Dozens of Residents Voice Concerns Over Proposed Camping at Puerco Canyon

Former Malibu mayor Ken Kearsley speaks his opposition to planned campgrounds at Puerco Canyon.

If you want to raise the hackles of Malibu residents, the suggestion to build campgrounds in or near the city limits will do it. About 30 concerned residents attended a meeting in Pacific Palisades last week to vehemently oppose a long-simmering plan by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) that laid out plans to build a camping facility in Puerco Canyon.

The project has been anticipated for years, with a proposal including camps for underserved youth from Los Angeles. The campground is touted as a way to allow lower income people access to Malibu’s mountains and beaches. Now, the process is underway to make those plans a reality.

The MRCA project at the end of Puerco Canyon Road lies outside Malibu city limits in unincorporated Los Angeles County with access from Puerco Canyon. The proposed project would create 90 parking spaces, 25 camping sites and, according to MRCA’s Notice of Preparation, “covered dining and kitchen area(s)” along with walking paths, restrooms and trailhead amenities. Optional improvements include shower facilities and an enclosed cooking facility. No outdoor fire pits are included.

But the plans did not sit well with attendees who came armed with arguments against the MRCA proposal, beginning with the scoping meeting itself. The location was Temescal Gateway Park which, according to the MRCA’s scoping meeting announcement, was “for the convenience of property owners and residents in the project area.” Those who drove in from Malibu claimed the opposite and alleged the MRCA chose an inconvenient time and place for stakeholders to attend. Many claimed they never received a notice of the meeting or were told at the last minute. They also asked for an extension of the public comment period that ends July 9, citing vacation season. That concern gained traction since MRCA head Joseph Edmiston was absent from the meeting, reportedly on vacation himself. 

The biggest problem opponents pleaded to the MRCA is the high fire danger in Puerco Canyon—a box canyon with only one way in and out—especially in light of Malibu’s beleaguered history of brush fires. Hundreds of homes and three lives have been lost in recent decades. Those in attendance Wednesday night recalled numerous evacuations. Some lost homes in the 1993 fire. All said they live on edge during red flag warnings. 

Karen Farrer recalled being a PTA president “where 22 families had their homes burn down and several dozen more had severe damage and had to move.” 

“I was one of them,” she stated. 

Farrer also questioned the safety at Puerco Canyon and Pacific Coast Highway, saying, “I can remember two fatalities,” referring to the left turn from Puerco onto PCH heading south. “This is not a good idea.” 

She called the scoping meeting “amateur hour,” pointing out that questions were not answered by staff and referring to the recording process and lack of stenographer. Others at the meeting said it deserved a much more well-thought-out, planned forum. 

In the timeline presented, the MRCA said it wanted to finalize plans by this winter, to which resident Anne Payne replied, “It takes longer to gestate a baby.”

Oona Khan, president of the Malibu Country Estates Homeowner’s Association, which borders the site, said her group is opposed to the plan. Other residents also spoke out.

“I look forward to whatever statement you could possibly make that would make me feel comfortable having campgrounds in this area, given the fact I watched 50 of my friends’ homes burn in the last fire,” Susie Duff, a Malibu Bowl resident, told staff. “I can’t recall how many times I’ve evacuated. Why is this a good idea?” 

MRCA’s Mario Sandoval replied, “I appreciate your concerns, but I also don’t think there is one sentence I can say that will alleviate any of your fears. We’re doing everything we can to mitigate those dangers.”

Those measures include building one or more caretaker residences to house staff, along with water storage tanks and parking areas to support firefighting vehicles.

That’s when 30-year resident Bambi Young stated, “Eighty percent of wildfires are started by humans.” 

Former mayor Ken Kearsley noted that Malibu already hosts 15 million people as visitors and said it is not as if residents want to keep people away, but that campgrounds present a real danger to life and property.

Resident Julie Hoffman commented on the MRCA’s facilitation of other sites and questioned its weed abatement, noise control, impact on birds and wildlife, and fire preparedness. 

“This is a funnel fire canyon that can explode with 70 and 80 mile per hour winds affecting all businesses, universities, religious institutions and homes in the area,” Hoffman pleaded. Vehemently opposed, she concluded, “We won’t allow ourselves to be called NIMBYs. It’s a way to shut down our voices.”


Public comment closes July 9. Comments can be made emailed to or mailed to 

Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority

RE: Puerco Canyon Camp and Trailhead Project

Attn: Mario Sandoval, Project Analyst

570 West Avenue 26, Suite 100

Los Angeles, CA 90065