Escondido Falls Project Draws Ire

Malitex Project Near Escondido Falls

More than a dozen residents from the Winding Way and Murphy Way neighborhoods voiced opposition last week to a proposal to build three homes nearby on a scenic ridgeline in the Escondido Canyon Park area. 

The 88-acre land holding is under county jurisdiction and currently zoned for the construction of one home. Development firm Malitex is seeking to subdivide the land into three single-family lots for the construction of the homes atop the ridgeline, then donate 73 acres to a public agency such as the Santa Monica Mountains Conser vancy. Murphy Way would also have to be widened from 15 to 20 feet. Malitex is owned by Gregg Ruth, owner of a Malibu-based jewelry company. 

At an environmental scoping meeting for the project, 15 residents argued the proposed homes would disrupt scenic space visible from several nearby public viewing areas on Kanan Dume Road, Winding Way and Pacific Coast Highway. 

“Is this going to set a precedent?” one resident asked. “…If you build on this ridgeline, why not another?” 

Pete McCawley, a representative of Malitex who also attended Thursday’s meeting, said the firm wants to build the homes on the ridgeline because it has the safest slope on the entire site. 

“The bottom line is the area that’s being built on is less than 20 percent sloped,” McCawley told The Malibu Times. “…It’s the most efficient place.” 

Development is barred on “designated significant ridgelines” under the county’s Malibu Coastal Plan (MCP), according to county planner Tyler Montgomery. But the ridgeline where the Escondido Project is located is not mapped as “significant” based on the MCP passed in 1986, which gauges characteristics such as topographic steepness, prominence in the skyline and proximity to cultural landmarks. 

“While there is a significant ridgeline in that area, the project—at its closest point—would be 200 feet to the west of it,” Montgomery wrote in an email to The Malibu Times

Neighbors also took issue with plans by Malitex to donate 73 of the 88 acres for public use. 

Though it’s up to the county’s planning board to determine which agency will ultimately receive the donation, many anticipate SMMC Executive Director Joe Edmiston to make a push for the land. The SMMC controls most of the publicly owned surrounding acreage contiguous to the Murphy Way project, including popular hiking destination Escondido Falls. 

Locals cited what they believe is mismanagement and a lack of attention given to the Escondido Falls trailhead on East Winding Way. Accessing the trail requires parking at the intersection of PCH and East Winding Way, then walking up Winding Way (a private road) to get to the SMMC trail. Residents argue that the SMMC does not consistently patrol for visitors who often walk on the roadway and even vandalize private property. 

“Whatever agency accepts this dedication should have terms put on them that are enforceable…We need something with teeth in it,” Winding Way homeowners association president Jonathan Kaye said during Thursday’s meeting.