The California Coastal Commission voted 11-0 last week Wednesday in Oceanside to approve the proposal from the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC) and its sister organization the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) to enhance Malibu parks with various features, including overnight camping. The commission also approved a “study” that will allow the use of propane stoves at “one or two parks” for one year. If Coastal Commission Executive Director Peter Douglas decides they did not create a fire problem, they would be allowed at all the parks. Fire risk is the biggest criticism of the overnight camping part of the project.
Representatives of several recreational organizations for underprivileged and racial minority youths and other project proponents addressed the commission, praising it as an opportunity for camping and coastal access for those who do not have it. While previous hearings on this project had been attended by dozens of Malibu opponents, few showed this time. Opposition was limited to Malibu Planning Manager Joyce Parker-Bozylinski, Ramirez Canyon homeowners’ attorney Steve Amerikaner and Rick Mullen, a Ramirez resident. Mullen told the Commission people did come because they believed the project would be “rubber-stamped.” He said the evidence was that the Commission unanimously approved the project in concept last year with limited discussion following a lengthy public testimony.
Officially called the Malibu Parks Public Access Enhancement Public Works Plan, the project has gone through several changes since first proposed in 2006. This version calls for 54 total camping sites at SMMC properties at Bluffs Park (35), Corral Canyon (17) and Ramirez (2). The Ramirez sites will only be built following the construction of an emergency access road. Ramirez residents and SMMC officials differ on where that road should be. The project also includes trails, sites for day-use and parking spaces at those locations as well as at Escondido Canyon and the Latigo trailhead. Also, the SMMC can host gatherings at Ramirez of up to 200 people, as many as 16 times per year.
“This plan is extremely important to approve,” said Commissioner Sara Wan, a Malibu resident who frequently criticizes the city about public access. “It’s going to bring low-cost, visitor-serving accommodations to a community that has almost none.”
Douglas said it was “rather offensive and arrogant” that Malibu residents did not show. He said there was limited discussion at the previous hearing because that was regarding whether the project could move forward, while this time the actual details were before the commission.
“Aside from the fact we’re going to get out of here several hours sooner than we otherwise would have thought, I think it’s unfortunate that people just presumed what you were going to do and missed the opportunity that they had to give you their thoughts on the merits of the project that is before you,” Douglas told the Commission.
The lone resident who did speak got under the skin of several commissioners. While staring and pointing at SMMC Executive Director Joe Edmiston, but addressing the Commission, Mullen said, “We won’t oppose it here because we know you’ll rubber stamp it, but we’ll oppose it like we always have. And we will be there. And we will be there to the end.”
Commissioner Steve Blank compared Mullen’s comment to Gov. George Wallace standing in front of a doorway at the University of Alabama in 1963 to prevent the first black students from entering. He said he would put Mullen’s speech on the Internet.
“I think that that would make somebody in Malibu pause of what was just said here,” Blank said. “’You’re not coming into our schoolhouse.’ Excuse me, we will. And all 35 million Californians are coming.”
Mullen said after the meeting that the response from Blank and similar statements from other commissioners did not accurately reflect what he had said.
“Their reaction was more based on the fact that they’re not used to people speaking at the podium who are not prostrating themselves before them and asking them for something,” Mullen said.
He added that Ramirez residents are not opposed to the overnight camping sites slated for the local park, but they are opposed to the catered events feature. He said the SMMC wants to host these events, which he said are not suitable for a residential neighborhood, so it can make money to afford to maintain the property. The site, which is the location of the SMMC main office, was acquired through a donation from Barbra Streisand in 1993.
“This whole project is basically camouflage for what [Edmiston] really wants to do, which is he wants to turn Barbra Streisand’s old estate into a wedding and catering business and do for-profit commercial enterprises there as many days as possible,” said Mullen, who added he did not believe the overnight camping sites would ever be built.
When asked whether a lawsuit would be filed to challenge the decision, Mullen said “everything is on the table.” There are already suits pending from the Ramirez homeowners and the City of Malibu in response to last year’s approval of the plan in concept.