Conservancy intentionally avoiding Malibu approval of parks project

Attorney for Ramirez Canyon property owners says a lawsuit “certainly is on the drawing board” if the Coastal Commission approves a parks enhancement plan proposed by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor

Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Executive Director Joe Edmiston said Monday that the conservancy was avoiding going through the Malibu government for its parks enhancement plan because the City Council was on record that it would reject it. Edmiston made this comment in defense of his proposal during the SMMC Board meeting, at which the board voiced its support of the plan.

The SMMC has proposed a plan to enhance three of its local park properties, Ramirez Canyon, Escondido and Corral Canyon. The plan has been criticized for many reasons, including that the SMMC’s calling it a “public works plan” makes it so that it only needs approval from the California Coastal Commission, not the city of Malibu.

Edmiston said Monday that avoiding city government consideration was necessary because earlier this year when the City Council refused to put a “regional park” classification as an item on its Malibu Local Coastal Program amendment proposal to the Coastal Commission, it was telling the SMMC that it would not approve any park enhancement plan it put before the council.

“We have direct and specific evidence by official actions taken by the City Council of Malibu that serving a regional area as the conservancy would be doing, that is not acceptable by the Malibu LCP,” Edmiston said.

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Late last year, the Malibu Planning Commission had voted to add a “regional park” classification to the LCP amendment, but the City Council rejected that recommendation. Since then, the council sent its amendment to the Coastal Commission and the Coastal Commission staff has recommended that the “regional park” item be put back in. In response, the city is planning to ask that all park discussion be removed from the document.

Edmiston said that it was his understanding based on advice from “high-priced attorneys” that a project rejected by a City Council could not be appealed to the Coastal Commission, so the city could hold his proposal hostage. The Coastal Act does state that the only projects that can be appealed to the Coastal Commission are those that a local government rejects, with the only exception being “any development which constitutes a major public works project or a major energy facility.”

Steve Amerikaner, the lawyer for the Ramirez Canyon property owners in opposition to the SMMC’s project, said on Tuesday that he was trying to determine whether the conservancy’s plan qualifies as a “major public works project.” But he said even if it does not, that does not mean he should be able to avoid going through the city.

“I think there needs to be some process that includes the city of Malibu and gives some reasonable comfort to the conservancy,” Amerikaner said. “And that requires some negotiation and compromise.”

Edmiston said during the conservancy meeting that he “would be happy to meet with the city” about his proposal. But he added, “If the city simply comes back and says, ‘We want the power to permanently veto what you do,’ we can’t accept that.”

Also during Monday’s meeting, Edmiston defended his proposal’s inconsistency with the Malibu Trails Master Plan, which is another criticism of the project. He said if the conservancy followed Malibu’s plan, it would not allow for continuous trails. “The city of Malibu has taken the position that it does not have the authority to require trail dedications for single-family dwelling projects,” Edmiston said. “Because these projects constitute the majority of projects within Malibu, a series of alternative alignments must be planned [for the SMMC project], including some trail alignments not adopted by the City of Malibu, in order for a contiguous trail to actually be developed. “

At last week’s City Council meeting, the council voted to request that the California Contract Cities Association, an organization consisting of Los Angeles County cities that contract out for some municipal services, oppose the SMMC’s plan. Edmiston said at Monday’s conservancy meeting that the council’s action was shocking.

“It’s a pretty disingenuous attempt to bring in the larger community of cities for, what I have to say are, those who would exclude others,” Edmiston said.

A meeting to consider this is taking place Wednesday of this week.

During the conservancy meeting, Amerikaner played a video of last week’s City Council meeting. At that council meeting, an attorney for the SMMC said the approval of Malibu’s request to the Contract Cities would “enhance the reputation in some quarters that it [Malibu] is an elitist and exclusionary enclave.” Several council members said they were offended by the attorney’s comments. One SMMC board member, after viewing the video, said she could understand why some council members might be offended by the attorney’s comments. Others on the board said they thought the comments were fine.

The board voted to amend the park enhancement proposal with some fire safety items. A final vote on the plan will take place either next month or in November. Then it will be sent to the Coastal Commission for final approval. Amerikaner said Tuesday that a lawsuit being filed by the Ramirez Canyon property owners if the Coastal Commission approves the project “certainly is on the drawing board.”

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

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