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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Packed Meeting Illustrates Strong Local Interest in Hotel Plans

• City Staff and Consultants Hear Project Opponents Vow to Actively Challenge Its Size and Design

                 BY BILL KOENEKER

Dan Gira, the consultant for the Environmental Impact Report required for the proposed 146-room Rancho Malibu Hotel project, was barely out of the starting gate during the scoping session last week when the howls of protest began.
Many of the 60-plus local residents that filled the multipurpose room at City Hall questioned why the city timetable indicated the conclusion of the EIR process during the summer and the first planning commission meeting by early fall this year.
“Nobody is in town in the summer,” noted activist Hans Laetz, who had already submitted pages of written questions for the EIR to consider.
Planning Director Joyce Parker Bozylinski interjected that the city has the ability to extend the time period.
“We thought it would be helpful to have the draft out as soon as possible,” she said.
It did not take long for residents and activists to voice their other concerns, especially in light of the many other Civic Center commercial projects already approved or in the pipeline wending their way through the approval process.
The consultant told the audience that each and every one of those concerns would be addressed in the draft document.
Activist Susan Tellem said the water supply and traffic were two big infrastructure problems. “We don’t have the water. There are traffic impacts, especially during summer beach traffic,” she said.
Fire is the number one problem cited by Janet Flora Katz. “Fire is the biggest concern,” she said, adding, if western Malibu residents were told to evacuate towards the Civic Center, they would run into the thousands of hotel guests in a panic also trying to leave.
Serra Retreat resident Ozzie Silna agreed that traffic was the biggest problem. “We have one road,” he said.
Silna also talked about the construction impacts. “There are 269,000 cubic yards of grading proposed for the hotel,” he said.
Silna ticked off a list of other projects either with approvals or nearing approval.
“There is the construction of the lagoon starting this summer.. The installation of a Civic Center sewer system, the construction of a wastewater treatment plant, the proposed Crummer subdivision, the planned SMC campus, all of this impacts Serra retreat. The La Paz shopping center is already approved at 125,000 square. There is another shopping center proposed Whole Foods in the Park, this hotel. The Ioki plans of the Malibu Bay Company and the Pepperdine sports facility for 5000 people,” Silna said.
The consultant responded by saying they would all be studied as cumulative impacts.
Former Councilmember Jefferson Wagner said he noticed there are plans by the developers of the La Paz shopping center to store a million gallons of water. “There are no storage plans for the hotel. There should be the potential of three million gallons planned,” he said.
 Gira said there is 500,000 gallons planned for storage. “Why is the storage smaller than La Paz?” Wagner responded.
Malibu Knolls resident Steve Uhring said, “The traffic study used by current report is from 2007. The Pepperdine study was in 2008. How can you use a 2007 study? When there is a fire, how are you guys going to get the [hotel guests] out?”
Parker said a new traffic count is being required by the city.
“There are five or six properties coming down the pike. Is there someone to look at all the properties instead of piece meal. Why no story poles?” Uhring asked.
 Chumash leader Mati Waiya said he could not trust any developers. He noted the excavation of soil for a four-story underground parking structure would “go down deep.”
The property contains archeological evidence of a significant Chumash site.
 “At Soka they discovered a 14,000-year-old village,” Waiya said. “We have seen it time after time, the people come here and ignore our cultural heritage. It is also your cultural heritage. We have one shot on this. The project is way too big. Our dead are under your home. We have to stand together,” he said.
Activist Ted Vaill said he remembered when the project was originally approved by the city, it was described as much like the Bel Air Hotel. “It is not like what was developed as the Bel Air Hotel. It is much too large,” he said.
Former council candidate Andy Lyon said the entrance and exit to the hotel is planned on Malibu Canyon Road and would be problematic.
“You are not looking at the big picture. If everything gets built out, we will end up with over 800,000 square feet of development. Forget it,” he said.
Malibu West activist Brian Eamer agreed the project is too big for the site. “It has to have sidewalks [to connect to the beach and the Civic Center]. It is a quagmire. You have to look at the conflict between pedestrians and traffic. What about public transportation and economic analysis, sewage, stormwater runoff?”
Laetz said the hotel does not complement Bluffs Park. “It is walled off. This hotel is a fortress,” he said.
Planning Commissioner John Mazza said, “The real elephant in the room is dispersing wastewater. How to get rid of the water,” he said.
The consultant was asked about the sale of rooms for extended stays. He said there would be a detailed discussion about air space subdivisions to allow for individual ownership under the Malibu code.
At this point, the developer Richard Weintraub introduced himself and began discussing the proposal. Weintraub stressed that he lives in Malibu and, from personal experience, is well aware of fire—having  had to evacuate during the 1993 fire.
“I am really concerned about fire. I know it will be well addressed in the report,” he said.
With regard to traffic concerns, Weintraub said, “I remember in the ’60s, traffic in the summer has always been gridlocked, even in the ’50s. The hotel is not the problem. Malibu gets visited by millions.”
Weintraub said he has “fought like hell to hold on to the property. I’ve fought it becoming a shopping center. I bought it from the Adamson Companies. I am available to meet with anybody.”
Weintraub described the airspace subdivisions as a way to create an opportunity to make the hotel “much less transient because it allows somebody to come and spend a significant amount of time for a stay up to 30 days at a much lower price than spending $3.4 million for a Malibu house. It will be much less than that,” he said. “I don’t know the price. It is not a time share.”
“This is the single largest economic generator in the city’s history,” he added.
Some folks kept asking about the price and why Weintraub did not know a price.
Laetz said the Coastal Act would require Weintraub to provide low cost housing.
Lyon wanted to know if the developer was going to turnaround and sell the project once entitlements are secured.
The proposal calls for construction of a 146-room luxury hotel on a 27.8-acre vacant parcel located on the northeast corner of Malibu Canyon Road and Pacific Coast Highway.
Plans consist of about 274,936 square feet of development (gross square footage)  both for the main hotel building and the 21 detached two-story casitas, which house the majority of hotel rooms. About another 150,000 square feet is underground and is not counted by the city as developed space.
According to the latest project description, the hotel will include such facilities as retail shops, hotel restaurant, sundries store, lobby bar, library, ballroom, meeting rooms, fitness center and spa, pool, pool cabanas and function lawns.
The plans call for drafting a tract map to create an “airspace subdivision” to allow each hotel room, as well as two retail spaces, to be sold individually as commercial condominiums.
The owner of each unit will be limited to staying in the unit no more than 180 days per calendar year with consecutive stays limited to no more than 30 days.
When the unit owner is not staying at the hotel, the unit will be placed into the normal pool of rooms to be rented out to the public.
Regardless of whether the owner or hotel guest is staying in the room, applicable transient occupancy taxes will be charged per night, according to the city.
The project includes the installation of an on site wastewater treatment system facility to serve the project. The Regional Water Quality Control Board has exempted the proposed project from the Civic Center septic prohibition and has indicated it will allow it to move forward with an individual OWTS facility.
The plans include a 82,036-square-foot basement, with a spa and fitness center; and a first and second floor with lobby, retail, restaurant, banquet and meeting facilities, according to planning officials.
The guest rooms and suites are located within casita-type buildings totaling 133,873 square feet. Two swimming pools and 543 parking spaces are planned. A 165,259-square-foot parking structure will house the majority of the parking. The total planned building space is 440,560 square feet.
There is a 10-page synopsis, prepared by a city planner, of the history of the project as it has wended its way through the approval process since 1984.
The staff has determined that the Conditional Use Permit is still valid, but the site plan review has expired and a new SPR would be required to move forward on the project.
“Since the project was never evaluated against the Local Coastal Program (which was certified in 2002) a new Coastal Development Permit from the city would also be required,” stated an in-house planning department memo.
In 1984, a large hotel previously referred to as the Adamson Hotel was proposed and received Los Angeles County approval for 300 rooms in hillside villas, a separate restaurant and a separate community use facility. The Adamson Companies, which owned the land and interests in the plans is no longer involved in the project. The California Coastal Commission approved the permit with 47 conditions, according to municipal officials.
In 1991, the city placed a moratorium on all new development.
By 1995, the property owner submitted a Conditional Use Permit package for a somewhat smaller 250-room hotel complex.
A hotel with 146 rooms was approved by the city. The project, according to city officials, was kept active until 2006 through annual time extensions. Upon adoption of the Local Coastal Program, the applicant was required to apply for a coastal permit.
In  2007, the property owner submitted a coastal permit application for a 146-room hotel.
The city contracted with an environmental firm to start work on an EIR. However, the applicant submitted a letter requesting to withdraw the application and the coastal permit and associated requests was officially withdrawn on June 2009.
In June 2011, the property owner submitted a coastal permit application to the city for the same scope of work purposed as part of the 2007 coastal permit.

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