The Streisand Center for Conservancy Studies has been doing such a booming business renting out its facilities for weddings, retreats and tours, Ramirez Canyon residents say they can not remember a weekend when catering trucks did not lumber up and down Ramirez Canyon Road, or vans did not shuttle guests on and off Barbra Streisand’s former estate. But while the functions may be lucrative for the Streisand center, they may also be in violation of state and local laws.
Streisand donated the estate to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy in 1993 on condition that part of it house the Center for Conservancy Studies, to serve as a sort of think tank on environmental issues.
But residents say the Streisand center now functions as a “full scale commercial catering facility.” It advertises in wedding planning guides. Its flyer indicates that, for a $6,000 fee, space is available for weddings with up to 200 guests. It also permits amplified music, and guests may stay on the grounds until 10 p.m.
In this capacity, residents say, the center violates the state’s Coastal Act because it did not obtain the Coastal Commission’s permission to operate in such a manner. Under the Coastal Act, any change in intensity of use of land within the coastal zone requires a permit issued by the commission.
Jean Anderson, who lives next door to the estate, said with the shuttle vans bringing visitors to the estate, weekend after weekend, residents had more privacy when Streisand lived there. “And we had looky-loos then,” she said.
Residents say use of the center by outside groups has become so frequent, they banded together to demand that the commission force the center to submit to the permitting process. Resident and attorney Mindy Shep drafted a letter to the commission two weeks ago. “[We] got together and said, ‘We can’t tolerate this any longer,'” said Shep.
Anderson said traffic jams at the gate leading to Ramirez Canyon Road are commonplace on weekends. One Sunday morning, a flower delivery truck blared its horn at 7:30 to get through the gate.
“I’m so tired of not having a quiet Saturday and Sunday,” said Anderson.
Three weeks ago, a single catering truck took out a support beam on Ramirez Bridge, broke the motor on resident Lee First’s automatic gate, and so badly injured one of his sycamore trees, it had to be chopped down. First said he is usually out at 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights to help guide the catering trucks out through the narrow, private road.
Laurie Collins, staff attorney for the conservancy, said renting out the center’s facilities is not an increased intensity of use under the Coastal Act, because the catered functions do not involve an increase in the number of automotive round-trips to the property, compared with the number of trips made when Streisand owned it. Without an increase in the number of car trips, Collins said, the intensity of the land use has not increased, and, therefore, a permit is not required.
“We compared our use to Ms. Streisand’s,” said Collins. “We kept our use consistent with her use, so we did not trigger the Coastal Act.”
Collins said because the 22.5 acres is subdivided into six lots for six homes, 60 round-trip car trips are permitted per day. She said the center only permits 15 trips per day.
But Gary Timm, district manager in the Ventura office of the commission, said any change in the use of land within the coastal zone requires a permit. “A change from residential to commercial use would require a permit,” he said. Timm said the residents’ complaint has been referred to the commission’s enforcement unit.
The center is not only feeling pressure from neighboring residents and the commission. City Attorney Christi Hogin notified Collins and the conservancy of the city’s position that the catered functions violate local zoning laws because a temporary use permit has not been obtained for any of the events. In a July letter, Hogin noted while state agencies are normally exempt from local zoning laws, they are not when events taking place on their property are not associated with the mission of the state agency. Hogin said the city’s position is that the private, catered events are not associated with the agency’s mission.
Collins said the conservancy’s position is that the functions are consistent with its mission because the funds raised by the events are used to fund the studies at the Streisand center. And consequently, Collins said, the conservancy, as a state agency, is not required to follow local zoning laws. “We are sovereign to the city of Malibu on zoning,” said Collins.
Hogin could not be reached for comment, but in her letter she threatened a lawsuit if the conservancy continues to rent out its facilities without a temporary use permit.