SMMC approves overnight camping plan

The controversial plan, which includes overnight camping at three parks, will have to go before the California Coastal Commission for final approval.

By Jonathan Friedman / The Malibu Times

The boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC) and Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) on Monday approved a modified version of the Malibu parkland development plan, which includes the hot-button feature of overnight camping. Malibu Mayor Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner, who had an advisory vote at the meeting, opposed the plan. But he said after the meeting that the plan is “90 percent there.” Others were less impressed.

The latest version of the proposal, called the Modified Redesign Alternative (MRA), includes a reduction in the number of parks with camping and total overnight camping sites. It calls for 54 total sites-at Bluffs Park (35), Corral Canyon (17) and Ramirez Canyon (2). The Ramirez Canyon sites would only be built following the construction of an emergency access road. To further address fire safety concerns, the issue most frequently raised by project opponents, cooking is limited to small electric appliances. No flames of any kind are allowed. Parking spaces have been reduced to a total of 157.

A previous version of the plan, which has been modified many times, included more than 70 campsites at a total of five parks, and more than 200 parking spaces at all sites.

Trails (including the formation of a Coastal Slope Trail to connect the east and west ends of Malibu), sites for day visits and the ability to host events at Ramirez Canyon are still part of the project.


“I think this plan was definitely an effort on [SMMC and MRCA head] Joe Edmiston’s part to appease the Malibu populace,” Wagner said after the meeting. “He definitely knew he didn’t want to wind up in court, so he came up with a modified plan that was actually pretty fair in my assessment.”

Wagner said he voted against the most recent version of the plan because he wanted more time to digest it and to provide some input. He said he wants the campsites further clustered and have further fire safety measures included. Wagner hopes these issues can be addressed before the item goes before the California Coastal Commission, the final government body that must review the project.

During Monday’s hearing, which took place in Pacific Palisades, a number of public speakers addressed the boards. Most of them were Ramirez Canyon residents opposed to the project.

“If you’ve been to Ramirez Canyon, you can readily understand why the people who live there are so upset about this proposal,” said Steve Amerikaner, the former Malibu city attorney who now represents Ramirez Canyon homeowners. “It will fundamentally change the character of the canyon. The only reason it is happening is because the conservancy continues to push to intensify the use of this remote and inaccessible property in a way the topography and facilities just cannot support.”

Although there were numerous public speakers, the number was smaller than those who have usually spoken at the many meetings since the original version of the plan was proposed four years ago. Wendy-Sue Rosen, who sits on the SMMC’s advisory board, attributed this to an improved plan that most Malibu residents could accept. Amerikaner said it was because thousands of pages of documents had been released in the past week, and people have not had time to read them.

“How can the public meaningfully participate when there is so much material and so little time to review it,” Amerikaner said.

Edmiston said most of the documents released were updates of materials that have been part of the public record for a long time. When asked by a board member if a vote should be delayed, Edmiston said it should not. He joked that those who want a delay would like it rescheduled to the “ninth day of never.”

“I can’t conceivably see how anything more can be vetted than what has already been vetted tonight by the lawyers, by everybody,” Edmiston said.

Among the public speakers was Don Wallace, a retired firefighter who said he represented equestrian and trails groups. He applauded what he considered to be the fire safety precautions taken for the project.

“In my professional and personal opinion, this is the best and most thorough protection plan ever devised,” Wallace said.

There is no scheduled date for a Coastal Commission hearing on the project. The commission already approved the project in concept last year, triggering a lawsuit from the city that has not gotten much past the initial stage.

Look in next week’s issue of The Malibu Times for a detailed analysis of various aspects of this parks plan.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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