Outlook Grim For Sycamore Park Neighborhood Guard Gate

A map of the Sycamore Park neighborhood and Via Escondido from California Coastal Commission documents. The map shows that the road comes within 100 feet of a stream.

Residents of Malibu’s Sycamore Park neighborhood were dealt a blow last week after two public entities long considered to be Malibu adversaries—the MRCA and the California Coastal Commission—teamed up to determine the commission could have final say in whether the neighborhood could install a guard gate across its private road, Via Escondido Drive. 

The coastal commission made the decision after a brief hearing last Wednesday, April 14, determining that, although the guard gate would not be located within the commission’s jurisdiction, the road the gate crosses does eventually move to within 100 feet of a stream and, therefore, the commission can be the final decider of whether or not the neighborhood could secure a permit.

Two city staffers—Planning Director Richard Mollica and Assistant City Attorney Trevor Rusin—defended the city in the hearing, which did not include a public comment portion.

“Your staff has introduced a new, subjective standard that uses secondary impacts of development to define appealability,” Mollica told the commission. “That would be impossible to implement fairly for every application.” 

Commission staff argued the opposite was true.

“This [Malibu’s] interpretation would narrowly define development solely to the exact amount of physical space that the project occupies and any effect it has on solely the owner’s property,” Program Analyst Denise Venegas said. “This is not what the Coastal Act or LCP [local coastal program] demands and would require the commission to blind itself to the obvious purpose of the gate.”

Conflict between Sycamore Park and the MRCA (the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, headed up by Joe Edmiston) began in 2016 when residents learned a trail called the Haunted House Trail, located within their private neighborhood, was to be added to a Coastal Commission trail map, linking their private neighborhood to MRCA-owned public land in the mountains. At the time, 40 residents came before Malibu City Council to ask that the trail not be added to the map. Council agreed and the disputed trail was not approved. However, since that time, the MRCA has intensified efforts to bring members of the public into the neighborhood.

In 2017, the MRCA began publishing notices inviting members of the public to use the neighborhood as an access point to hike to Escondido Falls—the site of scores of injuries in recent years as it has grown in popularity on social media. Neighbors began complaining of increased traffic, littering, noise and even excrement in the previously quiet neighborhood.

The city has indicated support for the neighborhood tennis court organization (it’s de facto homeowners organization), including allowing a current temporary guard building to remain on the property. In September 2019, Malibu City Council voted unanimously, 5-0, to loosen rules for neighborhood guard gates, in an effort to allow Sycamore Park to get a gate installed. The neighborhood organization then applied for a coastal development permit to install the gate on Via Escondido. In reviewing that permit application, the city indicated it did not believe the coastal commission should get involved, but Edmiston then appealed the decision to the California Coastal Commission.

The current guard structure in place at the entrance to the neighborhood is also in the commission’s crosshairs. 

South Central Coast District Director Steve Hudson called the existing guard booth a “long outstanding violation.”