Given everything, there is remarkably little NIMBYISM (Not In My Backyard in Santa Monica) but it has recently surfaced on, of all places, the beach – that last bastion of absolute democracy. The joy of living on the beach is, well, living on the beach. The problem of living on the beach is that, well, it’s public. And, as some people who live on the beach in Malibu have learned, the state of California, to this point anyway, sides with the public. Now neighbors of the former Marion Davies estate at 415 Pacific Coast Highway, which the City is in the process of resurrecting for use by the public, have expressed all sorts of objections to the project, which is being funded by a $21 million grant from the Annenberg Foundation. The Davies estate was enormous – over 100 rooms, and a swimming pool, tennis courts, garages – and the site of many parties. Subsequently, it was a hotel for a short time, then a popular and busy beach club, the Sand and Sea, for a long time. In 1990, the City took it over, and for a while it was a principal location for the TV series, “Beverly Hills 90210.” After it was damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the City shut it down and it has been dark and silent for over a decade. In all probability, some of its neighbors moved to the beach in the last decade, and have grown accustomed to the silent, dark hulk in their midst.But the site is owned by the State and managed by the City and so it was inevitable that it would not remain silent and dark forever. Indeed, the City was ready to solicit bids from potential private sector operators for the property, when the Annenberg grant was received. The neighbors of 415 have voiced their objections to the project at community workshops, at a City Council meeting, and, last week, at a meeting with City and Annenberg officials. At least one of them has threatened to sue the City if it proceeds with the project. They allege that the City has ignored their concerns and that the project will diminish their quality of life. During a discussion about whether a stoplight should or would be installed on PCH at 415, one beach homeowner asked, “How many fatalities are you willing to accept to have a beach club on an annual basis?” Another worried that 415 visitors would “be lining up in their cars in front of our houses…so we wouldn’t be able to get into our houses without a light.” But, of course, Caltrans, not the City, will decide whether a light should be installed. Some of the beach homeowners claim that the project violates Proposition S, while others asserted that the lighting on the site would disturb them, and one resident claimed the site would “become the most attractive home to the homeless in the entire United States.” The prospect of on-site events, with food service and liquor, upset some neighbors, while others predicted that, in time, the City wouldn’t be able to afford 415 operating and maintenance costs and it would deteriorate. Some residents said they thought the site should be developed as an aquatic center, which would generate sufficient revenue, while others noted that the existing pool wasn’t suitable for lap swimming. The list of problems and hazards – real and imagined — cited by the neighbors was nearly endless, and City officials responded fully to all of them. A while ago, some of these same people wanted the City to shut down the volleyball courts on Sorrento Beach, because the players were noisy and occasionally cursed. The City pointed out that the nets had been there for 40 years and many of the players had been around for decades, too. We are not noted for praising City officials or projects, but, in this instance, the City staff, led by Barbara Stinchfield, Director of Community and Cultural Services, listened well and responded fully to all the complaints – even the silly ones. And it’s a good project – the best to emerge from City Hall in a long time. It’s also the best use of the site. The beach homeowners’ principal problem is not the noise from the volleyball courts or the imminent resurrection of 415, which was, after all, very light and lively for its first sixty-three years, and has only been dark and mute for the last ten-plus years. Their primary problem is that they are squeezed between one of the busiest public highways and one of the busiest public beaches in Southern California, and they have no control over the road, the beach or the public.But if previous residents as various as Davies and William Randolph Hearst, Cary Grant and J. Paul Getty, Louis B. Mayer and Anita Loos, the Marx Brothers and the Talmadge sisters, survived it – and they did – we believe the current residents will survive it, too. In the meantime, we suggest they take the advice of younger beach goers and just CHILL, at least until the City actually goes off the rails.
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