City’s updated Trails Master Plan poses concern for some residents

A partial map of existing trails within the city of Malibu. The city has prepared a Trails Master Plan that would create new trails to link with those from other jurisdictions, as well as define trail usage.

The map is a “wish list” by the city to link historic trails throughout city, county, federal and state-owned land. However, one resident says that proposed trails cross private property and not enough notice was given to the community about the plan.

By Knowles Adkisson / The Malibu Times

As the city’s Planning Commission prepared to vote Tuesday this week on whether to incorporate an updated Parkland and Trails System Map into the city’s Local Coastal Program Land Use Plan, a local architect expressed his concerns that newly proposed trails encroach on private property and that not enough notice was given to residents about the planned map.

The updated trails map is the culmination of a process begun in 1999 to create a Trails Master Plan for the city. Revisions were made to the plan in 2004 and since then the city’s Trails Committee has worked to finalize an approximate map of trails that will be used in the future to, among other goals: connect parks and major recreational facilities; link with trail systems of adjacent jurisdictions; include trails for multiple uses (hiking, biking and equestrian), as well as reserve certain trails for hiking only; and provide public parking at trail heads. The city has coordinated with the National Parks Service, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, and the county Parks and Recreation Department in the development of the trails map.

The city had advertised the creation of the trails map and the Tuesday Planning Commission meeting to address it in local newspapers.

But Ed Niles, an architect and resident of West Malibu whose property is bisected by a trail included in the updated trails map, said that sufficient notification was not given to property owners affected by the updated map.

Another contention for Niles is the encroachment of private property. “It’s far deeper than just arguing about trails,” he said. “We have enough trails, we have enough public rights of way. We’ve already spent millions on buying public lands so we have this freedom. So why in the world do we now have to stretch that across the private ownership of land?”

Joyce Parker-Bozylinski, the city’s planning division manager, said the city would normally send out radius maps to affected property owners to meet legal obligations for noticing on a particular project. But in cases where a project impacts more than 1,000 properties, as the trails map does, city code allows city officials to place quarter-page advertisements in newspapers in lieu of sending out individual notifications to property owners.

“There are 1,145 parcels affected as part of the trails map,” she said, “so we put ads in both newspapers for two weeks in a row beyond our legal ad, so they were noticing people of the upcoming hearing. Plus we have copies of the updated map on the city’s Web page and at the library.”

Parker-Bozylinski said public hearings such as the one on Tuesday and the forthcoming ones before the city council and the California Coastal Commission will provide “lots of opportunities for people to come and speak, and let the decision-makers know whether they believe any trails should be deleted or not.”

Councilmember Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner has been a member of the Trails Committee for three years, which, he said, has been conducting public meetings for years that are announced on the Internet on the city’s Web site.

Wagner said, “Unless we have some input and visitation, how are we supposed to work in your benefit without somebody showing up?”

Parker-Bozylinski stressed that the updated trails map is for planning purposes only. “It’s almost a wish list of the trails the city would like to see built in the city,” she said. She also said the city has no legal power to force property owners to grant trail easements.

The Trails Master Plan calls for offering property owners development incentives in exchange for trail easements, such as permission for a larger foundation if the property owner wanted to build another house.

Parker-Bozylinski said such development incentives would also raise the future re-sale value of the property.

Wagner acknowledged the difficulty of updating the trails map now that more residents live in Malibu. But he said the trails committee’s objective is to create connectivity throughout Malibu and to other communities.

“If you look at some of the trail maps from the contiguous cities like Calabasas and Agoura, they have trails up into the Santa Monica Mountains, and we have tried to match their trails, having our trails meet with their trails; so that you can walk from the 101 Freeway and you can get to the ocean. Or you can start in the Palisades or Topanga and get up to Leo Carrillo, all on trails.”

The Planning Commission’s recommendation will be considered by the city council at its next meeting. Pending council approval, the updated trails map will be sent to the California Coastal Commission for consideration in replacing the old trails map.