Malibu Complete MALIBU HISTORY: 1970 TO CITYHOOD IN 1991

California Coastal Act & Malibu

The California Coastal Commission, created by a 1972 referendum, controls development in the coastal zone of California.  This image is part of a complete Coastal Commission photo map of Broad Beach specifying details of access and easements in that Malibu neighborhood.
The California Coastal Commission, created by a 1972 referendum, controls development in the coastal zone of California. This image is part of a complete Coastal Commission photo map of Broad Beach specifying details of access and easements in that Malibu neighborhood.

Malibu Development and the Coastal Act

Growth in Malibu continued and accelerated in the 1960s and 1970s to the delight of some and the dismay of others. The old, rural Malibu was rapidly changing. Although Malibu never became "suburban" and still retains a small town, country atmosphere when compared to cosmopolitain LA, it is much different from its semi-rural aspect in the 1940s. By the late 1960s the California coast, including Malibu, was becoming noticably inaccessible to the public as development accelerated. A big oil spill in Santa Barbara in 1969 outraged the public and increased debate about off-shore drilling and other proposals such as freeway routes and coasal siting of nuclear power plants and desalinization plants.

Concerns about commercial and residential overdevelopment across California merged with environmental issues in the 1972 "Save our Coast" campaign. The Coastal Alliance and over 10,000 volunteers obtained 418,000 signatures, enough to put a referendum called Proposition 20 on the 1972 ballot. Prop 20 was adopted with 55% of the vote, establishing a Coastal Commission with permit authority 3 miles off the coast and 1,000 yards inland. The Commission also had planning authority over a wider zone, to the closer of the nearest mountain range or five miles inland.

The California Coastal Act of 1976 replaced the structure established by Prop 20 with:

  • a permanent Coastal Commission, responsible for regulation and permits;
  • the California Coastal Conservancy, responsible for wetland restoration, public access, and land acquisition;
  • a continuation of the Bay Conservation and Development Committee, responsible for the San Francisco Bay area.

Impact of the Coastal Act on Malibu

Until the Coastal Act of 1976, many of the lots in Malibu were subdivided, which allowed for greater housing density in the area. The Coastal Act sought to limit growth due to environmental concerns over hydrology, wildlife protection and geologic concerns such as mudslides and erosion. The enforcement mechanism of the Coastal Act gave power to the long-standing anti-growth sentiment in Malibu as it prohibited further residential growth that would inevitably damage the environment.

As mandated by the Coastal Act, a county Local Coastal Program (LCP) was drafted in 1977. Due to Malibu's unique and sensitive habitat, most of the city was designated as an ESHA (Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area). The permitting process for residential development became stringent with development restricted to land that was adjacent to previously disturbed and developed lots.

In a related development, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area was established in 1978. The entire city of Malibu lies within the park as well as the adjoining unincorporated mountain areas. This added to the regulatory maze that any Malibu development had to traverse.

Although the California Coastal Act slowed Malibu's development, and finally killed the twin nightmares of the proposed Corral Canyon nuclear power plant and the Malibu Canyon freeway, considerable urbanization of the Malibu coast had already taken place. And the real estate imperative of "highest and best use" would continue the pressure for development even if it took years and huge legal fees to obtain a permit. These pressures continued to build and contributed to the drive toward Malibu as an independent city, accomplished in 1991.

The continuation, after Malibu became a city, of Malibu's struggle with the Coastal Commission and the Malibu Local Coastal Program is on the MalibuComplete.com page titled Malibu vs. Coastal Commission.

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