Every neighborhood in Malibu has probably fought a NIMBY (not in my back yard) battle against some project that threatened their quality of life. The battle is usually fought in front of the city council with the neighborhood looking for the council to bail them out. This story is different. It is the story of the neighbors of Sycamore Park when they were faced with a project that would forever change the character of their neighborhood. They tell the story of pitching together to solve the problem and preserve the residential-recreational character of their community in the true Malibu spirit.
It began back in 1972 when the residents became aware of plans to build a high-density, two-story, 27 unit apartment house on the only apartment-zoned lot in their subdivision. Sycamore Park is an overwhelmingly single-family residential hill and canyon area of about 60 parcels reaching from PCH to Winding Way at Escondido Creek. With the conviction that tennis courts and a family play area would be far more compatible with their environment than an apartment building, 25 residents and landowners pooled more than enough money for a down payment on the property. They made an offer, it was accepted, and plans for the Sycamore Park Beach and Tennis Club began in earnest.
The Regional Planning Commission was happy to approve the project, but the Coastal Commission was another story. The property, it turned out, was the number one choice beach access parcel earmarked for future acquisition by the state for use as a public beach parking lot for 100 cars. Now the project became even more urgent, and more residents from the beach and surrounding areas joined the battle.
The subsequent series of meetings, hearings, letters, and trips by local housewives and working owners taking time out from their jobs to plead the case was a familiar pattern to Malibuites. Perseverance and the logic of best land use finally won out after 18 months of dealings with the Coastal Commission as evidenced by this beautiful, successful project.
The pioneers of Sycamore Park Beach and Tennis Club included old time Malibuites: Chris Title (president), Hal Dale (vice-president and construction coordinator), Posey Carpentier (treasurer), and Vickie Toberman (secretary). They formed a non-profit corporation and proceeded to sell memberships to other Malibu, Pacific Palisades, Santa Monica, and Valley residents. Many who owned their own courts or didn’t even play tennis joined simply as an investment or a gesture of support for the environmental project. Memberships, which included ownership in the club, started out at $1,200 (prior to obtaining the contested coastal permit) and were incrementally raised, as permits and construction accrued, to the present price of $9,800. Selling the last two memberships for $4,000 allowed the membership to close at 80 families (although the by-laws allowed 90) with enough funds to complete the construction of three lighted courts, landscape the area and purchase a ball machine.
Two years later, member Martin Stern, designer of the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, drew up plans for a clubhouse with lockers, restrooms, shower facilities, a kitchen, telephone room, and an observation deck overlooking the ocean and tennis courts. They also included private parking for members to play tennis and volleyball, go to the beach, or hike back to the waterfalls.
Members of this unique beach and tennis club enjoy shared equity membership in the project, with each family having one vote in all proceedings and the option of selling their membership at any time. According to the board of directors, all 80 memberships were sold years ago, but periodically memberships become available for resale from members who have moved away. The dues are presently $175 a year and haven’t increased in 19 years because of the prudent actions of its past and present boards of directors.
The members consider this Malibu’s Best Kept Secret and are proud of their accomplishment in fighting a NIMBY in a fair and equitable way to preserve the residential-recreational character of their neighborhood.
Barbara M. Kearsley