On January 21, 2016, Advocates for the Environment filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Sierra Club against the California Coastal Commission challenging its approval of the Edge Development Project near Sweetwater Mesa in the Santa Monica Mountains. The petition is online. As Peter Douglas, the former Executive Director of the Coastal Commission stated, the project is an environmental disaster. It should never have been approved.
Edge Development Project
"The Edge" is David Evans, the lead guitarist of rock band U2. When he and his Irish investor purchased the 151-acre site on which he wants to build five houses, it was zoned as open space. He therefore had no reasonable expectation that he could develop the land and build houses on it. He pushed forward anyway.
The land he wants to develop is smack dab in the middle of park open space in the mountains. The National Park Service and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy both oppose the Edge Project, because the site should be publicly owned and integrated into the surrounding parkland.
Violations of the Coastal Act
The Edge started submitting applications for a Coastal Development Permit to the Coastal Commission in 2007. The permit is required for any development in the Coastal Zone, under the California Coastal Act. The Coastal Commission is required by law to ensure that proposed development complies with the Coastal Act and the applicable Local Coastal Plan (LCP) before issuing a development permit. The Edge Development Project does not comply with the Coastal Act in numerous ways, including the following:
- the Coastal Act and LCP are very protective of Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area (ESHA), which is irreplaceable native habitat such as coastal sage scrub and protected plants. ESHA abounds on the Edge Site, and the development would disrupt or remove a lot of it.
- The Coastal Act and LCP require development to be sited to protect views from public areas along the coast, but the Edge Project would be highly visible: five huge houses right in the middle of a big area of open space.
- The Coastal Act and LCP require stringent protection of water quality, but the project would add impervious surfaces, creating polluted runoff, and would channel water in ways that would damage the hydrology of the area.
- The project would extend roads and water lines and other infrastructure out into the area that the National Park Service and California state agencies want to integrate into the surrounding parkland. This would encourage further development in this area and make it much more difficult to purchase parkland.
Violations of CEQA
The Coastal Commission also violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when it approved the Edge Project. CEQA requires agencies to document all the significant environmental effects before it approves a project, but the Coastal Commission failed to do so in its staff report.
CEQA also requires the agency approving a project to evaluate a reasonable range of alternatives, including a "no project" alternative. The Commission didn't evaluate a no-project, or a single-house alternative.
And CEQA requires the entire project to be evaluated in a single document. But the Edge Development will require extension of Sweetwater Mesa Road in the City of Malibu. The effects of that road extension should have been evaluated in the Coastal Commission's staff report on the project, but they were not, another CEQA violation.
The Edge's Lawsuit Against the Coastal Commission
After the Commission denied The Edge's CDP application in 2011, he sued the Coastal Commission in four lawsuits filed by four separate law firms. The Commission settled that suit in a way that required the Commission to consider a scaled-down version of the project. The Commission approved the revised project on December 10, 2015, under threat of the lawsuit, which was still pending.
The Coast is for Everyone, Not Just the Privileged Few
As Steve Lopez said in a recent column in the Los Angeles Times, the Coast is for everyone, not just the privileged few. The public has a right to develop the Santa Monica Mountains as parkland. The National Park Service has been working with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and other public agencies on this project for decades.
The Coastal Commission has regularly stood up to owners of beachfront homes who have tried to exclude the public from the public beaches in front of their homes, because the Coastal Act mandates access for all. The public has rights to make sure that land it has zoned as open space remains open. It has the right to preserve irreplaceable habitat near the coast. And it has the right to make sure that public views of the mountains aren't marred by a series of huge houses placed in the middle of parkland. Too bad the Commission hasn't stood up for those public rights this time.
Please Donate to Help Fund the Sierra Club's Lawsuit against the Edge Development
The Sierra Club has limited funds to support this public-interest litigtion. We need your financial support. Your donation to Advocates for the Environment, a non-profit law firm and advocacy organization, is tax-deductible. Please donate in support of the Edge Development Lawsuit by mailing a check made out to "Advocates for the Environment" with "Edge Development Lawsuit" on the check's memo line to Mary Ann Webster, Sierra Club, 9950 Farragut Dr., Culver City, CA 90232; or donate online through Paypal by clicking the "Donate button" below:
The opinions expressed on this page are those of Advocates for the Environment, not the Sierra Club.