CALIFORNIA:

Rock star's development plan hits sour note with regulators

The Irish rock band U2's progressive political reputation may have suffered a black eye last week when its lead guitarist -- commonly known as "The Edge" -- was roundly criticized by a California agency reviewing his attempt to build five houses in the scenic Santa Monica Mountains.

The guitarist, whose legal name is David Evans, has been spearheading a development project to construct the houses on a 156-acre plot on the ridge above Malibu just north of Los Angeles. He has owned the undisturbed property since 2006 and has been fighting for permits to break ground there in what he says would be an environmentally benign addition to the scenic overlook.

But staff at the California Coastal Commission have recommended rejecting all five applications on the grounds that the project would violate development laws on several counts, encroaching on wild lands and spoiling views. Moreover, a report detailing the proposed denial has accused Evans of attempting to circumvent state code by hiding his true intent, which the agency says is motivated by profit.

The 108-page report, which reads in parts more like a spy novel than an environmental document, notes that the plans for five multimillion-dollar homes were submitted to the agency by five different partnerships. It goes on to claim that this may have been a brazen attempt to bypass review as a single entity, even though Evans retains control and ownership over the entire project and the lands in question.

"The proposed five-house project is a coordinated development scheme," states the report, noting that no new deeds or reappraisals have been recorded with Los Angeles County that would indicate anything but continued 100 percent ownership by Evans.

The report adds that partnership agreements weren't submitted with the applications, providing "further evidence that the joint venture has attempted to bolster the facade of separate ownership and control even though the [limited liability partnerships] are operating as partners in a joint venture."

Also fueling the recommended denial are statements made by Evans to the media that he intends to sell three of the properties to finance the project, retaining personal say over his neighbors and corralling the profits. The report pointed to a website by Evans dedicated to the project (www.leavesinthewind.com) that staff said presents "an orchestrated development plan" in which Evans claims the project will do all it can to protect the environment.

Evans has defended the development proposal, claiming his intent has been distorted in the media. He insists that all homes built on the property would incorporate design elements -- such as rain-catcher systems and solar electricity -- to minimize impact.

"I hope you will agree that my partners and I have worked diligently to design homes that meet the highest environmental standards," Evans writes in a letter on the website, which adds that the homes will blend architecturally with their surroundings and not stand out.

Yet agency staff insist in their report that the plan violates laws designed to limit development along historic coastal corridors and protect wildlife habitat. The homes would also be in danger of wildfires and landslides, in addition to the impact of facilities that would have to be constructed, among them a 6,010-foot driveway, installation of a 7,800-foot water line and several fire truck staging areas.

"The construction of the required facilities would have significant and unavoidable individual and cumulative impacts to [environmentally sensitive habitat areas] and visual resources," the report concludes. "As such, the proposed projects are not within, contiguous with or in close proximity to an existing developed area, nor are they located in an area with public services or where they can be developed without significant adverse individual and cumulative impacts on coastal resources."

Click here to see the report, which will be taken up by the commission Feb. 10.

Sullivan reported from San Francisco.

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