City weighs in on Pepperdine upper-campus development

The city of Malibu is very unhappy with Pepperdine University’s proposed 50.4-acre upper-campus development in Marle Canyon, just northwest of the campus. Although Pepperdine is outside city limits, the city controls infrastructure and resources affected by the project and, therefore, was one of 12 government agencies notified of the development. In an 18-page letter to the Los Angeles County regional planning department last week, read during the public comment period on the university’s Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR), city Planning Director Craig Ewing outlined the city’s concerns.

In addition, council members Walt Keller and Carolyn Van Horn, members of the council’s Land Use Subcommittee, will submit their own letter to the council.

“The city is very concerned that the proposed project results in numerous environmental impacts for which adequate mitigation measures cannot be found,” Ewing summarizes. “The city has also concluded that further work is required to adequately depict the future environmental condition of this proposal. More analysis and a greater and more meaningful exploration of mitigation measures is needed, as described in this letter,” he says.

In a telephone interview before Monday’s City Council meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Keller said he and Van Horn were drafting a very strongly worded letter basically describing the project as an urban enclave in a rural environment. Van Horn was more specific with her comments Monday morning. “There are areas which cannot be mitigated and which will have significant impact,” she said. There will be “destruction of the wildlife corridor,” a claim that even Pepperdine acknowledges.

The potential loss of habitat in the Santa Monica Mountains “remains significant,” even with the maximum specific mitigation measures, the DEIR says in its summary of cumulative impacts.

On surface drainage, flooding, surface water quality and groundwater cumulative impacts, which the DEIR describes as “less than significant,” Van Horns said, “We know what will happen with the [county] drains. They crack. It just means the stuff will go out into the ocean.”

Ewing’s letter recommends that the EIR compare “previous versus post-development flows based upon 100-year clear flow storm events rather than on a 50-year burn and bulk methodology.” He also says that the PCH and Malibu Road culverts should be evaluated for adequacy based on the 100-year clear flow storm event.

On traffic concerns, which include four pages of city Public Works Director John Clement’s comments, Ewing said the city can apply more stringent criteria than the county’s “Congestion Management Program.” He specifically addresses concerns at six intersections: PCH and John Tyler; PCH and Webb Way; PCH at Las Flores Canyon; Malibu Canyon Road and Civic Center Way/Seaver Drive; Civic Center Way and Webb Way/Stuart Ranch Road; and Mulholland Highway at Las Virgenes.

Ewing said the university failed to come up with a mitigation measure to meet the city’s standard at PCH and Las Flores Canyon. He also said the university’s proposed mitigation measure at Civic Center Way and Webb Way/Stuart Ranch Road, a two-phase traffic signal interconnected to the signal at the intersection of Webb Way and PCH, should not be approved.

The DEIR was submitted for public comment last month under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which requires that the potential environmental effects of a project be fully disclosed before construction begins. The EIR should indicate how a project’s significant effects can be reduced or avoided through the use of mitigation measures.

Although the upper campus development is part of the university’s Long Range Development Plan, which the county approved eight years ago, CEQA requires that an EIR identify a “reasonable range of alternatives to the project” and determine what environmental effects would result from alternatives and whether the alternatives would meet the project objectives, the DEIR says.

If the county approves the project despite unmitigated environmental impacts, CEQA requires the county “state in the record the overriding considerations for approving the project prior to the approval and implementation of the project,” the DEIR notes.

The county is expected to make all responses to environmental issues available for review at least 10 days prior to the final public hearing.

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

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