Overnight Group Camping Facility Coming to Puerco Canyon/Cameron Nature Preserve

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Joe Edmiston, on behalf of the MRCA, asked for a grant to prepare a plan to create an overnight group camping facility 2,000 feet up Puerco Canyon Rd. from PCH.

On March 30, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC) met in Thousand Oaks and passed a resolution authorizing a grant of $250,000 of Proposition 40 money to the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority (MRCA) for planning and design of an overnight group camping facility at Puerco Canyon, also known as the Cameron Nature Preserve. 

Joe Edmiston, who is head of both the MRCA and the SMMC, put the request for the money on an MRCA March 26 “special” meeting agenda.  After the request passed, it went before the SMMC at its meeting on March 30 — four days later — and was approved.  

Henry Stern, who serves as Malibu’s representative on the SMMC’s 26-member advisory committee, did not attend the March 30 meeting “due to a prior commitment.”

On March 26, Edmiston wrote a memorandum to “The Governing Board” of SMMC (basically himself, as head of the SMMC) on MRCA letterhead, explaining that the money would be used “to prepare a conceptual plan for an overnight group camping facility. The accommodations are intended to be used by service-oriented organizations such as urban youth associations, groups that provide therapeutic treatments to youth and adults of varying abilities, and community organizations from underserved and disadvantaged areas of the greater Los Angeles region.”

He went on to explain that the money would be spent on “programming of uses and space needs, preparation of base maps, code and permit analysis, circulation studies, development of conceptual layout options, preliminary engineering and project management.”

The memo describes access to the property as being 2,000 feet up Puerco Canyon Rd. from PCH. Edmiston makes the argument that the existence of dirt roads, old ranching structures and disturbed areas on the property “means that new development of equal or smaller footprint and impact is allowed.”

Edmiston has proposed overnight camping on various other parklands in and adjacent to Malibu in the past, always to vehement opposition by residents, who fear fire danger from unauthorized campfires. In 2010, his highly controversial plan to bring more than 70 overnight camping sites to five parks (Bluffs, Latigo, Ramirez, Escondido and Corral Canyon) resulted in the City bringing a lawsuit.

He later sought additional development permits for overnight camping at Ramirez Canyon and Charmlee Wilderness Park, although those requests were mitigated by settlement of the above lawsuit. Camping at Charmlee is now on hiatus, at least until the Bluffs Park swap with the City of Malibu becomes official, following a five-year lease agreement.

A private lawsuit is ongoing between the Malibu Encinal Homeowners Association versus the MRCA.

Resident fears are based on reality. The devastating 2007 Corral Canyon fire in Malibu, which was started by an unauthorized campfire, burned 4,500 acres and destroyed 51 homes and damaged 27 others.

The 703-acre Puerco Canyon property was purchased from director James Cameron for $12 million in July 2014 and was among the largest privately owned open space parcels in the Santa Monica Mountains. It lies just northwest of Pepperdine University, bordering the 8,000-acre Malibu Creek State Park and 1,000-acre Corral Canyon Open Space. 

Hikers were enthusiastic about its acquisition because it would help connect coastal parklands with trails from PCH and also allow trail builders to connect a key segment of the planned Coastal Slope Trail, a 70-mile route from Malibu Lagoon to Los Liones Trail.

The parkland has ecological importance, serving as drainage for three central watersheds — including the headwaters of Puerco Canyon — as well as providing a wildlife corridor for the movement of mountain lions, bobcats, mule deer and gray foxes. 

Edmiston wrote, “It is an outstanding example of the Mediterranean biome with a range of plant communities including chaparral, coastal sage scrub, native grasslands and oak woodlands.” 

Paul Edelman, MRCA chief of natural resources and planning, said in a phone interview it’s too premature to have any idea about specifics on the camping facilities.