State Switches Stance on Edge-y Proposal

U2's The Edge

U2 rocker David “The Edge” Evans is now one huge step closer to building a controversial string of mansions on a cliff face overlooking Malibu, since California Coastal Commission (CCC) staff have suggested commissioners pass the planned residential development at an Oct. 8 meeting.

“They worked very hard to comply with all the conditions that were laid out by the commission and obviously listen to the feedback that they heard at the last meeting,” said property owner spokeswoman Fiona Hutton.

Since first proposing the five-mansion project in the Sweetwater Mesa area above Serra Canyon in 2007 and 2008, Evans’ multiple holdings groups have scuffled with the CCC over plans to build in an environmentally sensitive habitat. The disagreements came to a head in 2011 when Evans and other landowners filed four lawsuits against the CCC. 

But the suits were quietly settled in September 2013, with hopeful developers promising drastic drawbacks in design.

According to Coastal Commission Deputy Director Jack Ainsworth, the proposal remains in violation of the Coastal Act, but lawfully the CCC most likely must allow some kind of development on the parcels.

“That whole area up there is considered to be environmentally sensitive habitat area, so under the Coastal Act, technically it would not be consistent with the policies to protect sensitive areas,” Ainsworth admitted. 

“We find that this is the least environmentally damaging use, a residential use,” Ainsworth said, which under the takings law is a legal land use for the area. He said Evans and his team have updated their plans to the most “reasonable economic use” and the state does not have the legal ground to seize the property. 

Since news first emerged of the Irish guitarist’s development breakthrough, environmental groups in and around Malibu have done a double take. 

“Everyone thought this ‘Edge’ project was either still stuck in the courts or the Coastal Commission had won,” said Mary Wiesbrock, chair of Save Open Spaces (SOS), a Santa Monica Mountains-based nonprofit that advocates conservation of natural scenery.

Wiesbrock wrote a letter to the CCC outlining complaints the SOS still has with the new development plan and urging the commission to hold off on the decision for a later meeting.

“It violates the Coastal Act,” Wiesbrock said in an interview, adding, “so this is taking everybody by surprise that this is being reheard, although they could go back to the lawsuit and continue, it’s put on hold and they’re continuing this supposedly modified development.”

Despite a reawakened opposition, Ainsworth and Hutton also agreed that the development was greatly modified.

“I would say it’s a dramatically different approach to the design and the location of these homes,” Hutton said, pointing out high percentage reductions in total disturbance area, length of access road and house elevation locations.

According to numbers provided by Ainsworth, the access road was planned to be more than 6,000 feet long, but in the new proposal it will measure about 2,000 feet, and the houses will take up 4.3 acres, rather than the original 9.2 proposed acres.

“There are really significant changes from before,” Ainsworth said.

None of these numbers satisfy Wiesbrock, however.

“How would the Irish like a rich American to come along and hang a mansion on their most visited attraction, the Cliffs of Moher?” Weisbrock asked, “This is like some rich American coming and hanging mansions along their beautiful scenic Cliffs of Moher.”