California State Parks has so many locations in and around Malibu that the two will forever affect each other and need to work together. Craig Sap, Angeles district superintendent for state parks since 2010, was in charge of everything that state parks did in our area until his recent retirement in mid-October.
Sap spent most of his career in and around the Santa Monica Mountains, spending years as a lifeguard in Ventura County. He then attended ranger academy in 1997, was assigned to Huntington State Beach for two years and returned as the peace officer/lifeguard at Point Dume for three years in 2000. He ran a volunteer program there and tried to improve the park by enforcing regulations against dogs running loose, improving trails and signage, stopping vandalism and removing invasive plants. He described the condition of the park as “impaired” when he got there.
He was promoted to supervising ranger in 2003 and took over the entire region as Angeles district superintendent in 2010. Dealing with “critical incidents,” as he called them, was always a big part of the job.
There was the Springs Fire in the Santa Monica Mountains in 2013, followed by rain, mudslides and closures on PCH. Nearly 86 percent of Point Mugu State Park was charred, causing $300,000 in damage and the closure of campgrounds and trails to the public.
“The Springs Fire coincided with the Malibu Lagoon project,” Sap pointed out, which was a hugely controversial multi-million dollar California State Parks project in Malibu that involved dredging and reconfiguring the lagoon, with numerous demonstrations and hours of comments at City Hall.
“I was fulfilling the mission of state parks and working with the community at the same time,” Sap said in an interview. “The Malibu Lagoon became a hyper-local issue and the community was divided. I had to make sure groups weren’t pitted against each other, but the project had to get done.”
He added that the parks are for all residents of the state, not just Malibuites.
“Malibu derives revenue from people coming to visit state parks, and my mission was to ensure all Californians have access to those state parks,” he said. But he considers himself a community member.
“I have a special place in my heart for Malibu. My kid went to OLM and my post office box was there, and I was part of the community, as far as I was concerned,” he said. “I had to live in the community with people and still have good relations with them, and not take criticism personally.”
“In the beginning of my tenure, it was very frustrating not to have funding for restoring the Adamson House. I didn’t have a historic preservation budget,” he said. “When I was still new at the job, two to three years in, I really pounded the table at headquarters and got the city’s support, and we got $7.8 million out of a budget of $20 million to spend on deferred maintenance for the pier, Point Dume and the Adamson House. A good chunk of the entire state budget was put into Malibu projects.”
“We’ve had a lot of support from the City of Malibu and the city councils. We try to collaborate and stay on the same page. We’ve been successful in our relationships,” Sap noted. “We also have a better relationship with the Adamson House Foundation, have been able to accomplish a lot of repairs there, and now have a curator.”
The new, hourly parking at the lagoon and Malibu Creek was also his work.
“It used to be the system where you had to pay for the entire day even if you were only staying for an hour, and you had to put cash in an envelope. About two-and-a-half years ago, we put in automated pay machines that let visitors pay by phone, and pay by the hour,” he said.
He has also taken on the new popularity of El Matador, one of three “pocket” beaches within Meyer Memorial State Beaches, which has become party central—overcrowded, vandalized, with illegal beach campfires, trash, not enough restrooms, and dangerous overflow parking up and down PCH.
“El Matador is the most popular of the three beaches,” Sap confirmed, adding, “It caught us off guard. I had to bring in a dumpster for trash, five toilets instead of two, and improve public safety and sanitation. I put in a request to expand the parking lot, repaired the trails and added a lifeguard tower. There’s now more maintenance and security. The issues have decreased because of having a lifeguard there enforcing rules on dogs and alcohol. We’re trying to be good neighbors.”
There’s a long list of additional newsworthy things Sap has dealt with in his 10 years as superintendent: stairway replacement at Point Dume headlands, murder and shootings at Malibu Creek State Park, the aftermath of the Woolsey Fire that required closing all local parks and campgrounds and dealing with burned structures and ruined trails, the Rindge Dam removal project, death at the dam, a body found at the Malibu Lagoon, a fish die-off at the Malibu Lagoon, new regulations on drones and e-bikes, and new proposals on restoring the Topanga Lagoon.
There’s also the everyday supervision of staff, wedding and special events programs at the Adamson House, various volunteer programs, including volunteer mountain bike and horseback patrols, and interface with organizations like the Santa Monica Mountains Natural History Association.
Sap and his wife are now dividing their time between Malibu and Prescott, Arizona. He still wants to be active in the Malibu area and has even submitted an application to become a member of the Adamson House Board. He also makes himself accessible to State Parks employees with questions.
“Malibu is one of those entities like Reno—in the sense that it’s like the biggest little city in the world,” Sap said.