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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Publisher’s Notebook:

• Malibu Teeters on the Edge •

BY ANNE SOBLE

It seemed as if almost everyone in Malibu had their handhelds, laptops and other computers tuned to CAL-SPAN last Thursday to watch the live streaming of the California Coastal Commission hearing on the controversial Sweetwater Mesa project associated with U2 guitarist David Evans, aka The Edge. Those whose day jobs precluded live monitoring of the controversy indicated they would catch up with the fireworks after the replay video was posted on the CCC website.
The quote that summed up the opposition to the project came, not surprisingly, from the CCC executive director, who said, “In my 38 years, I have never seen a project as environmentally devastating as this one.”
The primary counter-quote was from Evans’ chief land use consultant, “There is nothing these property owners can do that they haven’t already done.”
The consultant’s opinion may be genuine, but it’s difficult to think there was that much cognitive dissonance between the perceptions of the phalanx of expensive consultants and the wording of the state’s Coastal Act and the CCC staff reports on the project.
There was a lot more that could have been done to make Evans’ and his non-partners’ proposal more acceptable to being modified to a point where there was a chance for approval of an alternative project.
First, the unity-of-interest, single control issue is no small matter. The applicants should have jumped at the chance to provide copies of all of the publicly inaccessible Delaware documentation (certified to assure validity) related to the parcel transactions. If the owners of the five parcels have complete control of the land, such as being able to sell their parcel without Evans’ approval and other constraints, this would have facilitated applying for five separate development permits.
Without this documentation on ownership and control of the land, Evans’ personal statements to commissioners that it is “his” project, and the media interviews in which he indicated that two of the houses were “spec,” the sale of which were to finance his own “Leaves in the Wind” dwelling, raise too much doubt. Despite the seemingly unlimited budget for attorneys, expediters, PR firms, websites and other media, and “public benefits” packages, Evans has been quoted as saying he involved others in the project because he couldn’t afford to do it alone.
Second, there should have been an effort to move all allowable structures from the ridgeline. No one is entitled to the best possible view, if it is at the expense of the public’s interest in open space and view protection. The owner(s) would still have spectacular views; they just might have to walk a few yards to get to them. An environmentalist of Evans’ conviction should be able to relate to that.
Third and fourth would have entailed scaling back the footprints of any allowable structures, as well as the grading for a road required to access them. Fifth and sixth would have required appreciating the potential impact of whatever water system is planned and providing assurances that environmentally sensitive habitat areas would dictate infrastructure plans.
When eight members of the Coastal Commission voted against the proposal, they articulated the reasons Californians went the legislative route to try to keep their priceless natural resources from being developed into oblivion.
However, there was one questionable note at the meeting: a commissioner injected "God's intentions" on whether all mountaintops should be developed (and later could be heard sotto voce, asking whether another commissioner "was making fun" of this comment); and a different commission member said of Evans' intentions, "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions." The commissioners should eschew theology and stick to the Coastal Act.
The CCC’s final determination on the project may wind up in the courts. But, irrespective of what does or does not happen if the matter goes the legal route, the environmental character of the proposed development—its size, where it is located and how it is situated—and the environmental resolution of the people behind it is no longer taken for granted.

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