The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA), a state agency that acquires and manages public parkland, is continuing to butt heads with homeowners in Malibu’s Sycamore Park neighborhood. The MRCA is now claiming the public has a right to go a half-mile through the neighborhood’s private property in order to access a piece of land that MRCA purchased last year. The group is calling that property a “trailhead,” although though no trail exists.
“Can the MRCA buy any lot right next to you and turn it into a public park? There should be a big red flag about this,” Sycamore Park attorney Nancy Goldstein said in a phone interview. “Why is MRCA trying to change the nature of the community? Can a public agency like the MRCA buy a lot in any neighborhood and then invite the general public?”
MRCA purchased 2.38 acres of undeveloped land last year at 6118 Via Escondido Drive—the very end of the street—which came with deeded beach rights and shared use of a pathway traversing under PCH that provides access to Escondido Beach.
“MRCA Executive Officer Joseph T. Edmiston has made it his mission to secure public rights of access from the peak to the beach,” Goldstein said. “What that means in Malibu is that he wants to establish public access from the backbone trail to the beach—which goes through private property. The MRCA expansion has been without consideration of surrounding property rights or how public access would affect the homeowners.”
Other residents assume Edmiston is looking for a back way to Escondido Falls. He has been taking some heat for the crowds of people parking up and down PCH and clogging the road and parking lot on Winding Way to access the falls on MRCA property. Homeowners allege the MRCA, under Edmiston’s leadership, continually fails to employ enough rangers to police the graffiti, trash and lack of public restroom facilities. Many theorize that Via Escondido would serve as an alternate way to the falls and help ease that congestion.
“The MRCA is trying to get a foothold in our small private community in order to create a public thoroughfare where one does not exist,” according to Ken Kearsley, former Malibu mayor and city councilmember who lives in Sycamore Park. “They will use our reciprocal easement rights to bring in ‘invitees’—AKA the general public—to use our private roads as a means to access Escondido Falls, as they have done on Winding Way.”
The MRCA’s “Malibu Parks Public Access Enhancement Plan Proposed Trail Resources” map shows the street of Via Escondido as a public trail, although no such trail exists on any of the City Trail Maps as adopted by the Coastal Commission for Malibu’s Local Coastal Program.
In 2016, a community group representing Sycamore Park homeowners, along with individual owners on each street in the community—Via Escondido, Sycamore Meadows and Sea Vista—filed suit in the Los Angeles County Superior Court, requesting the court make a ruling on who is entitled to use these private roads. The case is set for mediation on Feb. 2 and has a trial date in April.
Despite the fact that a lawsuit is pending, MRCA put a public notice in The Malibu Times last week announcing “Via Escondido Trailhead conditional invitee access,” inviting anyone who wishes to use property for “recreation and scenic enjoyment purposes” to do so as “invitees of the property owner of record (MRCA).” It goes on to list some rules and regulations.
“The notice is very misleading, because it’s inviting the public to come out,” Goldstein said. “We don’t want the public to think this is a park they can get to—the public has no right to use the roads, and there’s no parking.”
Residents of the neighborhood also report that official park signs have already been posted on MRCA property, and that the “trailhead” is listed on MRCA’s website.
“The easements that exist do not provide public access—this is a private road,” Goldstein said. “The only way to get to MRCA’s newest property is to cross the private property of others.”
Residents came to speak on the subject at this Monday’s city council meeting, including Elizabeth Stevens, who described Edmiston as the “most powerful unelected official that runs two agencies.”
Mayor Pro Tem Rick Mullen, who gained local notoriety after his fight over access to his Ramirez Canyon neighborhood, said the city would defend residents.
“I think, for our town, part of our responsibility as city council is to look out for rural tranquility,” Mullen said, later adding, “It’s something we as a city can’t ignore.”
Edmiston was not immediately able to provide a statement by the time The Malibu Times went to print Tuesday.