Coastal OKs Pepperdine development

OCEANSIDE — By a vote of 6-2, the California Coastal Commission on Oct. 12 gave its approval to Pepperdine University’s plans for a 50-acre graduate student facility, known as the Upper Campus. Discounting environmental concerns, members of the commission said the “footprint” of the project remains the same as a university proposal approved in 1989.

The Upper Campus sits to the northwest of the already developed 230-acre Lower Campus. The expansion will include graduate schools, student and faculty housing, and some 1,300 parking spaces. The university projects the new campus could accommodate up to 500 students. The campus will add 95,500 square feet of floor space to house the schools of business and management, public policy, education and psychology.

Speaking on behalf of Pepperdine, Andrew K. Benton stressed that the components of the upper campus will sit below the skyline ridge. He added that 550 acres of the 830-acre campus will be kept as open space.

The vote of the commission approved Pepperdine’s move to change its Long Range Development Plan. The key was an amendment to grade 4.5 million cubic yards of earth, rather than the 3 million figure approved a decade ago.

A commission staff report unveiled some two weeks ago condemned the plans as involving an excessive amount of land alteration. The report said the magnitude of the landform changes were beyond those ever before approved by the commission.

The staff also urged disapproval of the expansion because it would eliminate an eight-acre stand of needle grass, a rare native grass species. Sara J. Wan, who cast a dissenting vote, remarked the university had declared an open zone but had not designated the land as open space in perpetuity. As for the needle grass, “in my opinion, this is very rare,” she said. “It’s a grassland habitat, not just a clump of grass.”

Trent Orr also cast a dissenting vote. He insisted the commission’s role is to rigorously protect the environmentally sensitive habitat. He urged it was not sufficient under state law for the university to pledge it would mitigate the impact by restoring endangered grasslands elsewhere.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky opened the half-day hearing with the observation, “A university is not like a local 7-Eleven.” He urged the university’s plans reflect decades of planning, including the raising of funds and endowments. “They played by the rules,” he said, describing the university as a “solid neighbor in Malibu.”

Barbara Carey, a coastal program analyst who was one of the authors of the staff report, stated one of the buttresses needed to eliminate a potential landslide was 700 feet long, 300 feet wide and 120 feet deep.

Greg Athergood of the Malibu Road Association said the staff report was compelling and that the true figure of earth removed for grading will be larger than currently forecast. “One-and-one-half million cubic yards is not something we can ignore,” he said. “There are places which should not be developed, and Pepperdine’s Upper Campus is one of the them.”

Mark A. Massara of the Sierra Club denounced the project as a disaster for the Santa Monica Mountains. He warned no amount of education justifies this level of destruction. He pegged the grading effort at 10,000 cubic yards per student.

Pat Healey of the Malibu Coalition for Slow Growth alluded to a high risk of fire. She noted a new road in the shape of a “Figure 8” was added to the project based on fire department warnings, but concluded even with the road change, there is only one escape route from the property.

Malibu Planning Commissioner Ken Kearsley, of Save Our Coast, testified the two to three hundred students could be put elsewhere, including South Central Los Angeles. He said the proposed grading and earth-moving was equivalent in size to the Great Pyramid at Giza. He suggested Pepperdine should erect a sign, “Free dirt, help yourself.”

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

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