Controversial road proposal heads to Planning Commission

Chili Addiction: Winners of the People's Choice Award John Kovin and Richard Foster, with Mayor Pro Tem Andy Stern and Evanne Levin. Photo by Nora Fleming / TMT

A water treatment facility at Paradise Cove and the restoration of Zuma Creek are also on the agenda.

By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor

There is a new property owner, but the proposal to build a private access road above Sweetwater Mesa is still as controversial as it was when a city government body last voted on it four years ago. The Planning Commission on Tuesday will consider whether to grant a coastal development permit for the construction of a 20-foot-wide, 1,669-foot-long private access road. And many of the residents living in Serra Retreat are not pleased.

The private road would be used to access five properties proposed for large homes on unincorporated Malibu land formerly owned by developer Brian Sweeney. He has since sold the land in that area. At least one of the properties is now owned by David Evans, better known to music fans as The Edge of the rock band U2. Jim Smith who lives the closest to the proposed road said Evans introduced himself recently as his future neighbor. It is not clear who owns the other four sites. The applicant for the road is the planning consultant firm Schmitz & Associates, which represented Sweeeney when he previously applied for the permit to construct the road.

Don Schmitz, head of Schmitz & Associates, could not be reached for comment this week for this article.

The City Council granted Sweeney a municipal permit for the construction of the road in 2004. But this was before the city’s Local Coastal Program dispute with the California Coastal Commission had concluded, and Sweeney was unable to obtain a coastal development permit because the moratorium on issuing them was still in effect. It is the CDP that is now being requested. A temporary access road, which was approved by the city in 2005, currently exists.

When the council approved the road permit in 2004, it attached 33 conditions, including that Sweeney could not build more than five homes and that he could never connect his private road to the road north of it. One of the fears from the Serra Retreat property owners has been that the access road could be connected to Piuma Road, located to the north, if more roadway were later built. This could created the fear of a thoroughfare connecting Piuma Road to Pacific Coast Highway.

Smith, who lives on Sweetwater Mesa Road, says this is still possible due to the complicated series of easements and other deals existing on the properties along the path from Sweetwater Mesa to Piuma Road. He recently released a flyer to Serra Retreat homeowners titled “Ribbon Cutting Opening of Piuma Road to Serra Retreat.”

“This could happen as a result of what is before the Malibu Planning Commission next week,” Smith wrote. Smith also wrote in the flyer about the extensive grading proposed for the five homes on the county property. Those applications are currently pending with the Coastal Commission and call for nearly 45,000 cubic yards of grading. The city has no say over those applications since the properties are not located within the city.

Lawrence Weisdorn, president of the Serra Canyon Property Owners Association, said in an interview this week the proposed grading and other visual impacts are more of a concern for him than the possibility of a thoroughfare being created.

The long road toward a road

The private access road was initially proposed in 1999 by then-property owners Sheldon Gordon and Stephen Vernon. The proposal went through a series of hearings in the Planning Commission and City Council. It was finally rejected by the council in 2002, with the council members citing the fear of a thoroughfare being created as a major reason. Sweeney filed a lawsuit the next year, and a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled in his favor. The judge said the City Council must either approve the permit or make a new decision that followed the law. The proposal returned to the City Council in 2004, and was approved.

Other items on the agenda

Also on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting is the proposal for the construction of a water treatment plant at Paradise Cove. A temporary facility was placed on the property two years ago as part of a pilot program. The plant will collect water traveling from Ramirez Canyon and remove debris, oil and grease from it. UV rays will then be used to disinfect the water before it enters the ocean. Although the facility will be located on the private property owned by the Kissel Co., it will be owned and operated by the city.

Another item on the agenda is the proposal for the restoration of Zuma Creek, which runs along the Zuma Beach access road. A city staff report says the project will correct flood damage and prevent future road flooding of the Zuma Beach underpass that crosses Pacific Coast Highway. The project includes excavation of the creek during the dry season to remove excess sediment, the grading of the creek bank and the removal of nonnative vegetation.