LOS ANGELES -- A California agency initially opposed to U2 guitarist The Edge's plan to build five mansions overlooking Malibu has agreed not to speak out against the project in exchange for more than $1 million in funding and other services, according to a newspaper report.
The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy board voted 3-2 this week to drop opposition to the controversial project, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.
In return, the musician and his partners would pay $750,000 to help the conservancy acquire additional segments of the Coastal Slope Trail and another $250,000 for consulting services. They also would dedicate nearly 100 acres – or about 60 percent – of their land to open space and agree to deed restrictions around their proposed homes.
The payments will depend on whether the project gets final approval and survives any appeals or legal challenges.
"The conservancy entered into this agreement in order to maximize the benefit for the public if the project is approved," the agency said in a statement.
The Edge, whose real name is David Evans, wants to build five multilevel homes, including one for himself, on a ridgeline in the Santa Monica Mountains overlooking Malibu. He has said the mansions will be some of the most environmentally sensitive ever designed in the world.
Neighboring residents and environmental groups, however, have raised concerns about biological and visual impacts in such sensitive habitat.
In 2009 the conservancy wrote a letter to the California Coastal Commission strongly opposing the project, saying it was inconsistent with the state Coastal Act and would be impossible to build without "unavoidable significant adverse visual and ecological impacts."
According to this week's agreement, the conservancy does not have to rescind the 2009 letter, but going forward will "take a neutral position" on the project.
Staff for the coastal commission, whose permission is critical for the project to move forward, recommended that the board reject the project because it destroys habitat and disrupts public views. The board postponed voting on the project in February at the request of Evans and four other investors.
A Sierra Club leader who sits on the conservancy's advisory board said that Evans has essentially bought the agency's silence.
"This would break up a large block of almost pristine wildlife habitat – one of the most impressive coastal-mountain interfaces in the country," David Brown said. "And though you're not really endorsing the project, you're withdrawing your objections to it, and it's not acceptable."
A spokesman for Evans and the other investors said they carefully considered the issues raised in the conservancy's letter and both parties worked together to address them.
"The property owners are proud of what they've accomplished with the conservancy, and they look forward to continuing to work with the Malibu community and other stakeholders," Don Schmitz said.