Construction clock ticks for new Malibu High School

The Coastal Commission asks for another year to review plans, threatening to delay building. Photo by Samantha Bravo/TMT.

The Coastal Commission asks for another year to review plans, threatening to delay building 

The Santa Monica Malibu School District is calling on parents, students, and the community at large to help rescue plans to construct a new Malibu High School. Construction plans were threatened last week when the California Coastal Commission requested another year to review the Local Coastal Program (LCP) Amendment that includes Phase 1 of building a new high school. Each year construction is delayed would drive up costs by $14 million and could exceed the project’s budget. SMMUSD says delaying approval of the LCP Amendment will needlessly cost taxpayer funds, so it’s requesting the community write a letter (preferably) or send an email to deny the CCC staff’s request for the one-year extension.

SMMUSD Chief Operations Officer Cary Upton provided background reminding that Malibu voters overwhelmingly approved Measure M in November 2018 for the development of a new campus plan for Malibu Middle and High School (MMHS) and to fund construction of a new high school building on the former Juan Cabrillo Elementary site. The site was cleared last year.

The California Environmental Quality Act Environmental Impact Report was certified, and the contractor was hired. But to continue, a Coastal Development Permit (CDP) is needed. There are two ways to proceed: Approve a CDP with variances or have a specific plan for the site. According to Upton, CCC staff requested a specific plan. 

“The challenge is we could have gotten a CDP with variances done a year ago,” said Upton, agreed it was a complicated plan. “We’ve spent so much time and so much money because what that means is a specific plan is actually an amendment to the LCP. To get that amendment, the Planning Department/Commission had to approve it. Then the City Council, then the CCC has to approve it. Then it has to go back to the City Council to finalize it before we can get the CDP.”

There are three exemptions the CCC will consider on the MMHS project: building height, soil removal and the Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area (ESHA). 

“We’re building higher than what the LCP is because to build a high school it needs to accommodate chemistry labs and equipment,” Upton explained. 

The ESHA issues include a stream that runs along the side of the campus. The school was originally built before ESHA rules were established. To accommodate, the plan calls for a renovated and revitalized ESHA. 

“We would clean it up, make it useful, and make it as an educational program,” Upton stated. 

“We are asking Coastal Commission to not grant a year to review,” Upton continued. “They’ve had this since October. We’re asking the CCC to ask staff to bring it to them within 60 days, put it on the September agenda.

“Craig Foster, our former school board member, often said about this project, ‘This was a project approved by the people of Malibu. This is for Malibu students.’”

The SMMUSD is asking for support with a letter-writing campaign. A statement to the community reads in part: “This is a critical need for the campus and we are seeking parent, student and community voices so the Coastal Commission stops delaying this project, that the Malibu community supports. Your voice is needed to beseech the Coastal Commission to deny the staff request for an extension and to expedite the approval of the LCP Amendment within the next 60 days. Construction must begin early this fall to open in time for the 2025-26 school year.”

Even future students are asked to appeal to the CCC preferably in writing because “physical letters have a greater impact than emails,” according to SMMUSD’s statement. 

The district suggests identifying if you’re a future student, taxpayer, or supporter and to use talking points. These might include that students need a safe, effective, and modern-learning environment for their academic growth and success, or that the 2024 deadline was missed impacting the 400 students who would have been in better learning facilities for the 2024-25 school year or that Malibu Park Middle School was constructed in the 1960s to be a middle school. The high school was added to the site in the 1990s, essentially being shoe-horned into the middle school campus. The high school students need a campus built for their scale and their needs, the district said. 

Send mail by July 7 to:

California Coastal Commission

455 Market St. Suite 300

San Francisco, CA 94105

South Coast District

California Coastal Commission

310 E. Ocean Blvd. Suite 300

Long Beach, CA 9080

RE: Local Coastal Program Amendment No. LCP-4-MAL-22-0043-1 

(MMHS Campus Specific Plan – Malibu LCPA No. 21-002)



RE: Local Coastal Program Amendment No. LCP-4-MAL-22-0043-1 

(MMHS Campus Specific Plan – Malibu LCPA No. 21-002)