Public’s God-given right to enjoy land


Mayor Jeff Jennings is quoted as saying: “That’s right out of Joe’s class warfare handbook. 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.”

Class warfare? Oh, please. I’m not trying to put down Malibu that it isn’t at the top of the income heap, nor show up the mayor for the vacuity of his quotation, but Malibu is notches below the most affluent community served by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

Sadly to say for Jeff’s argument, the more affluent communities than Malibu are far more welcoming to the public, including the one I live in. Folks who know me find it no surprise that I keep a copy of Andrew Carnegie’s Gospel of Wealth close to hand.

In fact, judging by the stack of grant applications on my desk, throughout the rest of Southern California every jurisdiction-except Malibu-is clamoring for more public recreational facilities.

So why not fund projects in those other cities and leave Malibu alone?

Because one of the most beautiful stretches of California coastline is in Malibu. Many tens of millions of dollars of state taxpayer money has been spent to buy top-dollar open space in Malibu-and thereby assure that existing homeowners don’t have their view obstructed by development-in return for which the rest of California seeks only the limited and controlled opportunity to enjoy the open space they have bought.

Because the demand for coastal camping is acute. Every survey by California State Parks, every survey of public opinion in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, demands more camping. Quaint and old-fashioned, I believe there is something akin to a God given right to slumber under the stars on public land. Albeit such right is limited, controlled, and regulated; but in some primeval sense it is wrong for Malibu to altogether prohibit this most traditional enjoyment of parkland.

Three quarters of a century ago Mae Rindge tried to keep Malibu closed off. It took a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1923 to open it up. The Supreme Court ruled: “Public use of a road is not limited to its use as a mere business necessity or ordinary convenience, but includes its use as a scenic highway for the public enjoyment, recreation, and health.”

Into 2008 the public is stilling battling to open up Malibu “for the public enjoyment, recreation, and health.”

Joseph T. Edmiston,


Executive Director, Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy