A draft environmental impact report (DEIR) surrounding plans for a 146-room hotel in Malibu’s Civic Center came under scrutiny Monday, as three of five Malibu Planning Commissioners said the report lacked clarity. One of the architects for the project argued, though, that his consultants had not been allowed to communicate with the city, leading to several preventable errors.
“This [EIR], to me, it was confusing,” Commissioner Mikke Pierson said. “And I found in my two-and-a-half thorough readings that it kept creating more questions.”
Commissioners questioned disaster preparedness for a site designed to host up to 2,000 guests and visitors. Residents and commissioners also requested more information on daily traffic impacts and the potential for underparking at the hotel, pointing in particular to plans for a four-story parking structure, three stories of which would be underground.
In response to the criticism, Fred Gaines, a partner of hotel developer Richard Weintraub, said their development firm Green Acres had no hand in preparing the DEIR. The DEIR was prepared by AMEC, a consulting firm based out of Santa Barbara and hired independently by the City of Malibu.
That process, he said, may have inadvertently resulted in errors in the report.
“To not let them even talk [to us], you’ll end up with some mistakes, errors,” Gaines told the commission. “It puts us in a position to make detailed comments on our own EIR.”
Gaines argued the DEIR incorrectly found there were significant view impacts associated with the completion of the project.
“The project is not invisible, but from any public view the impact or blockage is going to be a very small percentage,” he said.
A consultant with AMEC attended the hearing and issues raised on Monday should be addressed as the final DEIR is prepared over the coming months, according to Malibu Planning Director Joyce Parker-Bozylinski.
The debate over the hotel DEIR took place during the commission’s regular Monday meeting, where city planners and AMEC sought public feedback on the recently released report.
The Rancho Malibu Hotel Project has been in the works since 1984, and includes plans for a 275,000-square-foot, 146-room hotel on the northeast corner of the Malibu Canyon Road and Pacific Coast Highway intersection, across from Pepperdine University. Plans also call for a four-story parking lot, with three stories underground.
Developer Richard Weintraub expects the project to cost $138.5 million to build and provide 910 construction jobs, plus hundreds more once the hotel is up and running. Hotel designs outline a possibility to host up to 2,000 guests and visitors at Rancho Malibu.
Commissioners Mikke Pierson, John Mazza and David Brotman pointed out reservations they had with the plan on Monday. Commissioners Jeff Jennings and Roohi Stack did not offer questions or comments during the hearing.
Questions over disaster preparedness
Several speakers brought up plans for the four-story parking structure, including Weintraub. He said in the event of an emergency such as a wildfire, his development firm is working to get the structure plans certified as a federal escape area.
“The garage creates an escape shelter,” Weintraub said.
Designs for the parking garage contain 543 parking spaces, but that number could be doubled if cars were “double-stacked” like many restaurants offer with valet parking, according to the DEIR.
Pierson said the close parking could be an issue if an emergency situation arose.
“If you’re going to shelter potentially as many as 2,000 people in the event of a disaster in a double-stacked parking garage, how is it going to work?” Pierson said. “And how are they going to get in their cars and leave?”
Commissioner John Mazza, who has criticized the concept of a hotel at the site in the past, also took issue with the parking allotment.
“How can we handle a 2,000-person hotel with 543 parking spaces?” John Mazza said. “That’s not explained.”
Finally, both commissioners said that a 40-space lot for an estimated 120 employees during a given shift would not be sufficient.
“I have no idea where these employees are going to park,” Pierson said.
Malibu resident and local activist Hans Laetz said he could not find supporting documentation in the report to support the idea that traffic would not increase.
“The DEIR states as a fact that traffic flow would not exceed normal flows,” Laetz told the commission. “They do not explain how that decision was made. We are left to guess.”
Those wishing to comment or submit questions on the report can email them to planner Ha Ly at email@example.com. The full DEIR is available at malibucity.org.