Coastal postpones decision on Streisand Center Use Permit

Ramirez Canyon residents and city officials descended on the California Coastal Commission en masse last Thursday, asking it to deny the new application that would allow a highly intensified commercial use of the facility formerly known as the Streisand Center.

After two hours of public testimony, the commissioners continued a decision until April.

An October application by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy had been continued to allow its modification. The conservancy refiled in December, requesting a more intensive use of the facility.

The secluded, wooded, residential property, which includes a creek designated as an environmentally sensitive habitat area, was donated to the conservancy in 1993 by Barbra Streisand, with the understanding that it be used as an environmental studies think tank. Streisand’s representative at the commission meeting said she was opposed to this project, and she in fact had her name removed from the center. [See Letters to the Editor, A4.]

Residents who filled a hotel ballroom said intense use of the center for fund-raising by the cash-strapped conservancy is severely compromising the fragile environment of the canyon and creating traffic and public safety issues on the narrow, privately owned road.

Rick Cappell, a canyon resident and real estate developer who has five children, said, “If I were to come before you as a developer and suggest these conditions on residential land, you would put me in a strait jacket. This is a small residential community with a very inadequate road. There is an inordinate amount of traffic in an area where children are playing. There is a potential for overuse of the septic system, leading to pollution of the creek where our children are playing and our animals are drinking.”

In the past, the conservancy was reluctant to even come before the Coastal Commission with an application, and the Coastal Commission was apparently equally reluctant to take legal action against a sister state agency. The conservancy was using the facility for offices and for some commercial events long before it made its coastal application. In October, the conservancy finally applied to the commission for “after-the-fact” approval to convert the five single-family residences into offices and to operate a commercial enterprise on the property.

Area homeowners were willing, according to their news releases, to accept recommendations made by the Coastal Commission staff as a result of concerns over attracting “dense populations of commercial visitors to a site located at the end of a relatively narrow, winding road.” The earlier restrictions on commercial activities included: restricting all functions to 40 participants or less, no more than 72 such events annually, requiring the conservancy to transport guests in no more than seven vans to the site from private offsite parking (excluding the Winding Way Trailhead lot), improving the septic systems and submitting a revised plan for the adequate, immediate evacuation of all assembled guests.

The conservancy then exercised its one-time right to postpone the scheduled November hearing and submit an amended application.

Its December application asks for much more. It wants to convert the property into a public park (Ramirez Canyon Park), the right to hold year-round, small (40 guests or less) events from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., 365 commercial special events (with 150-200 participants), and 260 canyon and guided tours (up to 40 participants).

Another major difference between the two applications is public access.

The October application did not allow general public access to the gated site, nor any public parking or trails with access to nearby National Parks Service lands, staff says. The December application proposes free “interpretive” trails and recreational facilities geared to “disabled and elder groups in conjunction with the conservancy’s public outreach activities.”

Homeowner and attorney Mindy Sheps said, “We’re for public access and information, not commercial use.”

Mayor Carolyn Van Horn, referring to a 1993 promise by conservancy Executive Director Joseph Edmiston of no “public use” of ingress and egress, said, “I thought [the property] would never be dedicated for park purposes. I think it is important that this was the basis of how it would be used.”

Staff analyst Mary Nichols told the audience staff recommended approval because of the added public access component, a Dec. 15 meeting with state and county fire officials, and a Jan. 10 “approval in concept” by county Fire Chief Jim Jordan of an emergency access, onsite parking and “best management practices” plan. Additional problems would be addressed by special conditions.

“I think it is well understood that the residential septic system was not designed for groups of 200,” she said.

George Hoffman, a 28-year resident, said he has seen several fires in the area, notably one in 1982 that burned down to Paradise Cove. “The fire department will not come in until the firestorm has passed,” he said. Even when they do come, people will not be able to get out because it is difficult to get past a firetruck. “Knowing the limited access of that street, are you prepared to accept the risk for citizens if such a disaster occurs?” Responding to a commissioner’s question about the land’s legal status, commission Executive Director Peter Douglas said it is public property owned by the state but not run by the parks department. The conservancy is bound by its charter.

“This has the potential for being a wonderful setting and a wonderful addition to education, but we have to consider the residents who have lived here a long time,” he said.

One commissioner characterized the December proposal, with its 11 special conditions, a “draft.”

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

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