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415 PCH Supporters Throw Beach Bash

By Gene Williams
Staff Writer

July 5 -- What do you do when a wealthy family gives your city $28 million to build a public beach club but the neighbors sue to stop it? You throw a party.

That’s what the Friends of 415 PCH did Monday afternoon.

It was definitely a low key event. The crowd of perhaps 100 supporters – including parents, kids and City officials – munched on pizza and popsicles, flew kites, built a sand castle and planted picket signs near the mothballed remains of the 1920s mansion they want renovated and rededicated to public use.

Yet few of Monday’s partygoers mentioned “the project” except when asked about it by reporters. Mostly they just schmoozed quietly. The important thing was just showing up to show support.

Photos by Gene Williams)

There were no speeches, but the weather was perfect.

Two weeks earlier, four nearby homeowners filed a lawsuit to stop the beach club, saying they need a written guarantee from the City that their concerns over safety, traffic and noise, among other issues, will be adequately addressed (see story).

While some beach club supporters didn’t want to speculate on the outcome of the lawsuit, others said that they don’t think it will pose much of a problem.

“We don’t think there will be an injunction issued,” said Joel Brand, chair of Friends of 415 PCH, a grassroots advocacy group spawned by the Santa Monica Conservancy.

“The lawsuit is really procedural,” Brand said. “The neighbors are alleging that the City has violated a number of different procedural issues, but there’s no substance to it.

Supporters of the beach club build sand castle.

“The lawyers say that the neighbors have a very small chance of either winning in court or delaying it (the beach club) for a long period of time, that the lawsuit is just not that strong,” he said.

The lawsuit brought by the Palisades Beach Homeowners Association and Jonathan G. Ornstein charges flaws in the project’s environmental impact report (EIR), saying it fails to address traffic and parking problems.

The suit also claims that the project would violate Proposition S – a local initiative that limits food service and restaurants along the beach. In addition, the suit claims that plans to raze the 58-year-old locker building at the site would violate rules for properties listed in the California Register of Historic Resources.

Brand, who has likened the neighbors to “modern day beach bullies,” said the plaintiffs are twisting the intent of the law in hopes that either a judge will stop the project, or that it will get delayed so long that the Annenbergs to pull out from funding it.

Joel Brand

They’re taking laws designed to protect the public… and bashing us over the head with them,” Brand said.

“This is not a project that is going to hurt the environment. This is not a project that is bad for historic preservation. This is not a project that is bad for the public.

“It’s a project that a few private individuals are unhappy with because it’s happening near their houses, and they’re use to having this beach fairly empty,” he said.

However the neighbors say they support the idea of a public beach club and will drop their lawsuit if the City enters into a binding agreement that guarantees the concessions they won earlier this year.

The concessions include beefing up security, limiting the size of public gatherings and getting a traffic light on PCH that will stay in place for as long as the site is in public use.

Without such a guarantee, the residents worry the facility could become a “haven for the homeless” or, if the budget gets tight, a “run-down white elephant.”

But the City has steadfastly refused to get locked into what they say would be a never-ending contract.

Boarded up and fenced in for more than 10 years, the enormous Georgian-style guest house at 415 Pacific Coast Highway was added in 1929 to the beach estate built for actress Marion Davies as a gift from her lover, newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst.

The City has long wanted to turn this one-time private playground of the rich and famous into a one-of-a-kind people’s beach club. But there was never enough money to do it until a year and a half ago, when the Annenberg Foundation came through with a grant for construction.

With $28 million of Annenberg money behind it, the project made smooth sailing through City Hall before hitting a snag with homeowners.

Former mayor, Michael Feinstein, who recently worked to keep a 14-acre public garden in South Central Los Angeles out of the hands of private developers, thinks the Annenbergs will stick it out.

“I’ve just spent a lot of the last two months struggling with the South Central Farmers to preserve that land there, and who was the group that stepped forward to fund it but the Annenberg Foundation,” said Feinstein, who attended the event.

“And the Annenberg’s toughness there in what is a very bruising, heavy-weight political battle in South Los Angeles has impressed me about their staying power,” he said.

Feinstein, who was a champion of the beach club during his eight-year tenure on the council, is optimistic the foundation will “stick” with the City and the project’s supporters.

“That gives me a lot of faith that, as we go through to try to ensure that this public land really has true public access, I think the Annenberg people are going to stick with us through thick and thin,” he said.

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