LOS ANGELES (CN) – A state court judge has ruled for U2 guitarist The Edge in his long-running fight to break ground on a $79 million residence in the Santa Monica Mountains, quashing environmentalists’ hope to halt the project for a more thorough review of the project’s effects on climate change and air pollution.
The 55-year-old guitarist has been at the center of the controversial development called the Sweetwater Mesa Project since he bought the 151-acre site 12 years ago, and has faced fierce objections from environmental groups and residents.
In December 2015, the California Coastal Commission approved the homes. But last year, the Sierra Club revived the legal battle by claiming the state violated environmental laws by approving the five-home development, and that the commission had wobbled in response to legal threats.
The January 2016 petition asked Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James Chalfant to set aside the approval and delay the development to ensure compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act and the California Coastal Act. The Sierra Club said the project would worsen air quality, increase greenhouse gas pollution, and that the commission did not adequately consider those impacts.
At a court hearing last week, the commission argued that it had complied with CEQA, the state’s wide-ranging environmental law, and said it only had to review coastal issues related to the development.
Judge Chalfant agreed on Friday, finding that under CEQA the agency was not “compelled” to act as a lead agency as the Sierra Club had argued. He said that the commission’s 2015 staff report complied with the Coastal Act and was the “functional equivalent” of an environmental impact review.
“The Legislature has determined that the commission’s compliance with the Coastal Act is sufficient for environmental protection,” Chalfant wrote in the 28-page ruling.
Chalfant’s decision means the commission’s 2015 findings stand, and that The Edge can move forward with the project. Sierra Club attorney Dean Wallraff said the group is weighing an appeal of the ruling.
The Edge, whose real name is David Evans, is not a party to the lawsuit though his wife Morleigh Steinberg attended last week’s hearing in downtown LA with the project’s director Moses Hacmon.
A ruling for the Sierra Club would have marked a significant setback for The Edge by reviving an earlier lawsuit the developers filed against the commission. It was settled and then stayed by the court.
The guitarist plans to build five luxury homes, each with a swimming pool, in open space in the Santa Monica Mountains. According to the ruling, the developers’ appraiser estimated $78 million in construction costs and valued the completed residence at $79 million.
Wallraff said last week that the construction includes the $24 million to build a half-mile-long access road, he said. The Edge acquired the land for $9 million, bringing the total cost to $87 million.
The developers said in court papers filed in March that the commission-approved plan reduced the “disturbed area” at the site by 43 percent and increased open space by 44 percent. The developers have agreed to set aside space to the Mountains Recreations and Conservation Authority and will accommodate a trail easement.
“Under the commission approval, approximately 90 percent of the site (140 acres) will remain permanent, undeveloped open space,” the developers said in the opposition.
In 2011, after the Coastal Commission denied applications to build a residence on the site, four of the developers filed lawsuits that were settled in March 2013. In the face of the legal challenges, the commission agreed to remand the applications and allowed the developers to submit new ones.
The Sierra Club said the agency rubber-stamped the project because of the threat of legal action and claimed the residence would impact public views of the ridgeline from trails close to the site.
Meanwhile, the National Park Service has said that the homes will sit on a ridgeline that has been exposed to wildfires at least half a dozen times from the early 1940s to 2010.
The petition also took a shot at U2, suggesting that the band would contribute to noise pollution and increased traffic if it decides to perform at the property.
The Coastal Commission is a respondent in the Sierra Club’s lawsuit. Real parties in interest include the developers Mulryan Properties, Morleigh Properties, Vera Properties, Lunch Properties, Ronan Properties and Ed West Coast Properties.