Four Santa Monica residents filed a lawsuit Friday, June 23rd, against the City of Santa Monica, Santa Monica City Council, two city commissions and the Santa Monica Community and Cultural Services Department for approving a public beach club at the former Marion Davies Estate site.
Under recommendations from the Community and Cultural Services Department, the Santa Monica Planning Commission and the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission, City Council members unanimously agreed to move forward with the beach project Thursday, May 25th.
The site is at 415 Pacific Coast Highway, Santa Monica.
Plans are for a public, beach-oriented recreation facility with space for limited cultural and social event programming.
The lawsuit was filed one day after the City Council’s decision in Los Angeles Superior Court, Central Judicial District, by four residents who live near the club: three residents who filed as Palisades Beach Property Owners Association, Incorporated and Jonathan Ornstein.
Private residences, many of which are owned by Palisades Beach Property Owners Association members, surround the 4.9-acre project site to the north and south.
Ornstein lives south of the project site.
The State of California, the state Department of Parks and Recreation and the Annenberg Foundation are identified in the lawsuit as real parties in interest.
The plaintiffs filed for a writ of mandate alleging that the defendants violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), a writ of mandate alleging that the defendants violated Santa Monica Municipal Code, and a declaration that the project violates CEQA and the city’s Municipal Code.
The plaintiffs allege that:
n the environmental impact report (EIR) fails to require a traffic signal at Lot 10N Intersection to mitigate the significant traffic and circulation impact;
n the EIR does not identify and assess significant impact of locker building demolition;
n the EIR fails to address the secondary impacts related to the offsite parking contemplated by mitigation measure T-2; and
n the project does not comply with Proposition S [a 1990 initiative to halt new beachfront hotels and restaurants] and the Municipal Code.
“The defendants failed to address or analyze a number of environmental impacts in the EIR, as required by the California Environmental Quality Act,” the plaintiffs wrote in the lawsuit.
The defendants also “omitted important issues and potential impacts from the EIR, failed to include feasible mitigation measures in the proposed mitigation program, and violated Santa Monica Municipal Code Section 9.04.08.46.050, which prohibits food service facilities over 2,000 square feet in size within the Beach Overlay District,” the plaintiffs wrote.
Joel Brand, chair of Friends of 415 PCH, an ad hoc community group formed to support the public beach club’s development, alleged that the lawsuit is “frivolous” and the plaintiffs’ claims are “all based on technicalities.”
Plans for the public beach club include renovating the swimming pool with historic tiles, restoring the historic North House and opening it to public tours, installing changing rooms and locker rooms, creating a 72-person event room and meeting rooms for public use, and creating a patio terrace.
City plans also include creating a viewing and sun deck with lounge chairs, creating a children’s play area on the sand and a separate water play area, installing a snack bar and installing volleyball and paddle tennis courts.
The beach club would be open to the general public for an affordable day-use fee, city officials said.
Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst bought the estate for his mistress Marion Davies, a silent movie star.
Legendary California architect Julia Morgan designed several of the estate’s structures.
The original estate featured a 100-room Georgian Revival style mansion, a large guest house now called the North House, a swimming pool and tennis courts.
Historical records say that Davies hosted some of Hollywood’s most lavish parties at the estate in an era when that stretch of Santa Monica coastline was dubbed the Gold Coast.
The Gold Coast stretch of Santa Monica was an area where wealthy residents in the 1920s and 1930s hosted extravagant galas in their mansions.
After World War II, the Marion Davies Estate was sold to a new owner, who added several buildings and demolished the mansion.
In 1959, the site was purchased by the State of California, which leased the site to the City of Santa Monica.
The City of Santa Monica, in turn, leased the site to the Sand & Sea Club for use as a private beach club from 1960 to 1990.
After the Sand & Sea Club’s lease expired, the city operated a seasonal day-use beach facility.
All structures on the site were closed and red-tagged after sustaining heavy damage in the 1994 Northridge Earthquake.
In December 2004, the City of Santa Monica received a $21 million grant from the Annenberg Foundation to preserve and restore the estate for public use.
Annenberg Foundation officials originally approached city officials in January 2004 about the possibility of a partnership between Santa Monica and California State Parks to restore the estate, which is owned by the state but which is the responsibility of the city under a long-term operating agreement.
Santa Monica officials had already embarked on a community planning process in 1994 to develop a rehabilitation and re-use plan “that would take advantage of the site’s incredible beachfront location, its colorful past and its potential as a unique recreational, community destination,” said Barbara Stinchfield, director of the city’s Community and Cultural Services Department.
“This is an especially exciting project because this property will offer residents and families extraordinary access to a lovely stretch of beachfront property and will contribute to the quality of life in the area by providing a wide range of recreational opportunities,” said Wallis Annenberg, vice president of the Annenberg Foundation.
The foundation supports historic preservation for community use and has made other gifts in the Greater Los Angeles area for preservation purposes.
Other foundation activities include supporting arts, education, health and civic life causes.
City of Santa Monica dollars and state and federal grants have been added to the foundation’s grant to improve and stabilize the site.
“For generations to come, this club will stand as a monument to the foresight and vision of Santa Monica and the Annenberg Foundation,” Brand said.
“We trust the courts to see this scheme for what it is — a frivolous lawsuit designed to litigate this innovative project to death.”
“[The plaintiffs] are attempting to delay the project long enough that the grant monies are withdrawn and the site ends up sold to a developer for homes or condos,” he alleged.
In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs are asking the Los Angeles Superior Court to:
n command the City of Santa Monica to set aside its May 25th action in full and take no further action unless full compliance with CEQA can be determined;
n command the city to set aside its approval of the project’s food service facility;
n declare that the project approvals violate Proposition S and that the EIR is legally inadequate;
n award costs of suit and attorneys’ fees to the plaintiffs; and
n provide the plaintiffs with further relief as the court deems just and proper.
“Unless this court grants the relief requested, the project approvals will result in irreparable harm to plaintiffs without proper consideration and accommodation of the policies and mandates embodied in CEQA, Proposition S and the Municipal Code,” the lawsuit says.
“No monetary damages or other legal remedy can adequately compensate plaintiffs for this harm,” the lawsuit says.