Malibu Commission Approves Via Escondido Project; Stalls on Public Art Requirement

The proposed residential development will sit on three parcels of land at the foot of Via Escondido. 

A controversial residential development project in Malibu’s Sycamore Park subdivision was approved Monday night by the Planning Commission in a 4-0 vote.

The project, which includes construction of a new two-story single-family home — complete with detached guest house/garage, swimming pool, and spa — also includes a new alternative onsite wastewater treatment system and a new eight-inch waterline on Via Escondido, as well as a turnaround at the end of the road.

Neighbors complained of its potential effects on aesthetics and infrastructure in the neighborhood, but commissioners struggled to sympathize.

“He [applicant Vitus Matare] has every right as the owner … to use his property; that’s just the way it is,” said Commissioner Jeff Jennings, wrapping up more than an hour of debate over the project.

Close to a dozen neighbors came to Monday’s meeting to express their views about the project, which many see as detrimental to neighborhood safety and aesthetic.

Todd Robinson, a homeowner on Via Escondido, presented a video to the commission.

“As a community, we think this area should be properly developed so that firefighters feel confident they will not be trapped at the end of our road,” Robinson’s video said, mentioning the historic wildfires that have occurred in the area around Via Escondido. 

Resistance came from neighbors who were not comfortable with a proposed LA County Fire Department (LACFD) turnaround at the top of the road. Called a “hammerhead turnaround,” residents fear the proposed addition would tear up the road. They also mentioned they have not needed this type of infrastructure in the past.

But project developers touted the potential increase in fire safety. 

According to the staff report for Monday’s meeting, “the proposed LACFD turnaround design is the least environmentally damaging alternative.”

“The existing hammerhead is a cul-de-sac at the end of the road. We’re not seeking to modify that, we’re introducing new paving that’s on the client’s property,” said representatives for the developer.

In addition, the applicant’s lawyers said the building project will increase water pressure along Via Escondido.

“The water line came on because the fire department said there’s not enough water pressure on this street,” said Fred Gaines, legal counsel on behalf of the property owner.

“I imagine that over time, some, if not all, will choose to hook up to the more modern higher pressure water line,” Gaines added.

Another concern for neighbors was the dedication of a trailhead that came as part of the agreement for the development of the three-parcel property.

Nino Piscella, an area resident, spoke on behalf of several other locals and said that the easement could bring unwanted campers, bikers, and other tourists through the neighborhood.

“The current offer of dedication unlawfully implies the expansion of or otherwise expands the alleged current and alleged current use of the existing existents,” said Piscella. 

Jennings recommended neighbors seek legal counsel before proceeding with complaints.

“It’s an absolute garden variety easement situation, so I’m just trying to give you some advice to save you some trouble,” said Jennings.

Chairman Mikke Pierson agreed.

“I’m struggling to find a reason not to approve it,” said Pierson.

Commission deadlocks on Public Art requirement

The Commission deadlocked 2-2 after discussion of the Cultural Arts Commission’s (CAC) proposed public art requirement, which would compel all new public commercial development in the city to allocate what amounts to 1% of building costs toward public art. Commissioner Roohi Stack, who would have broken the tie vote, was not present at Monday’s meeting.

As part of the proposal, developers could choose to instead allocate that 1% toward the CAC.

“I’ve always been a firm believer that if the people of Malibu want a certain amenity or a certain benefit, they ought to pay for it,” said Jennings, who was firmly against the proposal, adding that he wanted to make sure the Council knew he stood against it. 

According to Jennings, the CAC could easily use the money collected toward its own uses, and likely that is exactly their intent.

Commissioner David Brotman also felt that the CAC could stand to gain from this new requirement.

“It’s all geared to feed more control to the CAC,” said Brotman, “I can see what the CAC is going to become — eventually, they’re going to be the purveyors of taste in Malibu.”

However, Brotman said that it’s more a matter of nailing down the ordinance.

“I’m not against it, but can we do it and how are we going to control it?” asked Brotman.

Pierson disagreed that the CAC’s public art requirement would be all bad.

“I really, really appreciated some of the art that I got to experience” in cities with these types of requirements, such as New York City and Santa Monica, said Pierson.

In the end, Brotman and Pierson voted yes, while Jennings and Mazza voted no, bringing the commission to a stalemate. 

The proposal will next be considered by the Malibu City Council at a later date.