Ramirez Canyon residents blast conservancy

About 50 residents of Ramirez Canyon sat in on the Sept. 28 City Council meeting. They had no item on the agenda, but many spoke during time for public comment. Their complaint is with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

“The conservancy is in violation of the zoning law of the city of Malibu because it is conducting a commercial facility without permission from the city,” said Mindy Sheps, executive director of Ramirez Canyon Preservation Fund. “It’s an ongoing nuisance. It creates safety hazards for our children. It spoils the bucolic nature of our canyon.”

In 1993, Barbra Streisand deeded her 22-acre estate to the SMMC. For the past two years, the conservancy has been offering the property for weddings, corporate outings, dinner parties, bar mitzvahs and garden tours.

Residents say last year the Streisand Center rented the property for 33 events of more than 20 people, seven of which had more than 100 people. They say increased traffic and heavy trucks have damaged their private road and that they are frequently subjected to loud music from the facility. They also say the facility is creating an increase in a septic problem that is next to a blue-line stream, one that runs directly into the ocean.

The street “is like a big family driveway,” said resident Richard Schultz, who told council members he feared for neighborhood children. “Now, it is dangerous.”

City Attorney Christi Hogin said that staff had been meeting with the conservancy in an effort to resolve the conflict with the neighbors. Hogin said another meeting has been scheduled but, if no is agreement reached, the city will have to decide what to do next. “Either litigation, or we give up on it. Those are our two choices.”

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The council decided to put the item on the next closed session. At that time, council members will discuss the possibility of future litigation against the conservancy.

The most lengthy discussion at the council meeting focused on the city’s acquisition of Charmlee Park. There seemed to be no doubt the city should accept the Quitclaim Deed from Los Angeles County but, for three hours, speakers presented their views, and the council debated whether to add deed restrictions that would limit the park to its current uses.

City staff recommended the council not approve the deed restrictions. City Manager Harry Peacock stated in the staff report, “Indeed, if the Objectives of the General Plan are followed, Charmlee Park has no need for special restrictive covenants.” Peacock added that it could be contrary to the provisions of the General Plan, which calls for parks the size of Charmlee to be regional in nature and serve the entire population. The staff report also called into question putting restrictions on a park that will cost $100,000 per year in operating expenses, stating, “Decisions and choices about parks and their cost are serious policy questions for any community. It is not something one rushes into.”

“My soul is connected to that park and to those trees,” said tree-surgeon Ronn Hayes, who lives near Charmlee Park. “Can’t we have one place left in our community that is sacred.” Hayes told council members that the deed restrictions were necessary in order to protect the park.

Paul Russell, of the Charmlee Nature Preserve Foundation, said he represented homeowners near Charmlee in speaking in favor of the restrictions. “They would not restrict the public from enjoying Charmlee’s unique resources,” he said.

“But they would protect those resources.”

Representatives from a group called People Achieving Recreation and Community Service (PARCS) spoke against the deed restrictions. “Our group, PARCS, is for passive recreation, so we’re in support of Charmlee being kept in its beautiful state,” said Laureen Sills, who explained what the group was opposed to was the process. “Everyone’s needs in the community should have been discussed before the results were written in stone.That document is legal and binding,” she added. “It’s forever. People should have known about it and, at least, had a chance to discuss it.”

The deed restrictions were approved by a unanimous vote.

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