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Prop S Sponsor Weighs in on Beach Club Controversy

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

April 5 -- When Sharon Gilpin spearheaded Proposition S to limit development on the local beachfront more than 15 years ago, she never dreamed the law might one day be used as a weapon to stall the proposed makeover of the Marion Davies Estate into a public beach club.

However, with the Palisades Beach Property Owners Association (PBPOA) threatening a lawsuit that could ultimately derail nearly $30 million in private funding to restore the earthquake-battered estate at 415 Pacific Coast Highway, Gilpin is seeing just that.

“The plain meaning of Proposition S is being tortured a bit here,” said Gilpin, a political consultant for 15 years. “We didn’t want Santa Monica to turn into Miami. We did this because we could see (over-development) happening.”

While the law is open to interpretation -- and with the homeowner’s group exploring other options to stall the project -- Gilpin contends the law’s original intent was to limit large developments on the beachfront, such as large hotels and restaurants.

Prop S, she said, was “designed with a scalpel” to ensure that only the large developments could be limited.

“A beach club is not what they (voters) had in mind to guard against when the law was passed,” she said.

Despite the threat of using the proposition as one means to stall the development if the City does not meet beachfront homeowners’ demands, the “neighbors have ever right to be concerned about large development they have to live next to,” said Gilpin, a former member of the Planning Commission.

In fact, she said, the City should be responsive to such concerns as traffic and the homeless and noted that many of the homeowners were vocal proponents of Proposition S when she and her cohorts were trying to get the measure passed.

Still, the Palisades Beach Property Owners Association should “not have anymore rights to oppose a development that is good for the entire community than the neighbors that are affected by such community-based projects as the new theater being built by Santa Monica College” on its Madison campus, she said

A new group of Santa Monica residents in favor of the project echo Gilpin’s sentiment and said they are taking action.

By Wednesday afternoon, “Friends of 415 PCH” had gathered nearly 500 electronic signatures in support of the project in just three days, said the group’s founder, Joel Brand, who recently stepped down from the Santa Monica Conservancy.

“When you read the petition, you can see it is people from all over the political spectrum,” said Brand. “The City attorney doesn’t believe the development violates proposition S, and now you have one of the pillars, one of the driving forces behind the proposition, coming out saying it was not how the law was meant to be used.”

As Planning Commissioners meet again Wednesday night to vote on the necessary permits and Environmental Impact Report (EIR), Gilpin hopes “wiser heads” will prevail and both sides will come to compromise before it is too late.

Attorneys for the homeowners’ group have outlined conditions they insisted the City must meet.

“The Palisades Beach Property Owners Association is seeking an agreement that for a defined period of time the City won’t change the conditions,” William Delvac of Latham and Watkins, attorney’s for the homeowners, said last week.

“The City has responded with the right kinds of conditions,” Delvac said, but if the City is going to act in the dual role of a developer and an enforcer, his clients need the protection of a binding commitment.

Conditions include fencing around the pool and picnic areas, night guards, security cameras, moving the restroom to a staffed entry area and reducing the size of rooms for public gatherings.

If the project is stalled too long, the City might lose the more than $28 million the Annenberg Foundation pledged for the ambitious rehab of the facility damaged in the 1994 Northridge Earthquake.

“This is such an incredible gift…we will never see anything like this again on the coast, and it would be a shame if it did not go through,” Gilpin said.

Brand, too, said the estate is “not your typical development for profit” deal, and that because of its historical significance, over-all design and financial backing from the Annenberg Foundation, it is a “jewel” that is long overdue for a makeover.

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