Hotel Plan Killed, Cemetery Proposal Comes to Life

Rest in peace, Rancho Malibu Hotel. We hardly knew ye. 

After years of criticism from Malibu residents and city officials, developer Richard Weintraub is leaving behind 30-year-old plans for a resort-style hotel and focusing on bringing a cemetery, or “memorial park,” to the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Malibu Canyon Road near Pepperdine University.

“I was just getting tired of pushing water uphill,” Weintraub said of his decision. 

Now, he is intent on providing Malibu its first-ever memorial park.

“I thought, ‘Wow, how about a place that you can come and visit, it overlooks the ocean, has lawns across from Pepperdine and will have very small buildings on it,” said Weintraub, who is also a Malibu resident. 

Though he did not provide renderings of the proposal, Weintraub said the only major structure on the 27.8-acre site will be a 1,000-square-foot chapel, with mausoleums and tombstones dotting the grounds. Those of all faiths will be welcome to bury their loved ones at the cemetery, but Weintraub did mention it would mainly “be of the Catholic, Protestant and Jewish faith.”

City planning officials said they have met with Weintraub and his firm, Green Acres, about the idea, but its feasibility is unclear. The city’s local coastal program and municipal code make no mention of cemetery uses, according to Planning Director Joyce Parker-Bozylinski, and those who wrote it probably never had the idea cross their mind.

“Most people would have never imagined that someone would build a cemetery in Malibu,” Parker-Bozylinski said.

There is, however, a section for religious uses, which Weintraub is hoping to categorize this memorial park under.

“His question to us was would we find a cemetery likened to a church,” Parker-Bozylinski said. “…And the municipal code has a part where you can ask for an interpretation of use.”

Weintraub would have to seek the Planning Commission and City Council’s approval for the cemetery to be granted religious use. 

This new vision differs drastically from what was once proposed at the site, a luxury hotel located across PCH from Bluffs Park and across Malibu Canyon Road from Pepperdine University.

Once hailed by proponents as the “single-largest economic generator in the city,” the Rancho Malibu Hotel project was proposed to include 146 hotel rooms, a four-story underground parking structure, 19 two-story secondary hotel buildings, retail spaces, a restaurant and bar, swimming pools, conference centers and ballrooms on 16.5 acres of the site. A financial analysis forecasted the hotel would cost $138.5 million to build, provide 910 construction jobs and generate $48.3 million in annual revenues once built. Weintraub also estimated 300-400 full-time employees would work at the luxury hotel once it was constructed. 

But locals came out in force to argue against the project, citing an unmanageable traffic influx if the hotel reached maximum capacity, and faulty disaster preparedness plans. The most recent hotel plans called for guests to retreat to an underground parking shelter in cases of emergency.

“Every time we would show up at a meeting there were people screaming about not wanting a hotel in the community of any size, even though this was the same size as the Hotel Bel-Air,” Weintraub said. 

The 275,000-square-foot development, in one form or another, had been in the works since 1984. 

In trying to move forward with a cemetery plan, Parker-Bozylinski said a new environmental impact report (EIR) might not be necessary for the project, since a draft one was completed and critiqued last year. Skipping a new EIR could save Weintraub several months in the process. 

“Essentially we would need to revise their existing EIR,” she said. “They have been told that all the technical reports submitted with the hotel project would need to be updated and that they would need to submit new detailed site plans, grading plans … and renderings of the project before we could move forward with revising the project and the EIR.”

If it comes to fruition, a Malibu cemetery plot could fill a void in the local burial business. The two closest cemeteries to Malibu are Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Memorial Park in Westlake Village and Conejo Mountain Funeral Home and Memorial Park in Camarillo.

Thus, when it comes to ideas for new development and business opportunities in Malibu, never say die.

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

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