Celebrity newlyweds to build blufftop cottage

James Brolin and Barbra Streisand won the approval of the Malibu Planning Commission Monday to build their new two-story residence on a bluff in Point Dume.

By some estimates, the 28-foot-high house on Zumirez Drive contains a total space of 11,000 square feet, including a detached garage and two basements. The structure will be set back 75 feet from the bluff’s edge. The beach below the bluff is the only one in Point Dume owned by residents of the neighboring street. Neighbors spoke of the danger of landslides and sloughing — problems associated with existing groundwater or excessive irrigation.

Ordinarily, development on blufftop property must be kept 100 feet from coastal scrub. Absent a variance, most of the lot would have been rendered unbuildable.

Architect Robert Schachtman said the basement is needed to store Streisand’s show-business memorabilia. He said the house will sit on caissons and the basements will be excavated without heavy equipment. He also outlined a narrowing of the house that took place in planning and a move toward the streetside of the lot.

Neighbors warned the project is simply too large. Some claimed Streisand may have some commercial or business purpose for the structure.

The plans include demolition of an existing, much smaller home on the site. The plans also include the construction of a new, 6,420-square-foot home with a 4,246-square-foot basement and a new, detached, 429-square-foot garage with a 400-square-foot basement. The new home replaces one that sits within 49 feet of the edge of the bluff.

At a sparsely attended meeting, the commissioners voted 3-1 to approve the project. They accepted assurances from city staffers that the bluff was sufficiently stable to hold the structure. A handful of neighbors claimed the city had failed to give proper notice of the meeting. They testified the typical home in the neighborhood is 3,000 square feet and the new “mansion” will be out of character. City staff described the issue as one of height, and said the structure conforms to its neighbors at 28 feet. The vote to approve included a requirement the house use earth-tone materials to disguise its bulk.

Commissioner Ken Kearsley cast the sole dissenting vote, saying the “well has been poisoned” by the staff’s flawed report. He claimed the staff erred in analyzing the neighborhood to include bluffside areas as far as two miles away, while discounting the immediate neighborhood of smaller ranch homes. “Celebrities come and go and their compounds remain,” he said, paraphrasing a quote concerning celebrity walls in Malibu. The quote is attributed to fellow commissioner Ed Lipnick, who is vacationing in Italy.

Eric Jacobson, the owner of a neighboring property, testified the site is already the smallest lot on the street and it will contain the most house in terms of height and bulk. He warned the city planners ignored the “relaxed rural character” of the street and granted significant variances, including a 26 percent reduction in the size of the front and side yards. He called for changes in the plan including “less excavation and less risk” to the beach.

“I worry about mansions going up one by one and having it look like Orange County,” said neighbor Gayle Tyerman, who lives across from the property. Calling for a deed restriction securing a commitment to a residential purpose, she claimed it was common knowledge the applicant’s last home was used as a site for film editing. “This applicant’s history precedes her,” she said.

Commissioner Jo Ruggles dismissed Kearsley’s criticism of the staff as “grandstanding” — an apparent allusion to his race for City Council in the April 2000 election. She questioned whether special conditions should be attached to this home application, rather than change the zoning code prospectively to deal with underlying problems.

Although she cast a vote to approve, Commissioner Charleen Kabrin questioned whether the house will add to groundwater problems. She claimed, based on her observations on the day of the hearing, water seeps from the bluff onto the beach below and the source is uncertain. She questioned whether the approval should be delayed pending additional study on whether the seepage or “daylighting” stems from excessive irrigation, or from groundwater. The “gut level concern,” she said, is that seepage encourages vegetation to grow along the sides of the bluff, thereby undermining its stability. “I’m uncomfortable without knowing more. I need to know that this was considered.”

Planning Chair Andrew Stern said no one can argue a water problem stems from this one property. “I have to rely on the professionals,” he said, endorsing the staff reports.

City planner Craig Ewing warned of “unequal treatment” to these applicants and said policy changes should be effected through zone text amendments.

Kearsley discounted concerns about the basement, and said for purposes of the Planning Commission’s inquiry, if you can’t see the basement, it’s as if it’s not there.”

Glenn Michitsch, an assistant to the city’s planning director, pegged the new home at 6795 square feet. He said the average figure for blufftop residences was 5,337 square feet and therefore “close enough that the neighborhood character has been preserved.”

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

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