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Developer’s idea to control Malibu’s growth: a big new cemetery

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 push-back from the notoriously slow-growth enclave.

Now he’s proposing an alternative that is more Eagles’ “Hotel California” than destination inn: a memorial park, 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 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.

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,” the mayor 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 LLC 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.”

And 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, digs 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.

Major resistance to the cemetery has not yet emerged. But the community is still recovering from the dust-up over Measure R — and it’s 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.”