New traffic flow planned for Getty Villa

Special to The Malibu Times

Can 400,000 tourists visiting the Getty Villa each year coexist with traffic to and from Malibu? Proponents of the Getty master plan say the answer is yes. They maintain some 60,000 daily commuters will find the traffic congestion eased when the museum reopens in 2001 after its expansion and remodeling.

Changes include a longer deceleration lane for traffic moving west on Pacific Coast Highway, a widened driveway, and an acceleration lane for traffic leaving the museum and moving into westbound traffic.

The California Highway Patrol warned in December 1998 that the addition of an outdoor theater to the Getty museum will greatly increase traffic in the evening hours and boost the danger of collisions. The city of Malibu went on record in November 1997 to say PCH cannot accommodate additional traffic. City Manager Harry Peacock warned an addition of even 3 percent to the traffic flow would exacerbate an already serious condition at morning and evening rush hours. He urged the project be scaled back and the main access to the museum moved off PCH.

A package of Getty proposals approved in mid-July by the Los Angeles Planning Commission breaks the status quo with the neighbors. When the J. Paul Getty Museum opened on the border of Malibu and Pacific Palisades in 1974, it agreed to bar tourist access through a rear gate connecting the property to Los Liones Road, a street of less than a half-mile connecting Sunset Boulevard to Topanga State Park. For 25 years, the Los Liones gate has been used by Villa employees.

The Getty denies Los Liones will ever become a general access gate. Under current plans, buses, along with cars, will continue to enter at the Pacific Coast Highway entrance, but buses will exit at Los Liones. The museum further insists cars belonging to its employees and business visitors should use the gate as an entrance and exit. An environmental impact report acknowledged that an increased use of the rear gate would impinge on adjacent parkland, particularly if Los Liones needed to be widened.

The state of California is grading and landscaping the 20-acre park as a preserve for native California plants. Some 900 trees will be planted in October. On weekends, neighborhood volunteers lop off weeds, move boulders to simulate a creek bed and collect trash generated by Kentucky Fried Chicken and Jack In The Box outlets on nearby Sunset.

Whether the park can retain its tranquil character is an open question. So far the Getty has emerged victorious on other proposals opposed by neighbors. The Getty won approval of an outside amphitheater. It seeks permission to hold 45 evening performances per summer. Citing architectural and aesthetic considerations, the Getty will build a semicircular facility with 950 seats but agree to fill it with only 600 patrons. The museum accepted the use of sound monitoring equipment to measure the volume of outdoor performances.

Community groups proposed the Getty use shuttle buses to bring visitors from outlying parking lots at Temescal Canyon or Palisades High School. The neighbors sought a commitment that the facility be closed during highway emergencies or construction that restrict the traffic flow on PCH. They also proposed carpooling for Villa employees.

The Getty says to avoid gridlock, it will start its performances after 7:00 p.m. and close at 10:30, with all visitors gone from the complex by 11:00. An unresolved issue is Getty’s insistence that the Villa be able to admit “drop-in” visitors who arrive through city bus service or taxi. A zoning administrator blocked such visitors and imposed admission through reservation. The official also set a maximum of only 427 parking spaces. The museum seeks a minimum of 610 parking spaces.

The Board of Zoning Appeals has set a hearing for Sept. 28. If a zoning variance is granted, a challenge may be taken up in the L.A. City Council. Meanwhile, the L.A. Planning Commission is poised to hold an additional hearing before reaching its final decision.

The neighbors react

The neighbors expressed concern that armed with concession after concession, the Getty will simply wait for an opportune moment and push the envelope even further. Barbara Kohn of Pacific Coast Homeowners (composed of at least a dozen neighborhood groups) said the controversy is simply a zoning dispute, with parking as one aspect. She noted no one disputes the right of the Getty Villa to reopen.

In reviewing the history of the dispute, Kohn stressed that the museum began as a residence in a residential neighborhood. The reserved parking system was imposed under a 1974 settlement of a lawsuit filed by Sunset Mesa Home Owners.

Kohn compared the advanced reservation system to that employed by Hillwood, the Washington, D.C., museum and garden that was the estate of Marjorie Merriweather Post. She explained that anyone who walks up to the door should not expect to gain admission.

“Regardless of … how it got there, it is in a residential community,” she said, urging that zoning requirements for the neighborhood be honored. She warned it is unfair to place the onus on the neighbors to police violations by the Getty. With respect to the Los Liones gate, she noted buses often used the road and parked there, even though such activity was forbidden. It was the Getty, she said, that had objected in the 1980s to use of the rear gate for access to the property and insisted that the topography was inappropriate.

Barbara Whitney, the Getty’s associate director for Administration and Public Affairs, acknowledged the Getty is portrayed as a “continually encroaching ogre,” but she insisted the museum has sought to be sensitive to the community. In the past, she explained, the museum did not want buses exiting to Los Liones but some buses were physically unable to turn around and exit to PCH. “Buses operate in their own world,” she said, acknowledging drivers parked their vehicles there simply because it was more convenient than other spots. “We are trying to have adequate parking on our property,” she said, underscoring the need for Los Angeles to approve the master plan.

As for the seating at the outdoor theater, Whitney observed that the city fire department regulations measure a body’s width at 18 inches, but the Getty’s calculations are based on 24 inches, yielding 600 seats. “We will hand out numbered cushions,” she vowed, adding the museum will sign any language guaranteeing no more than 600 guests at the performances. With an estimated 2.5 guests per car, the traffic impact of the concerts would be negligible, she said.

Whitney said opening up Los Liones to automobile traffic would be a major engineering task because the existing road on the Getty property is narrow and steep. For security reasons, the Getty’s preference is not to have visitors enter on Los Liones, she said

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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