Ruling that the security threats associated with super-stardom are not enough to win permission to build a 23-foot perimeter wall, the Planning Commission last week unanimously rejected a request by Cher to approve a partly finished wall around her new ocean bluff compound overlooking Malibu Road.
Cher did not attend the commission meeting, and the people who spoke on her behalf — her architect, a personal assistant and an armed, off-duty L.A. County Sheriff’s deputy — studiously avoided mentioning the singer/actress by name. But they acknowledged the occupant of the prominent, can’t-miss house off Puerco Canyon Road is hardly a secret, and they argued that fact alone justified a tall perimeter wall.
While the zoning code permits perimeter walls at a maximum height of six feet, Cher’s property was purchased prior to the city’s incorporation. The county cleared the parcel for development, including an approval for walls as high as 18 feet.
But recently, a perimeter wall that is as tall as 23 feet in some places was constructed, and that prompted the city to issue a stop-work order and Cher to request a variance for the taller wall.
In arguing for the variance, Cher’s architect, Scott Carter, told the commission that without the higher wall, intruders could more easily trespass on the property and threaten the safety of its owner.
Robert Evans, a deputy from the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station, said members of his department have responded on a number of occasions to reports of trespassers on the property, and he pointed out that higher walls are harder to scale. Armed and dressed in a uniform, Evans spoke as though he represented the sheriff’s department.
“We would support an increase in the size of the walls if it would decrease the number of responses to the property,” Evans said.
But when asked whether he spoke officially for the department, Evans said his supervisors had not instructed him to appear before the commission, and he was there as an acquaintance of the property owner. Commission Chair Andrew Stern drew laughter when he said their meeting marked the first occasion when someone had addressed the commission wearing a firearm.
Stern then asked why security issues for the property were just now being addressed.
Carter said once the house was built, the ease of unauthorized access, especially from the canyon to the west, became apparent.
But Gary Hofman, a resident on Puerco Canyon Road on the opposite side of the highway, questioned how anyone who purchased the site could not have been aware of how visible it is.
“This is a very prominent site … it is extremely public, and it was public from the day it was created,” he said.
Hofman spoke in hopes of persuading the commission to deny the variance, but as it turned out, the commission needed little persuading to do that. With the walls already cleared for heights of between eight and 18 feet, in excess of what is permitted under the zoning code, the commissioners said any increase in height would confer a special privilege on the property owner.
Stern said the commission was not making light of the safety issues for its occupant, but it could not grant a variance because of security problems.
With the only justification for the increase in height being a threat to the safety and privacy of the property owner, the commission unanimously denied Cher’s variance request.
“Celebrities come and go in Malibu, but walls remain,” said Commissioner Ed Lipnick.
Because of the commission’s ruling, the current walls, which were vandalized during the graffiti sweep in the city last week, must be knocked down.