Coastal Board Denies U2 Guitarist

K. Lloyd Billingsley: U2 guitarist “the Edge,” also known as David Evans, has been working since 2006 on a plan to build five houses in the Sweetwater Mesa area above Malibu. He took pains to be environmentally correct but on June 16 the California Coastal Commission nixed the project. The U2 guitarist, however, already knew that the powerful, unelected Commission has an edgy side.

Coastal Commission staff, also unelected, had already twice rejected the 156-acre project, which Commission boss Peter Douglas told reporters was “one of the three worst projects that I’ve seen in terms of environmental devastation,” in 38 years. He didn’t describe the others, but he has certainly seen a few.

Peter Douglas co-authored Proposition 20, the 1972 measure that established the Commission and he was the sole author of the 1976 legislation that made the CCC permanent. A zealot known for hostility to property rights, Douglas has served as the commission’s executive director since 1985. Like the various Commissioners he has never been the subject of a public vote.

The Commission began on the first watch of California governor Jerry Brown. He has moved to eliminate some state bodies but has spared the Coastal Commission, which narrowly survived a constitutional challenge. New appointments include Hollywood producer Dayna Bochco, a high-profile backer of the California Global Warming Act of 2006 (AB 32).

The Edge’s home featured a green roof designed to emulate leaves. It also used recycled materials, solar panels, and other environmentally friendly items. Commission staff saw a slippery slope in the U2 guitarist’s home project. But according to news reports, if the CCC approved it, that might lead to other housing projects in the area.

“If they want the land they should buy it,” said Carol Smith, a coastal landowner who has tangled with the Commission in the past. The case will likely wind up in court, increasing costs for both sides.

With other celebrities, the Commission has taken a different approach. Commissioner Mark Nathanson tried to trade permits for payoffs from Hollywood stars. In 1993 Nathanson was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison for racketeering, seeking bribes, and filing a false tax return during his stint as a commissioner. The case prompted critics to decry the Commission as a combination of Mafia-style corruption and Stalinist regulation.

JUNE 18, 2011

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