The Santa Monica City Council approved a schematic design and community use plan Tuesday, February 28th, for the former Marion Davies estate on Santa Monica State Beach at 415 Pacific Coast Highway.
The property — which William Randolph Hearst bought for actress Davies — was once part of Santa Monica’s famous Gold Coast, a group of luxury homes on the beach where 1920s and 1930s celebrities lived and partied.
After Davies passed away, the property ended up under state and city control.
A private beach club operated out of the property until 1994, when most of the buildings were red-tagged because of damage from the Northridge earthquake.
In 2004, the Annenberg Foundation gave the city a $21 million grant to redevelop the property — which is now a five-acre historic site — for public use.
City officials desire to build a public beach club with a pool, a pool house, an event house, boardwalks, sports courts, gardens, and landscaping.
“The major and preeminent purpose for the site is to allow the public to have a classical Santa Monica beach experience,” said Barbara Stinchfield, director of the city’s Department of Community and Cultural Services.
“In looking at each design aspect of the site, we had to test the design against how it will be used in the summer and winter.”
City officials envision a plan to use the site for beach recreation year-round and hold events and cultural programs during non-peak seasons.
After schematic designs were presented to the City Council in January, Stinchfield and design architect Frederick Fisher revised property plans after meeting with homeowners who live on both sides of the site.
The Palisades Beach Road Property Owners Association formally opposes public use of the property.
The association believes that a public beach club will create too much noise, attract homeless people, and cause more accidents on Pacific Coast Highway if alcohol is served during events.
Some neighbors have threatened lawsuits if city officials do not create parameters for what kinds of events can take place at the property or make a legally binding agreement to provide security.
“It is nice to have all these things and nice to have them laid out and described, but the point of the matter is that you can’t enforce them,” said Chuck Levey, president of the property owners association.
“We just had a discussion about the cost of these things and this is going to be a financial loss around your necks.
“A future City Council may say how are they going to cut these losses, and they could very easily think to cut out security or get more people in by serving alcohol,” Levey said.
After three meetings with the property owners association since January, city staff and Fisher agreed to scale back the design aspects, install more gates and fences, and put more restrictions on public use of the property.
The City Council agreed to add and maintain security as a condition for obtaining a permit to operate the facility.
The city would essentially be getting a permit from itself to operate the facility as a public beach club.
If a future City Council wanted to change the permit’s conditions, public hearings would have to be held before a decision could be made.
“This would provide some comfort to the neighbors, tying to the permit a condition that security be maintained,” said Councilman Herb Katz. “The other one is the [traffic] signal. The signal is tantamount to this being a facility that can be successful.”
City officials are working with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to install a traffic signal on Pacific Coast Highway to allow left turns into and out of the property.
Caltrans officials told city officials that action to install a traffic signal cannot take place unless an environmental impact report (EIR) has been certified.
State policy stipulates that Caltrans is prohibited from taking a position on any project until an EIR is certified.
“Caltrans has the power and we don’t,” Katz said. “To go ahead with this project, there ought to be a real push by us to Caltrans to get that signal.”
Fisher also revised the schematic designs because city officials expected a shortfall in the construction budget.
With the revised designs, the total cost is estimated at $33.3 million with a $2.6 million shortfall.
This new budget funding includes the original $21 million grant from the Annenberg Foundation, an additional $7.6 million from a grant proposal to the foundation, city sources, and federal grants.
The budget may inflate if the cost of construction services and building materials continues to rise.
“As we proceeded with our cost estimates, it became clear that the project cost was going to exceed our available sources of funding,” Stinchfield said.
“Right now, there is a shortfall of about $2.6 million and our plan is to continue looking at value engineering options and other city sources of funding.”
The next steps city officials must take are to adopt a final environmental impact report and get approvals from the Santa Monica Planning Commission, the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission, and the California Coastal Commission.
Construction is scheduled to begin in early 2007 and the public beach club is expected to open January 2009.