Ramirez Canyon residents sue conservancy over use of road


In another attempt to bring an end to the weddings, parties and garden tours at the Streisand Center for Conservancy Studies, residents of Ramirez Canyon last week filed suit against the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy over what they say is the Streisand center’s excessive use of private Ramirez Canyon Road.

The Streisand center, created when Barbra Streisand gave the conservancy her former Ramirez Canyon estate, regularly rents out its facilities for catered functions, often for large weddings. The state agency uses the funds from the rental fees to pay for environment-related studies at the center and to maintain the extensive grounds and buildings on the 22-acre estate.

Residents say the caterers and party rental companies making regular deliveries, and the shuttle vans making numerous trips to drop off guests at the functions, amount to an overburdening of the easement on Ramirez Canyon Road that all the property owners in the canyon share. They say the catered functions have brought unbearable noise and traffic to their once-quiet canyon, and they have pursued a variety of strategies for bringing the center’s apparently lucrative rental business to an end.

For their lawsuit, the residents have retained Washington D.C.-based Defenders of Property Rights, a legal foundation that advocates for the rights of private property owners against government encroachment. Nancy Marzulla, an attorney with the foundation, said the Ramirez Canyon Road easement permits only those uses that are consistent with a residential neighborhood. Any commercial uses of the road, she said, must be limited to those associated with owning a home, like by repairmen or gardeners.

“The easement does not entitle any particular owner to use the road beyond normal residential uses,” Marzulla said.

The foundation is seeking an injunction to halt the center’s use of the road for catering trucks and shuttle vans carrying visitors who have parked outside the canyon. Without the catering trucks, and without the visitors, residents hope the weddings and parties will come to an end.

In addition to their lawsuit, residents have also called on the Coastal Commission to demand the conservancy’s compliance with laws regulating commercial activities in the coastal zone. The city of Malibu has also responded to the residents’ complaints by threatening legal action over the catered functions. City Attorney Christi Hogin says they violate local zoning laws.

“The heat is getting hotter for the conservancy, I hope,” said resident Mindy Sheps.

According to public records obtained by Sheps, the center this month is renting out its facilities for a party for 200 people on Oct. 14, and for a wedding for between 150 and 200 guests on Oct. 18. This weekend, a wedding will be held there, and the bride and the groom are expecting 200 guests.

“People are going to freak,” said Sheps.

An attorney for the conservancy could not be reached for comment.