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Development, Open Space at Issue

October 30, 2005|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

On Nov. 8, Calabasas residents get their first chance to weigh in on one of the largest construction projects proposed in the 14-year history of the city.

Its 23,000 residents, who live in tidy neighborhoods surrounded by verdant hillsides on both sides of the Ventura Freeway in the western San Fernando Valley, have two measures to decide. One is an advisory vote. The other would protect the city's current open space for 25 years.

On Measure C, residents of Los Angeles County's youngest city are being asked their opinion on annexing hundreds of acres outside the city for a multimillion-dollar spa and resort project. On Measure D, they must choose whether to approve a law protecting the third of the city that remains open space.

"This is about community values," Mayor Barry Groveman said of Measure C. "And although it's not binding, we need to know what our community thinks when it comes to an annexation of property and the kind of issues this project involves."

Malibu Valley Inn and Spa would have 203 guest units -- hotel rooms, villas and executive suites -- along with an Olympic-size swimming pool, conference center, tennis club, two restaurants, a small winery and a few small shops on 152 acres off Mulholland Highway. The rest of the 443-acre property would remain open space.

The equestrian-friendly project would be built instead of up to 81 luxury homes spread over the entire 443 acres in the Santa Monica Mountains.

The developer received county permission 17 years ago to build the houses, but would need zoning changes and a go-ahead from Calabasas to construct the resort, which has stirred opposition from those worried about traffic, increased density and school crowding.

"My concern was that we weren't hearing from the public on this, which is clearly the most important land-use issue the city has faced," Councilwoman Mary Sue Maurer said. "I can't go down the aisle of a grocery store or to my kid's school without people stopping me to give me their opinion."

And those opinions, Maurer said, are on both sides. Some don't like the idea of up to 3,000 more vehicles on narrow roads on weekends, the resulting pollution, and hundreds of new students -- children of the resort's nearly 380 employees -- who may be added to the area schools. Others favor a first-class spa and resort with public access and increased property and bed-tax revenue for the city, an amount the developer estimates could reach $25 million over 10 years.

"I came up with a compromise that I thought was the fairest and best use for the property," said developer Brian Boudreau, a 35-year resident of the area who owns a 30-acre thoroughbred breeding ranch on the site. The ranch would be relocated if the resort is built. "I don't think it's a large group of people against this project, but it's a vocal one."

Boudreau said he would halt the resort project if voters side against him.

"If enough people want it, I'll go forward. If not, we'll turn back to the alternative of the houses. I don't think it's as good for the community or the environment," he said, but added that it's up to voters to decide.

Council members pledged not to express opinions on the project to avoid influencing the election, but other politicians have been vocal.

"This thing has had a stench about it from the beginning," said county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, whose 3rd District includes Calabasas and the adjacent Mulholland Corridor, where residents probably would feel the brunt of the added traffic. "This is ridiculous [City Council members] asking the voters to make an uninformed advisory decision that they themselves could not make. It's an abrogation of their responsibility."

Though Measure C has sparked a spirited campaign, there is no recognized opposition to Measure D, which would protect more than 3,100 acres of open space. If it is approved, any re-designation of the land for other uses would require a two-thirds vote of city residents.

Councilman James Bozajian, who suggested placing the issue on the ballot, said that no local developers have spoken out against the measure and that he has received endorsements from every former councilmember who still resides in the city.

"There's tremendous pressure in Southern California to grow and develop," he said. "I wanted to codify the power of the people to determine the future of growth in Calabasas."

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