Equestrian center wins coastal case


Malibu Valley Farms was partially burned in a fire; after beginning the rebuilding process, the owners were told they needed a coastal permit.

By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor

Despite its staff recommending against it, the California Coastal Commission voted 7-5 on Monday to approve an after-the-fact permit for the Calabasas equine facility, Malibu Valley Farms. The commission also voted for additional development of the farm on the 31-acre property located at the northeast corner of Mulholland Highway and Stokes Canyon Road.

The commission staff wrote in its report distributed to the commissioners that it was opposed to the facility because of its location within 50 feet of Stokes Canyon Creek, which eventually joins Malibu Creek and flows into the Malibu Lagoon. The staff said horse manure contains contaminants that pollute the water, and even a good mitigation system could not remedy the pollution sufficiently. But Valley Farms officials said the facility could not be pushed further back, because that would place it outside of the flat portion of the property, making a proper equine facility impossible.

Although some commissioners said they were troubled by the alleged pollution of the creek, others said they believed the Valley Farms officials had a plan to reduce the possibility of contamination. Also, the commissioners said they wanted to save the facility, which, in addition to being a breeding and training center for world-class thoroughbreds and other breeds, is also used as a meeting point for horses in cases of fire. Additionally, it runs a riding program for underprivileged children from the east side of Los Angeles, called Compton Jr. Posse.

Commissioner William Burke said hearing from the Compton Jr. Posse representatives at the meeting reminded him of how he was saved from being caught up in the violent surroundings of his childhood because his father taught him tennis.

“I was one of those angry young men who was born and raised in an extraordinarily violent neighborhood, and was picking up the sense and the essence of that neighborhood… You don’t know whose lives you’re changing [with this program]. You don’t know who will be the next angry young man [or] angry young lady who will serve on this Coastal Commission and make this state proud.”

Other commissioners were sympathetic to Burke’s idea, but they said they could not get over the possible danger to the creek.

“I cannot advocate that we teach young adults that we can trade off… We must compel ourselves to find other ways to assist the individuals we want to assist,” Commissioner Suja Lowenthal said.

Lorena Gonzalez, who was serving as an alternate commissioner in place of Ben Hueso, added, “As moved as I was by so much of the testimony [from those associated with Compton Jr. Posse], I find it very hard to allow for something that has such a negative effect on water quality.”

After the meeting, Don Schmitz, who worked as a consultant for Valley Farms, said, “I didn’t know if we would win or lose. I knew the deliberations would be crucial. But I knew the science was on our side, and the policies and the law were on our side.”

The land on which Valley Farms exists has been a horse facility since approximately the 1930s. Charles Boudreau purchased it in the ’70s. His son, Brian, now runs it. The facility was built between the years 1977 to 1979.

In 1996, a portion of the facility was burned down in a fire, although all the horses living there, plus the ones that were brought to the facility in the evacuation of the nearby area, were saved. Shortly after beginning the rebuilding process, Valley Farms was cited by the Coastal Commission for not seeking a permit. Facility officials then applied for and received an exemption because Valley Farms said the structures were built before the Coastal Act became law. However, following an anonymous phone tip, the exemption was revoked.

Valley Farms was forced to apply for a coastal development permit for nearly all the structures at the facility. Valley Farms eventually filed a lawsuit. But the facility’s attorney said on Tuesday the lawsuit was no longer necessary now that the commission had approved the permits.

A large group of horse enthusiasts and people involved in various aspects of the horse industry attended Monday’s meeting. Many of them spoke to the commission in support of the facility. A small group of environmentalists and neighbors spoke to the commission against the facility.