City plans to develop the Marion Davies Estate on Pacific Coast Highway into a public facility with funds from the Annenberg Foundation have been challenged in a lawsuit filed Friday, June 23 by some homeowners on the highway. The legal action, brought in the names of Palisades Beach Property Owners Assn., Inc. and Jonathan Ornstein and signed by Charles Levy on behalf of the Association, seeks a court order to set aside the City’s approval of the project on the grounds that it violates the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”), relating to Environmental Impact Reports, and Santa Monica Proposition S, relating to food service facilities in the beach area.
The plaintiffs have not yet sought any immediate relief, and no court dates have been set.
Although the City of Santa Monica and its agencies are the named defendants in the suit, and although there is no information that defendants have yet been served with the court papers, reaction from community supporters of the project has been swift and strong. “A $28 million gift to the people of Southern California is under threat from four wealthy residents determined to scuttle a planned ‘everyman’s’ public beach club,” said Joel Brand, chair of Friends of 415 PCH, an ad hoc group formed to support the project.
Plaintiffs in the suit, “dubbed the Beach Bully Four by community activists,” according to Brand, “are kicking sand in the face of the public. They are using their wealth to act like modern day beach bullies, using expensive lawyers to chase the public away from their beach.”
William F. Delvac, a partner in the Los Angeles law firm of Latham & Watkins which represents plaintiffs in the lawsuit, says the plaintiffs “are supportive of the renovation of the old Marion Davies Estate,” but have sued because the City will not “commit” to certain conditions on the use of the property that have already been adopted, but that plaintiffs fear may be subject to change.
Although usage conditions are not specifically addressed in the lawsuit, the City has identified several such restrictions in the staff report to the Planning Commission, which became part of the Development Permit. These include security staffing, alcohol limitation to beer and wine only, limits on amplified music and other noise restrictions, hours of operation and lighting regulations. It appears that all parties are in agreement on the substance of such conditions. But Delvac says that it is the durability of such conditions that is the “only issue” between his clients and the City.
Joel Reynolds, a senior attorney in the Santa Monica office of the National Resources Defense Council, which supports the project as approved by the City, told the Mirror after the suit was filed that “there does not appear to be much disagreement on substance,” but that there is “disagreement on process.” He maintains that neighboring property owners simply cannot demand that a municipality contract with them regarding limitations on its exercise of its land use permitting powers.
“Far from adversely affecting the environment, this is a project that benefits the public by restoring a historic beach club and making it available for carefully controlled use by the general public,” Reynolds has said. “The City of Santa Monica has gone the extra mile to accommodate legitimate homeowner concerns about traffic congestion, and the conditions imposed on construction and operation reflect that.”
Mr. Brand of Friends of 415 PCH says, “As a result of these efforts, most PCH neighbors – including those immediately adjacent – are satisfied with the proposed mitigations.” His group and others have announced a beach party rally on Monday, July 3rd at 4pm on the sand in front of the Davies Estate at 415 Pacific Coast Highway “under the bluffs, one mile north of the Pier.”
Meanwhile, the dispute is pending in the courts as well as on the sand.