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Lawsuit Targets Tycoon's Golf Course

October 15, 2003|Kenneth R. Weiss | Times Staff Writer

Environmental activists on Tuesday filed a lawsuit to force media magnate A. Jerrold Perenchio to abandon his pitch-and-putt golf course in the heart of Malibu and to stop the alleged practice of discharging pesticides and fertilizer into nearby Malibu Lagoon and Surfrider Beach.

In its suit in Los Angeles Superior Court, the Wetlands Action Network asked the court to require Perenchio to alter the private "Perenchio Park" so that it complies with the state's Coastal Act and wildlife protection laws. The Malibu-based group also asks that Perenchio pay fines of up to $15,000 a day for the two decades his golf course has existed without a proper permit.

"A violation of this kind cannot stand simply because this is one of the wealthiest people in California," said Marcia Hanscom, executive director of the Wetlands Action Network. "We want to stop the poisons and fertilizers that are going into the lagoon, the groundwater and the surf zone."

Perenchio, head of the Spanish-language television network Univision, took issue with the allegations in the lawsuit.

Spokesman Steve Sugerman said Perenchio was being falsely blamed for pollution problems at Malibu Lagoon and Surfrider Beach, which are a result of contaminated runoff from an increasingly urbanized watershed that encompasses 100 square miles and stretches to Thousand Oaks.

"Allegations that fertilizers and pesticides are being applied illegally are untrue," Sugerman said. Experts have found no problems, he said. Even so, he added, Perenchio is willing to take the extra step of installing an expensive system of pipes and holding tanks so that no sprinkler runoff goes into the lagoon.

In 1982, Perenchio received permission from the California Coastal Commission to fashion a jogging track, ponds and other landscaping on the 10-acre parcel next to several houses he owns in the Malibu Colony, a seaside gated community renowned as home to movie stars and other famous people.

But instead of the jogging track, Perenchio built the tiny pitch-and-putt course for his wife, Margaret Rose, an avid golfer. The fairways, sand traps and single large green are hidden behind an 8-foot stone wall; most passersby have no idea they are there.

Hanscom and Robert Roy van de Hoek, a fellow activist, noticed the golf course in aerial photographs and reported it to the Coastal Commission, saying it was not allowed under Perenchio's development permit.

The Coastal Commission began to investigate, and it was considering granting Perenchio a retroactive permit for the golf course when Hanscom and her lawyers raised legal issues.

Worried about ensuing lawsuits, the commission ordered its staff to reexamine the case. Peter Douglas, the commission's executive director, said the staff had concerns that the golf course might not comply with a local coastal development plan for the city of Malibu.

The matter has been postponed until January's commission meeting because of ongoing negotiations to reach a "mutually beneficial resolution," Douglas said, adding: "I hope the lawsuit doesn't become a disincentive for him."

As for the suit, Douglas said the state Coastal Act allows citizen lawsuits to bring about enforcement actions. But, he said, "It doesn't happen that often."

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