Sierra Club appeals Solstice Creek ruling in favor of hotel

  • Posted on 31 October 2004
  • By Dave Brown

The Sierra Club has appealed the trial court judgment upholding the city of Malibu's approval of a 54-room hotel (27 luxury guest suites) within the 100-foot riparian buffer of year-round Solstice Creek, where the National Park Service is leading efforts to restore a spawning run of the endangered southern steelhead. The setback is required by the Malibu General Plan and the 2002 Malibu Local Coastal Program, which the Court of Appeal recently ordered a recalcitrant city council to enforce.

The city's approval of the hotel project raises serious environmental disclosure issues. For example, the city council ignored the previous existence of a gas station on the site-located less than 100 yards upstream from a heavily visited public beach-and refused to require testing of the soils for toxins for environmental impact report (EIR) disclosure and review. After the project was approved, leaking underground storage tanks were found and removed. Soil samples showed such toxins as benzene, toluene, total xylene, and petroleum hydrocarbons. Still, according to the trial court, the EIR was adequate.

As a small concession to the many critics of the reduced riparian setbacks, the city council voted to slightly reduce the size of the hotel suites to increase riparian buffers (by decreasing the size of the hotel buildings). After the public hearing was closed, however, the developer's architect passed a note to the city manager complaining about the reduction in the size of the project. As a result, without reopening the public hearing, the council quickly changed its vote and increased project size as demanded by the architect. Judge Dzintra Janavs ruled that the Sierra Club had no remedy because it did not speak up against the architect's note. But there was no opportunity for the Sierra Club or any citizen to speak up; the public hearing had long since been closed, and both the mayor and the city attorney had advised the public that no further testimony was allowed during council deliberations.

Five years ago, Judge Janavs rejected a Sierra Club challenge to Soka University's expansion project across from Malibu Creek State Park. That ruling was later reversed by the Court of Appeal. Hoping for a similar outcome here, the Sierra Club has asked for appellate review of the trial court's judgment.

Dave Brown is conservation chair of the Santa Monica Mountains Task Force.

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