Pepperdine expansion hits delay at Coastal Commission meeting

0
290

The California Coastal Commission last week granted a one-year extension for its staff to review Pepperdine University’s Campus Life Project, further delaying a decision on the university’s controversial expansion proposal. Commissioners also approved a five-year program designed to remove overgrown plants and restore vegetation areas along a nine-mile stretch of Malibu Creek.

Coastal Commission staff would normally be given 60 days to review the plan, but staffers cited a heavy workload in LA County as requiring an extension to review the expansion plan Pepperdine submitted in August.

“Commission staff, including the Commission’s Staff Biologist, has not yet had sufficient time to fully analyze the proposed changes and its impacts to ensure that coastal resources are protected,” a letter from Deputy Director John Ainsworth said.

The project proposes nearly 400,000 square feet of new development on 365 acres of existing campus land. The development would add 468 beds, expand athletic stadium seating by almost 2,000 to a total of 5,470 seats, add outdoor lighting to the women’s soccer field, build a welcome center and add a nearly 800-space parking lot for the School of Law.

The expansion will result in 48 new full-time positions on campus. According to a staff presentation, construction would be carried out in two phases, during the course of 12 years.

Many of the last renovations of the university took place in the 1970s and representatives from the campus say the updates are much needed.

Despite facing up to one year of delay, Pepperdine officials are hoping for a hearing date on the proposal sooner rather than later.

“We have been working with Coastal staff to respond to their requests since completing the County process,” said Rhiannon Bailard, Assistant Vice President for Pepperdine’s Sustainability, Governmental and Regulatory Affairs. “While the Commission did approve a one-year extension, we remain hopeful we can get to a hearing earlier than that.”

Homeowners in Malibu Country Estates, the residential neighborhood adjacent to Pepperdine’s campus, have expressed worry that the expansion of housing, parking and athletic facility capacity will increase traffic, noise and light pollution.

The project originally received the blessing of the Malibu City Council, but some council members recanted after the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission approved the project last year without requiring the university to pay the City of Malibu to provide for an extra sheriff ’s deputy.

Former mayor Jefferson Wagner said at the time that more event-related traffic and potential additional students on the Pepperdine campus, which lies just outside the city limits in unincorporated LA County, would increase accidents within the city.

In response to the city’s criticisms, Bailard said a traffic study commissioned by the university concluded that adding 468 beds on campus will remove 744 daily trips from the road from students currently living off campus, thereby reducing traffic. This also applies to major events at the basketball stadium, because fewer students would need to make the trip from off campus, she said.

Ainsworth said staff hopes to hold a hearing on the project by April or May 2013, but the one-year extension was necessary in case of unforeseen roadblocks, such as having Pepperdine modify elements in the plan.

Malibu Creek brush to get trim

The commission also greenlighted a proposal by California State Parks and Mountain Restorations Trust to clear overgrown plants, such as giant reed, along and near Malibu Creek.

The project will start at Malibu Creek just north of Pacific Coast Highway near the Civic Center and stretch nine miles to the Coastal Boundary Zone at Malibou Lake. The plan outlines plans to cut down giant reed to 12 inches or less and paint plants with herbicide. Using spray-application herbicide is forbidden.

Overgrown plants have resulted in habitat displacement of the endangered Steelhead Trout species and the area is at risk for flooding and wildfires if overgrown vegetation is not cut back, the staff report on the item states.

The overseeing agencies will be required to track the progress of the project and have a designated environmental monitor onsite anytime workers are removing vegetation.

Email the author at melissa@malibutimes.com