The Edge of Destruction

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U2 guitarist's plan for his 1,000 acres in Malibu is infuriating some of his neighbors

Craig Stephens, LA Weekly

Irish supergroup U2 has long been acknowledged for its altruism, for using its fame to spotlight global issues like poverty, the AIDS crisis and the environment. But while music critics and fans are focused on the band's spirit and energy, which is readily apparent on U2's new album, No Line on the Horizon, the band's guitarist, David Evans, a.k.a. the Edge, has been drawing a less-welcome sort of attention from his Malibu neighbors, who accuse him of hypocrisy in how he's developing two huge properties there.

Residents in the Coral and Latigo canyon areas of the Malibu hills are in an uproar over the Edge's plan to build five homes across a proposed area of nearly 1,000 acres on two key sites, one bordered by the spectacular Latigo Canyon and the other at Serra Retreat.

In the three years he's owned the properties, the litany of complaints hurled at the Edge include, among other things: his eviction of a long-standing archery club; his plans to level a mountain on the property, which would cause destructive water runoff and land erosion; wildlife endangerment; and potential obstruction of existing views. If his plans become real, decry neighbors, there may be one less lovely line on Malibu's horizon.

Among those most frustrated by the Edge's plans is Candace Brown, a resident and longtime partner of Malibu mayoral candidate Councilman Jefferson Wagner. She accuses the U2 guitarist of spearheading an overly ostentatious and self-serving development that will upset the ecosystem and create an eyesore of, in her words, oversized "McMansions."

"They evicted the archery club, which was an institution in Malibu," says an exasperated Brown of the Edge and his project partners. She says that they also dug a 15-foot trench "the size of three football fields," and that eyewitnesses have reported seeing wildlife, including deer and fox, trapped in the trench.

But critics say that the digging is a minor issue compared to the overall consequences of the project. One disgruntled neighbor, Jim Smith, a building contractor who has looked at the Edge's plans, estimates that the proposed construction would affect the community for years to come. Smith says that an existing mountain on the property will, in effect, disappear, and that approximately 5,000 truckloads of earth removed from the site would be transported along a road not nearly large enough to handle the load.

Resident Scott Wilder has watched the ongoing development unfold over the past two years, and has seen the Edge walking around the property and discussing plans with engineers. According to Wilder, "the sheer size of this project will have a detrimental effect."

Like many archetypical rock stars, the Edge has had an ongoing romance with L.A., with repeated visits and tours since the band's rise in the '80s. He was based in Malibu for a couple of years in the early '00s, after marrying a backup dancer from U2's Zoo tour, Morleigh Steinberg, in 2002, and sending his three kids to an area school. Bandmate Bono explained the Edge's affection for L.A. at a press conference last week at Capitol Studios in Hollywood: "Edge has a soft spot for L.A., seeing as though he fell in love with a California girl." The singer was no doubt referring to Steinberg, who was born and raised in Santa Monica.

In addition to the Malibu development, the Edge's real estate portfolio includes a $5 million loft in NYC's Tribeca neighborhood, a villa on the French Riviera and a house in South Dublin County, Ireland. The Edge and U2 also poured millions of dollars into the development of the industrial wasteland of Dublin's docklands area, including a proposed tower that stands to be Ireland's tallest building, housing a recording studio and luxury apartments. The credit crunch has stalled the project at the excavation stage.

The Edge bought the two Malibu sites in November 2006. Though neighbors all say he's been sociable in his encounters with them, and all of his projects have been granted full legal permits, residents feel they've been misled by his stated intention to build so many homes on the land. As well, he seems to be contradicting his band's purported commitment to environmentalism.

Take, for example, the trench, which neighbor Wilder believes was created with a very specific intention. "The land formed a ridge line that prior to the trench being dug would have made it an unfit building surface," he says. "The developers have subsequently filled in the trench, and there is no more ridge line. By filling it in, they've flattened the ridge and created a building pad."

Malibu developer Don Schmitz has been hired by the Edge to oversee the development. A longtime resident, Schmitz has acted as a middleman for various building projects in Malibu for the past two decades with his company, Don Schmitz and Associates. When asked about the project, Schmitz declined to comment, or to even acknowledge his client. (The Edge declined to comment on this story.)

An authorization document signed by the Edge and submitted to the California Coastal Commission, the body that processes development applications, confirms that he has authorized Schmitz to oversee the massive project. When asked about the trench on the Latigo Canyon site, Schmitz denied it was leveled for purposes of creating a building pad. He says that the excavation to date is "purely for geological purposes."

In addition to the carving up of portions of the mountain, neighbors say that the Edge's proposed new homes will destroy their views. "I can presently see a view from my home, called the 'Queen's Necklace,'" explains Wilder, "which shows areas of L.A. from Santa Monica to LAX. The development will directly impede residents' existing views and impact the scenic drive through Latigo Canyon for the general public."

For Wilder, the U2 glam factor isn't an issue, but he does fear that the Edge's stature could fast-track the development. Wilder's a professional stuntman, so the prospect of celeb-spotting or party invites doesn't really faze him. He says that a specific interaction was notable, however. "There was one occasion when his enormous tour bus stopped dead on the road to my house, blocking it. Myself and several other cars had to wait behind it for some time until I became annoyed and approached the window of the bus. I asked the driver to move, though he said I'd have to wait, as he didn't want to interrupt the Edge and Axl Rose [a fellow Malibu resident], who were in an intense discussion at the back of the bus."

Another gripe of the residents' is the eviction by the Edge and his developers of the Malibu Mountain Archery Club, an institution located on the Latigo Canyon site since 1938. Club treasurer Sharon Prey, also a resident, laments its loss, and says that it raised money to benefit local charities. The club was steeped in history, as well. "After Errol Flynn made archery popular in his films," Prey explains, "it was very fashionable. I've got photographs of everyone from Shirley Temple and Bob Hope to James Garner at the old range." It has also served as an Olympic venue and a set for countless movies. When the Edge bought that land, the club was forced to shutter.

A resident of the Serra Retreat area, Jim Smith has been vocal in his disapproval of the Edge's development. His key issue is what he sees as the destruction of an entire mountain.

"Two years ago he pulled up outside my house and mentioned he was going to be my new neighbor," recalls Smith. "He was friendly and charismatic. I was happy knowing he was buying the land, as I assumed he would be sensitive to the environment -- though that's not the case."

Smith says that in addition to a site for the Edge's own house, plans call for five more parcels of land to host additional spec homes. Smith claims that, as the mountain is excavated, a man-made slope will span the height of a 20-story building and carve the mountain until it is unrecognizable.

Explains a frustrated Smith: "When I expressed my concerns about the development, he told me he was sympathetic to my concerns, though he's done nothing. He's not walking the walk of an environmentalist."

© 2009 Village Voice Media.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on March 19, 2009 8:49 AM.

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