rich and famous on a series of cases reached a fever pitch. The furious politicking culminated in May, when entertainment mogul David Geffen deployed a phalanx of high-powered representatives, who seemed to draw special handling as Geffen won permission to build a sea wall at his Malibu estate.

When one of the Democratic Party's top benefactors is determined to get his way, it is far from business as usual--the governor must be contacted, his top environmental appointee weighs in and a new coastal commissioner is appointed to ensure a quorum.

Now even state Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) and Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks) have grown weary of the lobbying by Malibu's elite.

The legislators, who appoint two-thirds of the 12-member commission, won approval late in the session for a bill that attempts to end Malibu Days once and for all. The proposal--awaiting Gov. Gray Davis' signature by the Saturday deadline--would write a formal Local Coastal Plan for Malibu and put the city in charge of issuing its own coastal development permits.

"The biggest pain in the ass for the Coastal Commission, and for those of us with appointees on it, are all these people who live in Malibu who want to do all sorts of things on their piece of beach property," Burton said this week.

"I believe the commission spends more damned time on Malibu than they do on the rest of the coast combined," Burton said. "And we've basically had enough."

Burton's bill orders the Coastal Commission staff to draft the Malibu coastal plan by a September 2002 deadline. At that time, Malibu's Planning Commission and City Council would assume authority to review coastal development permits.

The proposal will "let Malibu do their own . . . thing and get us out of the middle of this," Burton said.

Burton said he has discussed the legislation with Davis. But no one is certain whether Davis--whose staff and Coastal Commission appointees also have been buffeted by Malibu lobbyists--will sign the bill, AB 988.

Malibu Opposes Legislation

Malibu leaders oppose the legislation. They concede that the 9-year-old city has been slow to take responsibility for coastal permits. But they contend that a recently elected City Council majority is moving expeditiously to approve a Local Coastal Plan of its own.

"The city of Malibu is never going to give up control of planning issues without a fight," said City Manager Christy Hogin.

But legislative leaders are fed up. The drumbeat of phone calls from Malibu this year was exemplified by Geffen's sea wall campaign.

Records and interviews indicate the intense effort by the DreamWorks SKG studio founder to win approval for a 46-foot-long timber and concrete wall to protect a guest home at his four-lot compound on Carbon Beach.

Geffen assigned two savvy political operators, Andy Spahn and Wendy Greuel, to the task. Usually the duo oversees legislative matters and fund-raising for the studio's chieftains, who give hundreds of thousands of dollars to various candidates and causes. Rounding out Geffen's team was Susan McCabe. The former coastal commissioner and lobbyist has helped many Malibu property owners win building permits.

The high-powered team told state officials that Geffen needed the sea wall to protect the wood pilings that support the nearly 30-year-old guest home. They noted that the wall would merely extend a similar 240-foot-long bulkhead already protecting Geffen's main house and grounds.

But the Coastal Commission's staff has been making a major push to prevent the construction of new sea walls, and even attempting to have old ones removed. Such coastal "armoring" has been shown to worsen beach erosion and remove sands that are supposed to be open for public enjoyment.

Four Malibu homeowners--including the families of actor Lloyd Bridges and producer Irwin Allen--had recently won permission to protect homes without sea walls. Instead, they decided to wrap wood pilings in concrete casings--a strategy that allows for a more natural flow of tides and sand.

The commission's staff and engineers argued that Geffen could do the same, although the mogul's representatives said he would have to tear down the guest house to do so. The staff countered that Geffen hadn't proven the need for a sea wall in the first place, since the home had never been threatened by the tides.

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