State agencies criticize Malibu’s plan to ban camping

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Coastal Commission head reiterates disapproval of Malibu’s proposed ban on overnight camping in city parks. Councilmember criticized for “defeatist” comments.

By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor

The City of Malibu’s proposal to ban overnight camping in public parks was the topic of discussion at state agency meetings in two different counties last week. In Thousands Oaks, the board of the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, a sister organization of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, voted to support the SMMC’s plan to override the city’s prohibition proposal. Meanwhile, in the city of Los Angeles, California Coastal Commission Executive Director Peter Douglas reiterated a statement he made last month in an interview with The Malibu Times that the city’s plan is “a waste of public resources and funds” because it violates the Coastal Act.

At its meeting last month, the Malibu City Council voted unanimously to propose an amendment to the city’s Local Coastal Program that would ban overnight camping in public parks located in the city. The Coastal Commission votes on all LCP amendments. Since the council decision, the SMMC has begun the process to do what is called an LCP Amendment Override, and make its own proposal to the Coastal Commission that calls for 29 overnight camping sites in Malibu and 32 annual major events at Ramirez Canyon Park, among other features. Both the city and the conservancy’s proposals include the linkage of trails to create a continuous path throughout a large portion of the city.

“I thought the city was coming into the 21st century and was accepting its responsibilities in the Coastal Act that public access is for all people who wish to access their coast and was an obligation [for Malibu to provide] just like every other local government and the [Coastal] Commission,” said Douglas, who added he was “very concerned about the direction we see the city heading in.”

Combined with allegations of illegal “no parking” signs in Point Dume and illegal “no camping” signs elsewhere [see “No camping signs anger public access group” story on A1], Douglas said he believed the city and the commission were entering a renewed battle over the issue of public access.

Malibu City Councilmember Sharon Barovsky said in an interview this week she was frustrated Douglas has continued to slam the city’s LCP amendment prior to it even going before the commission voting body. Although Douglas does not get to vote on the commission, he does make a recommendation, and his opinion is considered significant. Douglas told The Times he would not support the city’s amendment last month before he had even read it, since it had not yet been submitted to the commission staff at that time.

“I wish Mr. Douglas would allow us to lay our case before the commissioners in terms of fire danger (the reason Malibu proposes the camping ban) in our LCP amendment,” Barovsky said. “We have proposed opening many trails to our visitors. He doesn’t seem to want to talk about those. There is a lot in the document I’m sure even Mr. Douglas will agree with. And I’m hoping that we will all calm down and be able to talk.”

Marshall Thompson, a community activist whose wife is City Council candidate Susan Tellem, raised the perceived fire danger issue during the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority meeting.

“I earnestly plead for you to consider our legitimate concerns for public safety,” he said.

Thompson was the lone member of the public to attend the meeting, which took place in a small office boardroom. During a brief break of the official meeting, he got into a heated argument with MRCA board member Jerome Daniel (who also sits on the SMMC board) and Laurie Collins, an attorney for both state agencies.

Daniel told Thompson that Malibu is the only city to ever have a problem with the SMMC.

After taking a vote on the SMMC plan, Daniel said he did not understand Malibu’s opposition to the plan.

“Fires are going to start even if we’re not there,” Daniel said. “And they’re less likely to start if we are there [because they will be supervised].”

Mobocracy in Malibu?

Activist John Mazza demanded an apology for the community from Councilmember Ken Kearsley during Monday’s City Council meeting because of what he called Kearsley’s “defeatist” comments made in a recent article that appeared in the Ventura County Star.

Kearsley was quoted regarding the atmosphere of the council meeting on Dec. 5 when it rejected the SMMC’s overnight camping proposal in favor of proposing its own camping ban, “There was screaming and yelling. It was civil war, not civil discourse. It was mobocracy.”

And, in the same article, Kearsley said the chance of the Coastal Commission going with the conservancy’s plan over the city’s, “I rank it up there with the chance of the sun coming up tomorrow.”

Mazza said regarding these comments, “We have proven with the LNG fight and other issues, when the citizens of Malibu stand up to protect their homes and their rights, they can have an effect.”

Kearsley said he was misquoted in the newspaper article, and had actually said, “As Thomas Jefferson said, ‘It was mobocracy,'” which he said made a major difference.

When asked about this by The Times on Tuesday, writer Zeke Barlow, said, “I just edited the quote down. But I remember the Jefferson part. I didn’t think taking that out meant I misquoted him.”

Kearsley stood by his comment regarding the chance of the city’s success, saying he hopes he’s wrong. But he reiterated an opinion he has stated several times, that he would have preferred the council had approved the conservancy’s more-restrictive proposal that went before the city rather than lead to what he believes will be the Coastal Commission approval of a new, less-restrictive overnight camping proposal from the conservancy.