Edmiston gives city ultimatum on proposed Malibu camping ban

Joe Edmiston, executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy

The head of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy threatens to reinstate old parks plan if the city does not rescind its proposed ban on camping in Malibu. City leaders say they’ll go ahead with pursuing the proposal.

By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor

In what he called in an interview this week “giving the council one final opportunity to do the right thing,” Joe Edmiston, Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy executive director, sent a five-page letter to the City Council on Dec. 17 asking the city body to rescind its Dec. 5 unanimous vote to propose an overnight camping ban in Malibu. Edmiston has given the city 30 days to do what he has asked, or he will “act accordingly.”

The city’s Local Coastal Program, the state-drafted set of documents that sets zoning and building standards for Malibu development, allows camping in parks and other recreation areas. A conservancy proposal, which was developed through negotiation with city staff, would have changed the LCP to limit camping to 26 sites within the city. The council had initially supported the plan last month by a 4-1 margin in a meeting at which only a straw vote was taken. But in the wake of two fires a little more than a month apart and community pressure about the perceived fire risk from camping, the council changed course and unanimously supported a proposal to amend the LCP with a ban on overnight camping.

“We had a public hearing and we voted,” said Councilmember Andy Stern, who said he had not seen Edmiston’s letter. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s off to the Coastal Commission.”

The California Coastal Commission votes on all LCP amendments. Executive Director Peter Douglas told The Malibu Times earlier this month he would never support a camping ban, saying it went against the Coastal Act’s support of public access. Although Douglas doesn’t have a vote on the commission, his recommendation is a major influence.

With Edmiston placing a 30-day deadline for the council to rescind its Dec. 5 vote, a special council meeting would need to take place soon to place the item on the agenda for the next regular meeting on Jan. 14. At least three council members would need to vote to support placing the item on the agenda.

Like Stern, Mayor Jeff Jennings said he was not interested in taking back his vote. But he did not believe Edmiston’s letter was sincere.

“I think that if Joe sincerely had a goal in mind here to get us to rescind the vote, he would have come to us and continued discussions,” Jennings said. “The letter indicates a justification for whatever he plans to do next.”

The letter calls the council’s vote “the ultimate bait and switch” and says “shame alone should militate for recession of your vote.” With the council decision including a proposal to ban overnight camping and a rejection of the conservancy’s proposal for a 32-space parking lot at the top of Winding Way, while supporting the linking of trails mostly on public land throughout the city to create a continuous path, Edmiston wrote that the council had voted to create a private trail for Malibu.

“Without adequate parking for ‘outsiders’ who may want to use the trail and no overnight accommodation except in the ├╝ber-expensive hotel rooms and almost as expensive private campgrounds, this is a trail system primarily benefiting Malibu residents,” he wrote.

Edmiston continued, “So, members of the Council, it is beyond peradventure that the result of your action is a diminution of public access to public resources, diminution of use of public property to the advantage of a select few at the expense of the majority, and millions of dollars of state taxpayers’ investment in what will amount to a private trail system for Malibu residents. No wonder such an outcome got your unanimous vote to the huzzahs of a riotous contingent of locals,” referring to the large group of vocal opponents that attended the city hearings on this issue.

Jennings called Edmiston’s statements “silly.”

“That’s right out of Joe’s class warfare handbook,” Jennings said. “It’s something that not only Malibu experiences. Anytime any city objects to some aspect of what Joe wants to do, they’re immediately hit as being racist or elitist.”

If the council does not reverse its decision, Edmiston said he is planning to revive a proposal from last year that calls for a variety of controversial features, including 29 camping sites (at Escondido, Ramirez and Corral canyons), a parking lot at the top of Winding Way and 32 major events of up to 200 people per year at the conservancy’s Ramirez Canyon property. Called a Public Works Plan, it would have only required Coastal Commission approval, but the proposal was tossed aside in January of this year when the city and conservancy staffs decided to reach a compromise that would go before the City Council and later the Coastal Commission.

The conservancy board is holding a special public meeting on Dec. 28 to review its options on how to peruse that plan. The staff will provide the board with several options, Edmiston said this week. It will then choose one, with the board decision going forward if the City Council does not honor the request in Edmiston’s letter. But Edmiston said he doubts the council will agree to the demand.

” I think the council has made it pretty clear what course it is taking,” Edmiston said.