Surprised council continues Sweeney Road project

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The council said it was unaware developer Brian Sweeney had an application to build five homes on his county property, while applying for an access road through

the city.

By Jonathan Friedman/Staff Writer

Claiming it was caught off-guard by Brian Sweeney’s true plans for his unincorporated Los Angeles County property that is located just outside of Malibu, the City Council Monday night chose to wait two weeks to decide whether to grant Sweeney variances so that he could build a 20-foot-wide, 1,660-foot-long private access road connecting the end of Sweetwater Mesa Road to five parcels of undeveloped mountain property he owns above Sweetwater Mesa.

During the council meeting, Sweeney’s representatives, and those who were opposed to him being granted the variances, said the county had already granted Sweeney an approval in concept for the construction of five homes on his property. Sweeney’s planning consultant, Don Schmitz, said it was known since the beginning that it was his client’s intention to build five homes. The councilmembers said they were unaware of this.

“The last I heard, Mr. Sweeney wanted this just for his home he was going to retire to,” Mayor Sharon Barovsky said. “Now there are five wonderful homes he’s going to retire to.”

However, a city document obtained by The Malibu Times from 2001 states that the purpose of the road would be to “service five, future single-family residences” on Sweeney’s property.

The council had already denied granting Sweeney a permit in 2002 to construct the road, which needed variances because the applicant said it required more grading, higher retaining walls and construction on slopes greater than the municipal code allows. Sweeney said he needed the variances in order to construct a road that was large enough to meet the minimum safety standards required for emergency vehicle access. But nearby residents argued that the access road could eventually connect to Piuma Road, located north of the property at the top of the mountain, thereby creating a thoroughfare through the private streets in the area down to Pacific Coast Highway. They also said Sweeney might be able to build a large number of homes on the property, further congesting the area. The neighbors demanded that an environmental impact report be conducted prior to granting an approval for the road.

Sweeney later sued the city, and earlier this year, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins ordered the council to either approve his application for the variances or conduct further proceedings and render a new decision. The city and Sweeney were ordered to appear in court on July 19 to tell the judge what has occurred since her decision.

A number of local residents came to Monday’s meeting to voice their concerns. But Schmitz said the speakers were stretching the truth, and envisioning things that could never occur.

“This endless speculation has got to stop at sometime,” Schmitz said. “That was the basis for calls for environmental impact reports and denials ad nauseam from this council. These claims are not supported by credible evidence.”

All the councilmembers said they could not approve the permit for the road without knowing much about the planned construction for the homes. They asked that staff come back at the June 28 meeting with information about the county approvals.

Budget approved

Also at the meeting, the council finalized its approval of the 2004-05 fiscal year budget, which begins July 1. The budget includes $15,196,753 in General Fund revenues and General Fund expenditures of $14,200,371. Most of the budget was approved in concept at the May 24 meeting, including the donation of $155,000 to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. At Monday’s meeting, the council also voted to add a staff member to the city who would be put in charge of the senior center. A combination of a Parks and Recreation Department staff member and some part-time city employees currently run the center.

Additionally, the council voted to have City Attorney Christi Hogin meet with a Santa Monica College committee to discuss possibilities of how bond money would be spent in Malibu if a college district bond measure was approved in November. Last week, the SMC Board of Trustees reviewed a proposal for a $175 million bond measure to be placed on the ballot. Next month, it is expected to determine whether the measure will be placed on the ballot. The bond money would be used for a variety of capital projects in the college district, including possibly the construction of an educational facility in the Malibu Civic Center area. The college district proposed that the city and the district would purchase the property on which the facility would be built through a joint agreement.

The council also heard a presentation on a yearlong study conducted to determine the risk assessment of water treatment systems in high priority areas in Malibu. This report is still in draft form, and it was also presented to the Wastewater Advisory Committee last month. The public comment period for the draft ends on July 12, at which time work will begin on writing a final document.