MRCA Sues Sycamore Park Residents

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The private road through Sycamore Park

In an unusual move, the Mountain Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) filed a lawsuit against private residents of Sycamore Park and four companies associated with the private community—14 total defendants—on March 22, based on a copy received by The Malibu Times.

This new development is part of an ongoing battle between Joseph T. Edmiston, MRCA executive director, and Sycamore Park homeowners. 

In late 2017, Edmiston purchased a parcel in the neighborhood, inviting guests—members of the public—to use it as public access to trails. The move alarmed community residents, who felt the influx of residents was detrimental to their neighborhood and way of life. 

After residents complained of new installations—including large signs, a park bench and a trash can—the city sent a Notice of Violation for operation without a CUP to the MRCA on Feb. 13. City of Malibu Media Information Officer Matt Meyerhoff confirmed that, “MRCA had responded in writing and stated they disagreed with the city’s interpretation of the code.” The case is now in the hands of City Attorney Christi Hogin, who was not available for comment at the time of publication.

In the new lawsuit, the MRCA alleges that the defendants, in “erecting a security kiosk and contracting a private security guard” without a Coastal Development Permit (CUP), are in violation of the Coastal Act. Oscar Victoria, staff counsel for the MRCA, and a private attorney are representing the plaintiffs in their suit against the residents.

During public comment at the April 9 City Council meeting, Victoria said: “The MRCA’s position is that … we are fundamentally against the notion that any kind of resource preservation or open space [that] requires a permit—any sort of permit—nonetheless, the MRCA must take the appropriate step to protect the taxpayers’ interest in the property, as taxpayers’ funds were used to purchase the property.”

What the lawsuit calls a security kiosk, residents call a shed, which is approximately 19 square feet on wheels. The lawsuit alleges that MRCA representatives have been denied access to the neighborhood. 

“The little tool shed has been there for three years,” Nancy Goldstein, an attorney representing Sycamore Park, said. Ken Kearsley, former Malibu mayor and Sycamore Park resident, echoed the statement. 

“We put a standing guard there, with a chair, with an American flag, with some cones and a little folding table,” he said, in a phone call with The Malibu Times.

On the alleged denial of access, Kearsley said the only time Edmiston was denied access was during a small fire in Sycamore Park back in January. 

Based on the alleged violation and denial of access, the plaintiff is asking for “not less than” $5 million in damages. Additional charges include a fine of up to $30,000 for a Coastal Act violation, a fine of “of up to $15,000 per day from October 29, 2017, for each violation of the Coastal Act” and any legal fees incurred.

It is not clear whether these fees apply to each defendant individually, or to the group as a whole. 

“All of a sudden, you’ve been living here for 54 years,” Kearsley—one of the individuals being sued—said. “The state of California is shooting your lifestyle but you have to pay for the bullet.”

The case has yet to be served. The two parties are currently in litigation over who is entitled to use Sycamore Park’s private roads.

Meanwhile, the MRCA applied for a grant with the Storm Water Grant Program under California Proposition 84—The Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality and Supply, Flood Control, River and Coastal Protection Bond Act of 2006. The grant was part of a resolution originally slated to go in front of the Santa Monica Mountain Conservancy on March 26. In a phone call with The Malibu Times, Malibu activist Patt Healy said the item was not heard that night and was postponed.

The grant, totaling $250,000, is for “Via Escondido Public Access Improvements.” According to the application, “A previously graded and disturbed pad provides an opportunity for amenities while still maintaining an appropriate buffer to the creek.” The amenities include accessible parking, picnic tables, trails and more. 

An official with the state’s Water Resources Control Board confirmed that any pending litigation must be reported in the grant application; in the grant application publically available online, there is no mention of ongoing litigation.

MRCA representatives, Deputy Executive Officer Cara Meyer and Chief of Park Development Ana Straabe, were not available for comment by the time of publication.

“What’s happening to us is precedent setting,” Sycamore Park resident Liz Stephens said in a phone call with The Malibu Times. “So that’s what people are concerned about. Not just in Malibu, [but] everywhere.

“No government agency, as far as we have learned, has come into a neighborhood to turn residential to recreational.”