Bring on the Coastal Commission.
California Coastal Commission (CCC) approval is the only thing that stands in the way of a proposed 25,310-square-foot brand new Santa Monica College (SMC) satellite campus and Los Angeles County Sheriff substation in the Malibu Civic Center.
That’s because Malibu City Council approved a variance in the floor area ratio (FAR) that allows the project to move forward as designed.
Floor area ratio is defined by the city as “the ratio of the building square footage to the square footage of the site.” In Malibu, FAR is limited to 0.15, but the college has earned approval for a ratio of .20, despite complaints by some residents and council members that the project is too large.
The final vote was 3-1 in favor of the variance in FAR, and thus moving the project forward, with Council Member Joan House voting against the permit. Council Member Skylar Peak abstained from voting after voicing complaints about how “super frustrating” it was to see projects that do not conform to building standards.
“[The project is] likely to be appealed to the Coastal Commission, whether it’s approved or not,” Peak lamented at the meeting Monday. “I just think that’s lame. It’s a bad use of public funds and public money.”
Public comment was largely in favor of the project, which needed to provide public benefits in order to be considered for the increased FAR. Those were listed by college representatives as providing classes, including shorter-term “emeritus” classes for seniors; a new 5,640-square-foot sheriff’s department substation; a multipurpose room for community use; an improved emergency communication tower; and an “interpretive center to support Malibu’s Legacy Park.”
Longtime nursery school teacher Kay Gabbard described the college campus, which is designed to hold classes for 210 “full time equivalent” students, as a “stepping stone for many students to a dream,” noting that SMC is rated first in the State of California for transfers to University of California and California State Universities.
Malibu resident Laureen Sills agreed that the project provided a public benefit.
“These amenities are quintessential public, civic-minded amenities. This is our civic center and I can’t think of anything that would be more public serving than these amenities,” Sills said.
The project was also supported by various members of AMPS, Advocates for Malibu Public Schools.
The complaints of those who came to speak against the project were summed up in a statement in a letter by Malibu Township Council President Richard Lawrence, which was read at the meeting by resident Ann Doneen.
“Why do we set standards when they are so easily put aside?” Lawrence asked in his letter.
During council comment and questions, Peak pressed SMC representatives for an answer to that question.
“At what point in this project do you look at our building codes?” Peak asked. “It seems like it’s being shoved down our throat.”
SMC government relations director Don Gerard replied that the project developed out of a necessity to include a lot of benefits on a small parcel of land.
He described that the SMC satellite project hit a snag finding property in the Civic Center, that sent it to the county for land.
“The project was in limbo for a bit, and then came the opportunity to work with the county, and the conversation with the county is a more complex conversation, because there’s two interests that wanted to be served here,” Gerard said. Those two interests were the sheriff substation and the college campus.
“The use of county property becomes the obvious solution,” Gerard continued. “But there are restraints as to how much county property is available.”
Gerard said that finally, after balancing the needs of the City of Malibu, LA County, the LA County Sheriff’s Department and SMC, a number of public hearings were held. Finally, the project design was chosen.
After further discussion, Peak said he was “coming around” to the idea that the project provided public benefits, but he was still concerned about the variances.
In the end, Peak abstained from the vote, with a prediction that it will not be smooth sailing ahead for the SMC team. Peak said an appeal was sure to come from the CCC.
“I hope that when it comes back from the Coastal Commission, you can figure out a way to make it fit,” Peak said.