Man of the mountains


    Parks Superintendent Russ Guiney moves up the park’s ladder.

    By P.G. O’Malley/Special to The Malibu Times

    It was a full house at the Malibu Lake Mountain Club on Nov. 23, a Saturday evening, as family, friends and co-workers gathered to honor Russ Guiney, retiring California Parks Superintendent for the Los Angeles District, who has moved on to become Chief Deputy Director for the County of Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation.

    Guiney, who is known as a nonbureaucratic bureaucrat, spent seven years in Malibu as sector superintendent in charge of Point Mugu, Leo Carrillo and Malibu Creek state parks, the pocket beaches north of Point Dume, and Malibu Lagoon and Point Dume state beaches. Guiney’s tenure in Malibu was challenging in that it coincided with six FEMA-designated disasters, from the 1993 and 1996 wildfires to three years of winter floods, including the 1998 El Nino, when the foresighted superintendent arranged for tug boats and salvage equipment to stand by offshore in case the ailing Malibu Pier broke up and “threatened somebody’s patio.”

    Many Malibuites will remember Guiney for his persistence in guiding the restoration of the pier, for helping to broker a solution to the city’s dispute with the California Coastal Commission over parking at the Point Dume Headlands and for his continuing efforts to resolve the issue of city ball fields, which are located on state park land opposite Pepperdine University.

    “As far as the Malibu Bluffs issue goes,” Guiney said, “I guess I would feel fulfilled and satisfied if there were a greater recognition that this isn’t a battle between the state and the city but a cooperative venture, and that if we work together it can be resolved.”

    Guiney was born in San Luis Obispo, grew up outside Morrow Bay and began his tenure with State Parks as a part-time guide at Hearst Castle. After college he embarked on his park service career in earnest, working his way steadily upward from a year at Big Basin Redwood State Park, five years at Lake Oroville State Recreation Area on the Feather River, two years as supervising ranger at Bodie State Historic Park, a stint at La Purisima Mission State Historic Park in Lompoc and finally superintendent of the Malibu Sector in 1991, where he served until his appointment as L.A. district superintendent in 1998.

    “There’s no one better than Russ at negotiating the issues,” said Ginny Kruger, deputy for Los Angeles Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. “We’ve had an extraordinary working relationship with him over the past eight years in regard to park acquisitions and issues that evolve at the private-public land interface.”

    Gruger’s comments were echoed by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, who, along with Laura Plotkin, deputy for state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, presented Guiney with a joint resolution of the Legislature, which acknowledged-27 years of service to the California parks system. Pavley called Guiney “a great friend of the Santa Monica Mountains” and Plotkin noted his diplomacy, especially “how well he fielded all those difficult phone calls we didn’t know what to do with.”

    Saturday night’s celebration continued with a string of testimonials from Ruth Gershon of the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council, Ron Webster of the Sierra Club Trail Crew, the Malibu Lagoon Association, Wildlife Rescue (founder Rebecca Dmytryk thanked Guiney for helping locate facilities to house wounded animals) and from members of the State Parks department staff. Melanie Winter, director of The River Project, praised Guiney’s vision in seeing the value of investing state funds to create parks from abandoned railway storage yards in downtown Los Angeles.

    Asked about Malibu’s relationship with the State Parks system, Guiney acknowledged residents of Malibu for recognizing the importance of preserving the natural resources of the ocean and the Santa Monica Mountains, efforts that he said would help preserve and enhance Malibu’s way of life while increasing area property values.

    Guiney noted the amount of time Malibu residents spend volunteering for local parks, particularly the docents at Malibu Lagoon who donate 12,000 hours of volunteer labor a year.

    “If you added it together, that’s over six full-time positions.”

    Guiney said his first task for the county parks department would be to investigate avenues of cooperation between the county and other parks, and recreation agencies within its jurisdiction and how they might share resources. The kick-off for the effort will be a January Park Summit at the Los Angeles County Arboretum, which will bring together county representatives with 88 cities.

    “The department wants to take a leadership role,” Guiney said, “so the department can be a partner, say, in the purchase of additional land in the Santa Monica Mountains.”