The long and winding road of controversy over alleged commercial activity at the Streisand Center for Conservancy Studies in Ramirez Canyon traveled into Superior Court in Santa Monica last week.
Ramirez Canyon residents joined by attorneys representing the group’s preservation fund marched into court to try to stop the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy from continuing to use their road to access social events at the center.
Before the hearing, Superior Court Judge Stanley Weisberg had prepared a tentative ruling denying their request for a preliminary injunction to be issued against the conservancy, citing sovereign immunity.
However, lawyers for the Ramirez Canyon Preservation Fund were allowed to present full arguments. “There is a strong case law which supports the fact that if a governmental agency acts as a business in proprietary fashion, then they lose their governmental immunity because they’re no longer acting like the government,” said Mindy Sheps, chair of the preservation fund.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Weisberg took the matter under submission, and both sides said they were pleased. Conservancy Director Joe Edmiston said, “We remain optimistic that the judge will rule in the conservancy’s favor.” Washington, D. C. attorney Roger Marzulla, on behalf of the Ramirez Canyon Preservation Fund, said he is pleased that the court is giving the matter full consideration. “I feel confident that when the court looks at the only real issue in the case, and that is whether the activities going on at the Streisand property are commercial or are not commercial, that the court will conclude that Ms. Streisand couldn’t have conducted these activities as commercial nor could anybody else up and down that road.”
In addition to assigned environmental studies, Edmiston said the activities held at the center, including weddings and social functions, are ancillary and not uncommon to the practice of similar venues related to the state in some way. For example, he said, “I don’t see that it’s any different from what goes on at the Adamson House, which is a part of the Malibu Creek State Park.”
The conflict along the country road where the Streisand Center is located has been escalating for five years, since the gift from Barbra Streisand to the state for environmental study started turning sour for the neighbors who live around her former estate. In recent years, say the neighbors, the Ramirez Canyon road has seen a large increase in weekend traffic with more parties and functions at the center.
Concern for the safety of children, pets, property and peace of mind in the neighborhood reached a public protest in October. Neighbors attempted to get the Coastal Commission and Malibu city zoning officials to take action. Movement in this area is apparently progressing, according to the preservation fund’s President Ruth White. Without elaborating on specifics, she said, “I’m elated that the city is going to move in the area of zoning and that the Coastal Commission plans to enforce laws under which Joe [Edmiston] must operate.”
White was thrilled to see such a united effort find its way into the courthouse last week. Commenting on what she called a tremendous spirit of cooperation, she said, “We’ve become more than just a neighborhood. We’re almost a family.” Now all sides of the issue must wait until the judge decides. But according to White, “At least somebody’s listening . “