Conservancy counters Ramirez protests


The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Monday defended the use of its property in Ramirez Canyon for parties and spoke out against Malibu residents who have protested such use.

The Streisand Center for Conservancy Studies is doing a “fantastic job,” said Jerome Daniel, who sits on the conservancy board as a designee of County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. It may be hard for critics to swallow, Daniel said, but the conservancy intends to continue renting out the center for private, catered functions such as weddings.

“Everything that we do is within what Malibu city allows for temporary use for private residences,” said Lisa Soghor, program director at the center. “Our rules are as strict as theirs.”

The real nuisance is the protesters, according to Laurie Collins, staff counsel for the conservancy. They have disrupted weddings and issued threats, and one of the protesters even brandished a baseball bat, she alleged. “It’s completely uncalled for. It’s uncivilized behavior on their behalf.”

The center has not done anything differently since its opening, but only recently have the neighbors started complaining, Collins added. “We haven’t changed our practices at all. Nothing has changed except the neighbors’ behavior.”

Malibu residents have called on the Coastal Commission to force the conservancy’s compliance with laws regulating commercial activities within the coastal zone, but, “Any enforcement action is an extremely low priority,” said Coastal Commissioner John Hisserich, a designee of the commission. Nevertheless, he said, the commission and the conservancy must get together and look at whether a permit is needed to carry out what conservancy officials are doing.

Although the center would like to settle the escalating dispute, Collins said, “Some of our neighbors just simply don’t want us to be there.”

In other business, the conservancy board unanimously approved granting Malibu a two-year work permit and license to construct and maintain a dewatering system and drain line at Corral Canyon Park.

The initial proposal did not have a two-year limit, but Arthur Eck, National Park Service director, said the nature of the proposed agreement with Malibu seemed “pretty permanent.”

The effectiveness of Malibu’s plan for draining water out of the area was called into question. “There’s only a one-in-five chance of making a positive contribution to the condition,” Eck said.

Concern was also raised about whether the plan complies with environmental regulations. “I asked what they’re going to do about SEQUA and they said, ‘Gee, we haven’t thought about it,'” said Collins.

A permit and license was granted. “We shouldn’t be the entity that they can say stands in the way,” said Joe Edmiston, executive director of the conservancy. “Don’t expect too much reciprocity here,” Edmiston said of the City Council’s participation in settling the Ramirez Canyon controversy.