Conservancy board to resubmit camping plan to Coastal

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Malibu City Attorney Christi Hogin condemns the action, and says the conservancy is “trying to game the system.” Conservancy officials say they are complying with a judge’s ruling.

By Knowles Adkisson / The Malibu Times

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy took steps Monday to get its derailed parks enhancement plan, which includes overnight camping and large parties on its Malibu properties, back on track. The conservancy’s board of directors approved changes in language for the proposal that it hopes will satisfy a court order, which voided the plan three weeks ago.

The proposal would create more than two-dozen overnight camping sites at Ramirez, Escondido, Corral Canyon and Bluffs parks, and allow 32 special events (parties of up to 200 people) per year at the conservancy’s Ramirez Canyon property (donated by Barbra Streisand). It also calls for a 32-space parking lot at the top of Winding Way and improvements to local trails to create the Coastal Slope Trail that will connect the east and west ends of Malibu. Though the proposed plan would prohibit campfires, residents have expressed doubt in the past over the extent to which that rule would be enforced.

When the Malibu City Council backtracked from a tentative agreement with the conservancy that would have allowed camping in 2007, the conservancy bypassed the city and brought its plan to the California Coastal Commission by way of a seldom-used procedure called a Local Coastal Program amendment override procedure. The Coastal Commission approved the plan over the objections of the city, which then sued.

The LCP override is a rare procedure intended for use when a public works project or energy facility development is being requested that meets “public needs of an area greater than” the local jurisdiction, and if the request was not anticipated by the applicant making it when the LCP was certified by the Coastal Commission.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John A. Torribio on July 7 voided the plan, formally called the Malibu Parks Public Access Enhancement Plan Overlay, and ruled the Coastal Commission had overstepped its authority by approving it. Torribio wrote in the ruling that the conservancy’s proposal was too general, and that “the California Coastal Commission is ordered to require that specific public works projects be identified in any subsequent application.”

Torribio also wrote that since the proposal is specifically called a “plan,” it “expressly acknowledges that the Conservancy was not proposing a public works project or energy facility development.”

City officials characterized the decision as a victory for local land control, while the state agencies called it a procedural setback.

Though the conservancy and the Coastal Commission have appealed the decision, the conservancy’s board of directors approved minor changes to the proposal at its regular meeting Monday to comply with Torribio’s ruling. The changes include more specifics for the conservancy’s intended use, and alter the proposal to officially designate it as a public works project.

The amended proposal will now go to Coastal Commission Executive Director Peter Douglas for approval. If Douglas approves it, the City of Malibu would have 90 days to add its approval. If it does not, the matter would continue to be fought through the courts.

Rorie Skei, chief deputy director for the conservancy, called the changes “a procedural matter in order to accomplish the same goal by going through the steps [Judge Torribio] requested.”

But Malibu City Attorney Christi Hogin said resubmitting an LCP amendment override to the Coastal Commission was not what Judge Torribio’s court ruling demanded.

“It didn’t say resubmit it, did it?” Hogin said. “They don’t have jurisdiction to change the city’s LCP.”

Laurie Collins, legal counsel for the conservancy, disagreed with Hogin’s interpretation of the ruling.

“He’s saying that we can resubmit, but it has to describe a specific public works project,” Collins said. “I’d say that’s pretty clear on its face.”

Hogin said that if the conservancy wanted to get its camping proposal approved, it should apply to the City of Malibu and hold public hearings.

“It sounds to me like they’re trying to game the system,” Hogin said. “But this really isn’t a game. It’s the implementation of the Coastal Act, and the city has a role to play in it, and so does the commission and so does the conservancy. And it’s very possible for us to all work together on this thing.”

Collins said, as the conservancy’s attorney, she could not commit that it would negotiate with the city should Douglas approve its amended camping proposal.

“That’s up to the board and the executive director,” Collins said. “But I can tell you that the conservancy, as a general matter, wants to keep the lines of communication open between itself and the cities that it works with, as well as the park users.”