Developer Richard Weintraub tried for years to push through a plan to build a resort-style hotel on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, Calif., only to face pushback from the notoriously slow-growth enclave.
Now he’s proposing an alternative: a cemetery, the city’s first, with nearly 55,000 burial plots. The ultimate destination, one might say.
“Guests check in, but they can’t check out,” said Malibu Mayor Skylar Peak, who likes the idea.
Replete with celebrities, wealth and the entitlement that fame and money often bring, Malibu has long been a development battleground. Now, Weintraub, a longtime real-estate maven whose own Malibu estate is on the market for $60 million, is promoting a plan that he says is just the ticket for the growth-phobic community.
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True, the cemetery population would grow. But at least the occupants wouldn’t be clogging Pacific Coast Highway with jaunts to Zuma Beach or the Malibu Country Mart.
“I do believe the cemetery would have less of a traffic impact than the hotel,” Mayor Peak said, adding that he couldn’t think of a “more beautiful area for a cemetery in Los Angeles.”
With millions of visitors pouring through the city each year, locals in Malibu — population 13,000 — bemoan bumper-to-bumper traffic on Pacific Coast Highway, the thoroughfare that snakes along the city’s 20-plus miles of dazzling coastline.
That has led to testy skirmishes over growth. The most recent one pitted Emmy-winning actor and director Rob Reiner against Steve Soboroff, a developer, philanthropist and president of the Los Angeles Police Commission.
On Election Day, city voters approved Measure R, an initiative spearheaded by Reiner that gives the public the power to approve or deny commercial developments larger than 20,000 square feet and limits the percentage of chain stores in new shopping centers. The measure has thwarted, at least temporarily, Soboroff’s latest endeavor: a Whole Foods supermarket complex in the Civic Center area.
When Weintraub first floated the cemetery scheme, some Malibu residents assumed he was using a cynical ploy to make the hotel idea seem more palatable, or at least less creepy, by contrast.
Weintraub insists that was not his motivation. The memorial park that his Green Acres proposes on nearly 28 acres just east of Pepperdine University is ideal, he said, “if people in Malibu don’t want traffic and don’t want noise and light pollution.”
The idea pencils out, he added, with in-ground plots expected to start at $10,000 or so and family plots or mausoleums running $50,000 to $100,000.
Weintraub refuses to give up the ghost on the hotel, however. He intends to propose both the hotel and the cemetery.
Carol Moss, a longtime resident of the exclusive Malibu Colony, likes the cemetery plan. “Anything,” she said, “to preserve open space.”
For visitors, Weintraub said: “It will not look or feel like any cemetery that anyone has ever seen. We’re not planning on having headstones or even ground markers, except for maybe small circles.” Visitors would find grave sites by using GPS.
Weintraub said he has consulted prominent international architects and artists, including Ed Ruscha and Chuck Arnoldi, with the aim of weaving art and architecture into the natural landscape.
According to a preliminary plan submitted to the city, the project could include “lawn crypts,” “bench estates,” “terrace estates” and “private family estates.” A 40-car underground-parking garage and an ecumenical chapel of about 7,500 square feet are also proposed.
Rabbi Judith HaLevy of the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue cheered the notion of a memorial park where visitors could sit in solitude while admiring the ocean view. “It is a good use of this property,” she said. “We have such limited oceanfront open space.”
Cindy Landon, a longtime friend of Weintraub, said she would prefer a cemetery over a hotel. “I don’t want to see Malibu continue to overdevelop,” said Landon, widow of actor Michael Landon. “If (the cemetery) is done the way Richard’s proposing it … I certainly would want to be there.”
Major resistance to the cemetery has not emerged. But it’s still early.
Joyce Parker-Bozylinski, the city’s planning director, said the project would require amendments to the zoning code and local coastal program. The California Coastal Commission agrees, said Jack Ainsworth, the panel’s senior deputy director. The commission has supported the hotel.
A cemetery would not be “the ultimate home run,” Weintraub acknowledged, “but it’s a way to create … a positive project.”