County, Coastal Commission square off over land proposal

first_imgIn a modern-day twist on a Wild West battle over land, a Los Angeles County plan for an 81-mile swath of the Santa Monica Mountains is set for a showdown with the Coastal Commission today. The plan bans construction in the most-sensitive habitats – including riparian areas along streams and canopied oak areas – and limits development in other significant woodlands, savannas and watersheds. But critics – including the commission’s staff – say the plan doesn’t go far enough to protect sensitive areas from overdevelopment. “The county would not conform to the Coastal Act requirement to protect (sage and chaparral environments),” said Peter Douglas, the commission’s executive director. “That’s a fundamental problem. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGame Center: Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, 10 a.m.“They’re looking at a special treatment nobody else in the coastal zone is getting. There’s no legal basis for it.” The plan is the latest in a 20-year standoff between the county and commission since the 1976 Coastal Act required local governments to take responsibility for issuing permits in their coastal areas. Los Angeles County is the last major jurisdiction in the state not to have complied, meaning the commission still handles coastal development permits for the region. There are no sanctions for noncompliance, but the commission must approve the county’s plan to take over issuance of the permits. Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said the latest plan should satisfy the commission because it offers tiered conservation areas that protect the most sensitive habitats. “It’s a plan that respects the natural topography of the Santa Monica Mountains,” Yaroslavsky said. “The philosophy of the plan is it lets the land dictate development, not the other way around.” But Douglas said the tiered approach – which would define about 6percent of the mountains as Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas – excludes vast amounts of coastal sage and chaparral from the Coastal Act’s definition. Douglas said the concern is that the region’s unique ecosystem would be at risk. “The bottom-line concern is preserving that fragile and limited habitat from overbuilding,” he said. Under special legislation, the commission’s staff drafted a “local coastal program” for Malibu, which classified coastal sage scrub and chaparral as environmentally sensitive areas. The commission approved the program five years ago over the city’s preference for a tiered approach. Commission staffers said the county plan should mesh with Malibu’s, which prohibits development in environmentally sensitive areas without a Coastal Development Permit and a public hearing. Malibu’s plan also limits most development to 10,000 square feet, with a one-acre development cap on a 107-acre parcel. The county’s plan would ban development in the fraction of land proposed as environmentally sensitive but would allow development of up to 10,000 square feet in “significant” woodlands, savannas and watersheds, and up to 15,000 square feet in designated watersheds. All would require environmental reviews and permits, and in some cases public hearings. Up to three acres’ development would be allowed for a rural inn, with a public hearing. But Yaroslavsky criticized the Malibu plan, saying it forces developers to go through an expensive exemption process to get a permit. And Yaroslavsky – who has criticized NBC Universal’s plans to move and expand at Universal Studios in Studio City as overdevelopment – brushed off criticism by the Coastal Commission staff. “If every shrub or chaparral is in an (environmentally sensitive area) you virtually make it impossible for anyone to develop – and that’s not constitutional,” he said. The county’s plan has the support of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, the Sierra Club and several homeowner groups, but it still has been criticized by Heal the Bay and others as too lenient. “There’s not enough protection in there,” said Mark Gold, president of the nonprofit Heal the Bay in Santa Monica. Specifically, he said the plan doesn’t provide adequate setbacks from trees lining streams. Jacky deHaviland, president of the Coalition for a Better LCP (Local Coastal Program), called the county’s plan insufficient and flawed. She said the recent wildfires underscore the dangers of allowing up to 24 horses on three-acre parcels, as well as up to 40-room inns on 40-acre parcels. Dave Brown, Sierra Club conservation chairman of the Santa Monica Mountains Task Force, said the plan does safeguard the most sensitive areas through setbacks and low density. “It protects a piece of scenic natural land that’s half an hour drive for most people in the Valley and an hour for everyone in the region.” The debate comes even as the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy is seeking concessions from the county to hold temporary events – such as weddings at King Gillette Ranch – without permits. Conservancy Executive Director Joe Edmiston said he expects the supervisors – in their deliberations over the mountains plan – to consider public access to property bought by taxpayers. “If someone wants a wedding, or an event that does not result in any new building impacts and uses the existing parking lot, to get a permit for that puts it on hold while there’s a six-week process,” he said. “There shouldn’t be a permit system that makes an impediment for its valid use.” Yaroslavsky said he hasn’t spoken to Edmiston on the matter and said he envisions “generic” permits that would limit particular uses at park facilities. Last week, the conservancy posted a letter online criticizing the county plan. But Edmiston said the letter was drafted by his staff and posted without his approval. The letter was later removed and another memo supporting the plan was posted. Edmiston said the county’s overall plan for the area is environmentally sound. “I’m not suggesting where there’s a wilderness park let’s put in a horse corral,” Edmiston said. “But there’s going to be some development. … If it encourages something other than mansionization, those are good uses.”160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img

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