MALIBU — Pepperdine University last week received a key approval from the California Coastal Commission on plans to expand its campus, although university officials say the project could still be years away from breaking ground.

The city of Malibu also sent an unsuccessful letter objecting to the project on the grounds that it would increase traffic in Malibu.

The campus expansion plan, called the Campus Life Project, proposes nearly 400,000 square feet of new development on 365 acres of existing land. The development would include a new 5,000-seat athletic and events center, add 468 beds, add outdoor lighting to the women’s soccer field, build a welcome center and a nearly 800-space parking lot for the School of Law.

The Coastal Commission’s ruling last week was a necessary precursor to the project’s approval. Specifically, the commission unanimously approved a traffic management program and lighting amendments to the school’s long range development plan (LRDP), a master development plan written in the 1980s.

“The LRDP is the planning document that guides all development on campus,” said Steve Hudson, district manager for the Coastal Commission’s South Central Coast District office. “It provides both guidance and the standard of review for all developments, including Campus Life.”

When the commission looks at the Campus Life Project blueprints, the LRDP will be their reference guide in determining whether the plans are up to par.

Pepperdine’s governing board now has six months to pass a resolution accepting the LRDP modifications, which include a traffic management program for large events held at a proposed 5,000-seat athletic and events center and a requirement that all outdoor lighting be downward facing and minimize light pollution. Pepperdine officials did not disclose when the governing board plans on ratifying the amendments and submit applications for the development permits, although the process is expected to be a formality.

“They’ll have to go for a pending development permit [for the Campus Life Project],” Hudson said. “It’s akin to someone getting a building permit.”

Pepperdine and coastal officials estimate obtaining development permits on the Campus Life Project could take several years. Each permit would also require a public hearing before the Coastal Commission.

“The [LRDP] approval process represents the first and very early step of a multi-year process,” said Pepperdine spokesman Jerry Derloshon. “There is still much to be done.”

One of the amendments required by the commission was that the university create a Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Program to implement traffic flow plans for sporting events and other special campus events held at a proposed events center during the summer and holiday weekends. The school would also have to provide sufficient parking and traffic control for events drawing more than 3,500 attendees.

In a letter to the Coastal Commission, Malibu City Manager Jim Thorsen criticized a lack of specifics in the traffic plan.

Before the public hearing last week, Thorsen penned a letter to the Coastal Commission criticizing what the city believes is a lack of specifics outlined in the traffic plan. Thorsen wrote that while the program “shall include measures to decrease the number of vehicular trips during peak times … it does not quantify how many trips would need to be mitigated.”

If the traffic plan is to work properly, Thorsen wrote that Pepperdine should specify “a minimum number or percentage decrease” to aim for to mitigate the traffic flow.

City Hall also renewed its request that Pepperdine be required to pay the city $7 a month per each enrolled full-time Pepperdine student in order to “mitigate direct impacts caused by the project within city limits” whenever the school breaks ground on the new athletic and events center. The $7 per student fee would fund “additional sheriffs needed to help with events programs … a summer beach patrol team if we see an increase in students at the beach, as well as traffic improvements,” Thorsen said.

With approximately 3,000 full-time students currently enrolled, the fee would net the city more than $250,000 annually from Pepperdine.

While the Coastal Commission turned down that suggested modification, Thorsen said the city plans on asking for the funding again at a later date once Pepperdine applies for a pending development permit.

Another amendment included in the commission’s ruling was that outdoor lighting is required to be downward facing, “shielded, energy efficient, dark-sky-compatible, and shall incorporate state-of-the-art improvements in lighting technology when replaced thereafter.”

Homeowners in neighboring Malibu Country Estates had originally taken issue with proposed obtrusive lighting for a new athletic field and other outdoor spots, but reached agreement with Pepperdine after several closed-door meetings.


This article first appeared in The Malibu Times.

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