Coastal to review Steisand Center use permit

Ramirez Canyon residents say they’re fed up with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and they aren’t going to take it any more.

The homeowners plan to descend en masse on the California Coastal Commission meeting today (Thursday) to try to convince the panel to deny the conservancy’s application for more intense commercial use of the Streisand Center.

The secluded residential property, with its five houses, was donated to the conservancy by Barbra Steisand in 1993 with the stipulation that it be used as a think tank for environmental studies.

But after the conservancy moved its offices from Solstice Canyon onto the Streisand property, things have taken a different course, residents say, and intense use of the center for fund-raising is severely compromising the fragile environment of the canyon and creating safety issues on its narrow road.

Recognizing there might be multiple problems with the site, shortly after the conservancy took over the property, the state Finance Department issued a memorandum stating state funds could not be used to support the facility, said attorney Mindy Sheps, a Ramirez Canyon resident.

“The conservancy’s take on that was they needed to generate money from the site to support themselves,” Sheps said. “They realized early on they couldn’t afford to run it as a small think tank. They should have recognized they had a white elephant and sold the property.”

The conservancy applied to the Coastal Commission for “after-the-fact” approval to convert the five single-family residences into offices and to operate a commercial enterprise on the property.

Coastal’s staff submitted its recommendations in October for the panel to consider at its November meeting. Staff recommendations included: restricting all functions to 40 participants or less, no more than 72 such events annually; requiring the conservancy to transport guests in no more than seven vans to the site from sufficient private offsite parking (excluding the Winding Way Trailhead lot); and improving the septic systems and submitting a revised plan for the adequate immediate evacuation of all assembled guests.

Coastal then exercised its one-time right to postpone the scheduled November hearing, allowing the conservancy to submit an amendment to its Coastal Permit Application Dec. 8 (one year after its original application), asking for the right to hold 365 small (40 guests or less) events; 365 commercial special events (with 150-200 participants); 260 canyon and guided tours (40 or less); to convert its six residential lots to a public park and implement a Recreational Transit Program.

Coastal staff issued a revised report Dec. 22. Residents say they were appalled to learn of the staff’s reversal and of the escalation in the proposed use of the property.

Staff countered it now has more information regarding health and safety issues, such as fire and septic capacity. The center, however, does not meet even minimum county fire requirements for public events, and the septic system, which the conservancy acknowledged was woefully inadequate even for residential purposes, has not been improved.

“Regrettably, the conservancy has been aware, since at least 1994, that its septic systems leached into the adjacent blue-line stream,” said Sheps. The conservancy, in its amended application, says it will install three portable toilets.

The larger issue, opponents say, is the Revised Staff Report failure to discuss Coastal Act Section 30250, which requires that: “commercial development be located within, contiguous with, or in close proximity to existing developed areas able to accommodate it.”

“The commission would never approve this use if an ordinary developer were the applicant because commercial uses are too intense for this rural-residential environment and the risks too great,” said Sheps, who estimates the new plan would generate 168,500 vehicle trips per year more than the number generated by the property’s five single-family homes.

In an attempt to put the project in context, Sheps notes as the property is zoned for one house per five acres, the project exceeds by 840 percent the intensity of use permitted under Malibu’s zoning code and Malibu’s land use plan.

In the absence of a Local Coastal Plan — Malibu has never completed its plan though a city commission, chaired by Lucile Keller, has been working on a Local Coastal Plan for years — applications go to the Coastal Commission.

Ruth White, president of the Ramirez Canyon Homeowners Association, said the group has filed a lawsuit against the conservancy for “overburdening the road.” She said conservancy Executive Director Joe Edmiston requested postponement of the coastal hearing. “Around Christmas time, he called his rubber-stamp board to a meeting on the creation of a new Ramirez Canyon Park. Nobody asked us if we wanted to be a park.” Edmiston was unavailable for comment as of press time Tuesday.

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

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