In a three-and-half-hour special session of the City of Malibu’s Planning Commission on Monday night that included public comments from 20 speakers, the Santa Monica College (SMC) Malibu Campus project was approved by a 3-2 vote. The project’s next hurdle will be an approval by City Council.
Funding for the new SMC satellite campus comes from bond Measure S, which was approved by Santa Monica and Malibu voters back in 2004 and allots $25 million for the Malibu facility. The campus is expected to provide college-level classes for all ages, including art, computers and science.
The Malibu campus will be located on approximately three acres of a nine-acre parcel owned by LA County, located directly across the street from Legacy Park. The 16,603-square-foot sheriff’s station building currently on that site, which has been sitting vacant for over 20 years, will be demolished. In its place, a new five-classroom/lab campus building, a police substation, a community room that will double as an emergency operations center and an interpretive center for Legacy Park will be built. The former Los Angeles County Superior Court building and recently remodeled Malibu Public Library will not be affected.
The first variance from code that the Planning Commission was asked to consider was building height. City code says a two-story building can only be 28 feet high, but can go up to 35 feet in some cases. The proposed architecturally modern SMC building has a roof with four separate peaks that go up to 35 feet and 10 inches, but only a small percentage of the roof goes up that high.
City staff suggested the 35-foot height could be justified because “the roof functions as a ventilation system.” However, they balked at going over the 35-foot limit and thought SMC should cut 10 inches off the design.
“Re-designing the roof top (an integral part of the building’s cooling function) would delay the program by 10 months, cost about $700,000 and wreck the functionality of the convection and cooling,” SMC Senior Director of Government Relations & Institutional Communications Don Girard said.
“It’s unconscionable to send this [entire project] back to the drawing board for 10 inches,” Commissioner David Brotman said. “Cutting the corners off [as John Mazza suggested] is ridiculous, and the time and fees would be ridiculous, and the time spent going back to the state architect again. It would take forever. We want this thing built.”
The second variance was the amount of green space (or landscaping) on the property. SMC, dealing with an already existing building and parking lot, had difficulty coming up with enough green space, and wanted the green roof with succulents planted on top of the sheriff’s substation to count as landscaping.
Third, LA County requested that a 70-foot-tall communications tower that had existed on the building since the ’70s be replaced by an even taller 75-foot tower (the city limit is 35 feet). The county said the taller tower would allow the sheriff’s substation to upgrade their technology and get better reception.
Fourth, SMC asked to use LA County parking lot space dimensions (8.5’ x 18’) as opposed to City of Malibu parking space dimensions (9’ x 20’) because the site was already on county land and the parking lot in front, which is also used by the existing library, was also already using county spacing.
Public speaker Steve Uhring, a member of the Malibu Community Alliance, the group that won some concessions from the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District having to do with night lighting at the Malibu High School (MHS) football field and parking lots, talked about the night lighting specified for the SMC project.
He explained that SMC was using old standards that would light up the entire hillside “like daylight.” Uhring asked if the school would consider using the same new standards as MHS and have their plans reviewed by an International Dark Skies Association lighting specialist. His goal was to reduce light pollution by using shielded fixtures, shorter poles, etc.
SMC said they were completely open on lighting specifications, and willing to do what other parties like MHS and Pepperdine were doing.
The final motion, which was passed by Commissioners Brotman, Mikke Pierson and Roohi Stack, agreed to grant all the variances requested, with the additional conditions that the lighting plan is changed to match that of MHS and Dark Skies, and that the project qualify for the equivalent of a LEEDS silver rating in energy and environmental design.