In a lawsuit settlement reached Tuesday, September 12th, the City of Santa Monica and a group of residents have agreed that construction plans for a public beach club at the former Marion Davies Estate in Santa Monica should move forward.
The Santa Monica City Council has approved a settlement agreement with the Palisades Beach Property Owners Association and resident Jonathan Ornstein, enabling the city to proceed with its effort to convert the five-acre property at 415 Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) into a public beach facility.
“We are delighted that we have reached this agreement,” city manager Lamont Ewell said. “It allows us to move forward to meet tight project deadlines.
“The settlement reflects the city’s commitment to provide exciting recreational opportunities at the beach while also being sensitive to the impacts these facilities have on neighbors.”
The City Council voted unanimously in May to approve the public beach club project.
The project is funded through a $28 million private grant from the Annenberg Foundation.
But the property owners association, composed of residents living along PCH, and Ornstein, filed a lawsuit in June, challenging the project’s environmental impact report (EIR) and alleging that the city violated a municipal code section that prohibits food service facilities that occupy more than 2,000 square feet along the beach.
Under the terms of the lawsuit settlement, the City of Santa Monica agreed that it will not seek changes to specific design and operating conditions required by the Santa Monica Planning Commission for at least seven and a half years.
The design and operating conditions include hours of operation, parking management, lighting and noise requirements, site security, the management of food services, recreational uses and booked events.
The city also agreed to specify these conditions in its permit request with the California Coastal Commission and to advocate for their inclusion in the permit, city officials said.
As part of the settlement, the city agreed to put forth its “best effort” to obtain approval from the California Department of Transportation to install a traffic signal at the site — a main suggestion of the Palisades Beach Property Owners Association.
Supporters of the project, such as the community group Friends of 415 PCH, praised the efforts of the city and the property owners association to come to a settlement.
“This project is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we are elated that the neighbors have agreed to drop their attempts to stop it,” said Joel Brand, chair of Friends of 415 PCH. “It is gratifying to see that cooler heads have prevailed and we can all work together to ensure that the beach club becomes and remains a true crown jewel of public facilities.”
Lawsuit plaintiffs also said they were pleased to come to an agreement with the city on the project.
“I am delighted the citizens of Santa Monica are now assured the new beach club will be operated with the public safety issues resolved for years to come,” Ornstein said.
The settlement accomplishes the goals of the property owners association, including public safety, with the effort to have a traffic signal installed at the entrance to the PCH site, Ornstein said. The plaintiffs had said a traffic light is needed because the turnoff to the site is in a potentially dangerous area of the highway.
“We got what we wanted,” said Charles Levy, Palisades Beach Property Owners Association president. “This was never a case that we didn’t want the club built.
“It was a case of public safety and quality of life.”
Barbara Stinchfield, Santa Monica director of community and cultural services, said city officials had continued to work on design and preparations for project construction despite the filing of the lawsuit.
The property at 415 PCH was originally developed by newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst for actress and mistress Marion Davies in 1929, during a time when the stretch of beach was known as the “Gold Coast.”
The property was sold in the 1940s and converted into a hotel and beach club. The state then purchased the property in 1960 and, under an agreement with the state, the City of Santa Monica leased the facility to a private beach club, the Sand and Sea Club, and later operated it as a seasonal public beach facility.
But the facility was damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake and all structures except the beach cafe have been “red-tagged” or designated unsafe to occupy, city officials said.
Efforts to revitalize the facility started in 1999, when the City Council approved a reuse plan that supported the site’s potential as an important public resource, city officials said.
The revitalized facility will include new locker facilities, sand volleyball and paddle tennis courts, children’s play areas, a family picnic area with a children’s water feature, integration of public art in public garden areas and cultural programming.
As part of the project, the historic pool and historic North House will be rehabilitated, and a new Event House for community meetings and events will be constructed.
Admission to the beach club will be open to the general public from across Southern California by reservation for a day-use fee.
City staff have completed 100 percent of the design development drawings for the project, Stinchfield said.
Construction of the beach club facility, which is expected to take about 18 to 24 months, could begin as early as April or May next year, she said.
“This is a legacy project and it will be enjoyed by generations of southern Californians for decades to come,” Brand said.