Mirror Staff Writer
The former Marion Davies estate (415 PCH) moved one step closer to becoming the nation’s only public beach club last Thursday when Santa Monica’s City Council unanimously gave the necessary approvals for the project to go forward despite the possibility of litigation by neighboring beachfront homeowners.
Club supporters began a long evening with a beach party on the lawn of City Hall hosted by the recently formed group Friends of 415 PCH, a committee of the Santa Monica Conservancy. The group formed after five members of the Palisades Beach Property Owners Association began threatening to take legal action several months ago. The legal action was presented to the Council in the form of four appeals of project approvals given by the City’s Planning and Landmarks Commissions.
Members of the owners association state the proposed use of allowing catered occasions at the site violates Proposition S, which limits the development of restaurants and/or food service facilities in the coastal zone. They also allege the project’s Environmental Impact Report is inadequate in many areas including traffic, parking and circulation. Another claim is that if the City removes the locker building it would be violating rules for properties listed in the California Register of Historical Resources, where this site has been listed since 1994. Finally, they view reducing site parking as violating City codes.
Another appellant, Palisades Beach Road homeowner Jonathan Ornstein, and the owners’ association, asked that the City guarantee a traffic light that would be placed at the entrance of the project site because of the dangerous nature of making a left turn there. Ornstein and the association members also want the City to enter into a contract with them guaranteeing that the conditions restricting site use developed by City staff will be enforced by the City.
The association’s attorney, William Delvac of Latham and Watkins, stated that in the association’s view “it’s a very simple matter” and no further legal action would be necessary if the City makes an “unconditional commitment to the traffic signal and conditions that will remain in place.”
Mayor Pro Tem Bobby Shriver explained to the appellants it’s “trickier” for the City to sign contracts with individuals because “at some point the City needs flexibility to go forward.” He also commented that the City must be cognizant of the fact that if litigation is pursued and drags on the City “is at risk of losing” the $28 million grant from the Annenberg Foundation which made this project possible.
In the end, the Council voted to deny the homeowners’ appeals and directed staff to immediately file an application with Caltrans for the PCH traffic signal. They also added a condition to the Development Review Permit that the City include in its application to the Coastal Commission all operational conditions, which would give the Coastal Commission a role in strengthening enforcement of the conditions and certifying the EIR.
The amenities of the club were developed through a community input process and will include a restored, historic swimming pool, changing and locker rooms, volleyball and paddle tennis courts, a snack bar, a 100-person public use event room and a restored North House.
The five-acre beachfront estate was built in the late 1920s by newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst for his longtime mistress, actress Marion Davies. Designed by architect Julia Morgan, who also designed San Simeon for Hearst, the estate had more than 100 rooms, a large and lavish main house, guesthouses, a swimming pool, tennis courts and a dog kennel.
Some of the original buildings, including the main house, were demolished in the 1940s, when the property was converted into a hotel. A locker building and cabanas were added.
In 1959, the State of California assumed ownership of the property and assigned its management to the City of Santa Monica. From 1960 to 1990, the Sand and Sea Club leased it, and from 1991 to 1993 it was operated by the City of Santa Monica. Damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, it was shut down, and has remained shuttered for ten years.