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Locals Speak Out on Environmental Impact of Planned Rancho Malibu Hotel

During a two-hour hearing, more than 50 people provided input on what they want included in a draft environmental report on the project.

More than 50 Malibu residents blasted plans for the proposed Rancho Malibu Hotel Wednesday and called on the city to look at the bigger picture of the potential impact on the Civic Center area and the future of Malibu.

The hearing was meant to gather input for a draft environmental report, which will be prepared and eventually opened up to more comment by as early as this summer.

Dan Gira, a consultant from AMEC who is preparing the draft EIR, led the hearing, which at times grew heated as speakers highlighted worries over traffic, public safety, wastewater and cultural resources.

"We’re aware there is a substantial amount of proposed development, especially in the Civic Center area. There are a number projects that are pending. We will be paying special attention to the cumulative effect, especially from this project," Gira said.

One of the project's developers, Richard Weintraub, said he believes the project will be the single largest economic generators in the city's history, but he declined to give specifics.

"We’re not looking to hide anything here. We’re not here to disrespect anything here ... I have fought like hell to hold on to this property," Weintraub said.

He added that he understands the concerns about traffic, public safety and water.

"I remember that traffic in the summer since I can remember has always been gridlocked. In the 50s it was gridlocked in August and it doesn’t have that much to do with the hotel," Weintraub said.

The hearing also sought to gather comments on whether the draft EIR should outline the project’s potential alternatives, including:

  • The construction of a garden hotel, which would reduce the number of condominiums and increase the number of rooms in the main hotel.
  • Decrease the size of the spa, retail and other facilities.
  • Use the area for a commercial shopping complex.

Before public comment portion of the meeting started, Hans Laetz, a journalist and recent city council candidate, called the notice of preparation for the public scoping meeting into question.

"This time table beginning with this meeting is rushed and inappropriate," Laetz said.

He called on the city to take its time with the project so that locals have a chance to weigh in.

Comments can be made on what should be included in the draft EIR until June 4.

Cultural Resources

Jo Ruggles expressed concerns about the potential cultural resources on the site and impacts to traffic locally and regionally.

David Paul Dominguez, who expressed affiliation with the Chumash, said that the tribe should be involved.

"It's cultural sensitivity to us Chumash people, that is the last area on that bluff point overlooking that main village site," Dominguez said.

Gira said several studies have been completed on the cultural resources, and that an additional one is in the works.

Mati Waiya, who was recently appointed to the Native American Cultural Resources Advisory Committee, also expressed concern.

"Malibu needs to wake up and respect and honor the regulations of Chumash. Our dead are under your home. Thousands of them are buried here," Waiya said. "We have to stand together on this. We’re in it together. This is our home and we’ve got to take care of it."

Gira thanked all speakers for their comments.

"We will give every due respect to the Native American community," Gira said.

Public Safety

Jae Flora-Katz said that she is concerned about the impact the hotel could have on traffic during an evacuation because of a fire.

"It is extremely dangerous," Flora-Katz said.

Gira said he will be contacting the fire department as part of the study.

Water

Susan Tellem said she wants water issues investigated.

"I think we have to look at water and traffic and public safety impact," Tellem said.

Former City Councilman Jefferson Wagner said he does not think the project's proposed 500,000 gallon water tank is enough to protect the property and nearby areas during an emergency.

"You’re looking at the potential of a 3 million tank for a project of this size," Wagner siad.

Wastewater

Several residents also mentioned the issue of how to deal with the amount of wastewater from the proposed project.

Malibu Planning Commissioner John Mazza said he wants the EIR to include up-to-date numbers of how much water the city is allowed to discharge.

“Is the EIR going to address the fact that No. 1 where do they get the water and No. 2 how do they get rid of it? How does it affect the ability to develop other [areas]?” Mazza said.

Gira said he has personally read the city's staff reports on the proposed wastewater treatment center, and will include those questions and more in the study.

Traffic

Several people also asked for the impact of traffic to be analyzed, especially in light of the large number of proposed development coming to Malibu, including Whole Foods, the addition of an extension campus and other projects.

Steve Uhring said he wants to make sure current technology is used to generate accurate traffic counts.

"You’re going to create a parking lot in the Civic Center," Uhring said.

Andy Lyon said he wants a bigger picture traffic study.

"I think the city of Malibu needs to do one major traffic study for all of these projects right now," Lyon said.

Gira said the city is considering a traffic report currently. Story poles, which are used to assess the visual impact of a project, are expected to be put up soon, he added.

Many more residents spoke during the two-hour hearing. If we left you out, feel free to leave your perspective in the comments.

Dee Rivellino May 17, 2012 at 03:15 PM
Will the so-called Garden Hotel create the same economic growth that the Malibu Lumberyard has Mr Weintraub?????Because if so we've going backwards. I'll never understand why anyone just can't say the truth .. It's all about greed nothing more. I've been here over 40 yrs And the gridlock is WORSE.. Who do you think you've fooling Weintraub????can you name one redeeming aspect this project would bring to Malibu??? More retail stores struggling???? More weekend traffic?? Just say it!!!! It's about making big bucks .. When is enough enough at the expense of this special community ???? "Greed in NOT good "paraphrasing the famous Michael Douglas line from the movie. Wall Street. If The City Council even entertains a passing probability for this outrageous project they should all be impeached !!!!!
Marshall Thompson May 17, 2012 at 03:15 PM
Who is Jo Muggles? Sounds like a Harry Potter character. It's Jo Ruggles, Jessica! :-) That said, this mega hotel project must be seen in the context of all the other development in the Civic Center area. There is a domino-effect in play as each mega-project justifies the next. And it feels to many of us like the structure of our corporate city is strongly in favor of all this development. After all, more development = more taxes. The organic nature of cities desires more growth, more complexity, more employees, more programs, more power over our lives, more, more, MORE! We residents are merely an irritant to the power of the city. Really, wouldn't Malibu be a whole lot better if we concerned citizens would kindly shut up? Dr. Robert Pousman hit it on the head last night when he said something like "I feel like a stranger in my own town."
Susan Tellem May 17, 2012 at 03:52 PM
This is a ridiculous evaluation of the current situation from the developer. What does traffic from 60 years ago have to do with Malibu today? "In the 50s it was gridlocked in August and it doesn’t have that much to do with the hotel," Weintraub said.
Dorothy Reik May 17, 2012 at 04:04 PM
It is so sad. Cities incorporate to get control of their local development and the developers still have the upper hand. I hear this story all over. You just have to change the name of the city. The issue remains the same. As was said at the environmental meeting - the developers are the clients and the residents are a nuisance that has to be overcome.
Hans Laetz May 17, 2012 at 04:29 PM
Well, that was an unmitigated disaster -- for the applicant. A roomful of intelligent, informed and passionate people splayed that proposal on a spit, and carefully roasted it over the flames. We made sure the hotel boosters -- including any who may be sitting on the city council -- know exactly what they have facing them. Here are things I learned last night, from information released to the public for the first time: The "three story underground parking garage" is actually five stories high: one on the surface, three underground, and a sub sub sub sub basement for a 500,000 gallon reservoir. And -- get this -- the active strand of the Malibu Coastal Fault goes right through the proposed garage-atop-the reservoir. Bring swimsuits, everyone! The illegal retaining wall ... to allow buildings to perch above PCH ... will also tower above Civic Center Way. It will look like a castle floating above us serfs! The hotel will not only have private condos, off limits to the general public, but will also have a "private dining area" -- AKA nightclub. Here's my favorite moment: Q [from irate serf]: "Where exactly does it say in the LCP and General Plan that you can introduce condos into a hotel zone?" A [from a laughing Mr. Weintraub]" "Where does it say you can't?" Ladies and gentlemen, it will be a cold day in Hades when this is built.
Jessica E. Davis May 17, 2012 at 05:12 PM
Thanks for catching that Marshall! I couldn't hear very well in the back.
general Ike May 17, 2012 at 05:31 PM
why is it nobody mentions that the last fire 4 1/2 years ago ripped right through this exact space, plus they already gave this developer way too many concessions with the Lumber yard
Jessica E. Davis May 17, 2012 at 05:38 PM
Many fires were mentioned, but in the interest of time and space, I did not rehash every word that was said during the two-hour meeting.
Cindy Vandor May 17, 2012 at 06:20 PM
Are Weintraub's numbers honest or is he lying? Economic analysis must be done on his finances and his projections.
hellwood May 17, 2012 at 06:22 PM
no real answers last night. jefferson was smart to bring up the trail that has been conveniently swept under the floor plan. another person brought up the real pedestrian hazards of navigating around the fortress. it is SO big, there is nowhere to walk! no real answers of how the valet will deal with all the the limos and taxis lined up out in traffic lanes on las virgines, and since its 3 or 4 times the size of the park, all street parking will be dominated by the fortress. throw in the illegal U-turns of the clueless, and you have chaos. no way to justify the size when an existing high end hotel ON the beach has vacancies. no details about the impacts of an obvious undisclosed shuttle service to get guests to and from the beach. rural design?? it will be visible from palos verdes! Time share scam. Zoned for commercial/residential? Our city needs to wake up and take care of the residents first, then the developers.
Hans Laetz May 17, 2012 at 07:46 PM
Thus my point. The LCP, Municipal Code and General Plan all say Mr. Weintraub's condo dream is impossible. It was very fascinating to hear his response to our questions last night when we asked about this. He said the condos are a great idea for people who want to buy luxury housing but cannot afford Malibu price (his exact words). One impudent serf zeroed in: "How much will the codos sell for." Much hilarity ensued. We did not get an answer. We serfs pressed in for an answer and did not get one. At that point it was all "thank you for attending, we'll wrap things up now." We never did get an answer to the question -- "how much will this alternative home ownership option for otherwise-deprived luxury home buyers cost?" And I will bet we never will get that answer.
J. Flo May 17, 2012 at 09:56 PM
We did!!! I read a letter submitted by a Los Angeles Fire Captain specifically about that fire - that The Patch has and I believe will be putting up.
Terry May 17, 2012 at 10:02 PM
it is the cumulative effect. what ever happened to keeping malibu a rural community? i think we need to go back and look at the general plan and rewrite the plan to preserve malibu. what ever happened to just say no. if i was on planning commission i would just vote no
J. Flo May 17, 2012 at 11:13 PM
Terry, "it is the cumulative effect." BINGO.
Hans Laetz May 18, 2012 at 12:41 AM
At the meeting, the public learned of major public safety dangers caused by the anticipated Proposal’s layout: An emergency vehicle access road will loop around nearly all of the Project. This will cause two dead-end fire roads with a major gap between them at the eastern end of the complex. There would be no emergency vehicular access between the northern and southern emergency access roads. Both emergency access roads would be accessed only by driveways immediately adjacent to the only public vehicular or pedestrian entrance, on Malibu Canyon Road. No fire equipment access, or pedestrian evacuation routes, are possible or down the steep slopes or the retaining walls creating the castle walls to the north, east and south of the complex. The entire building complex is essence has one entrance and exit point, which is within 150 feet of the busiest (by traffic count) intersection in the City of Malibu, at PCH/Malibu Cyn. This intersection is the junction of all three of the only practical emergency equipment access points into the the City of Malibu, and the intersection sits between the hotel and all possible fire stations within 15 miles. And, the hotel site has burned twice in the past 20 years, and eight times since 1945 (according to USFS records). Madness.
Jamie Ottilie May 21, 2012 at 08:03 PM
I think it is pretty simple - we - the people of Malibu - need to communicate to OUR city council - that we will not accept any amendments, Zoning variances, changes to the LCP, etc for this property. Either build something that fits within the existing laws or don't build it. I don't understand why it is so hard for our city government understand this and to message this to ALL commercial property developers. They have a right to developer their land but ONLY within the existing laws.
Hans Laetz May 21, 2012 at 09:51 PM
None of these projects are possible without variances. We have a very strong General Plan and LCP but the city has a demonstrated record of playing fast and loose with variances. The "Trancas Supersize" project was granted variances for everything they sought: parking, front and side setbacks, grading, height. 4-1 vote at planning, 5-0 vote at council. State law is very simple. A variance can be granted only "when, because of special circumstances applicable to the property, including size, shape, topography, location or surroundings, the strict application of the zoning ordinance deprives such property of privileges enjoyed by other property in the vicinity and under identical zoning classification." The track record is that we can't trust our own City Hall to hold firm on saying NO to these overwhelming developer variances. City Hall cannot put out a preliminary report that says a project with a 55 percent overshoot for grading or height is feasible when it gets tons of variances -- it should put out a report that the project is not feasible because it could only be built with massive variances, which appear illegal. We need a citizens initiative. Voters should take control. It should be against the Malibu Municipal Code to grant any and all commercial variances beyond carefully defined, minor adjustments. That would put teeth into the General Plan.
Jamie Ottilie May 21, 2012 at 11:07 PM
it isn't a bad idea Hans - I don't suppose binding Referendum works at the city level? I am certain we could get something like that to pass a public vote!

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