Stakeholders ready for controversial camping plan vote

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City leaders and residents oppose the overnight camping plan by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy because of fire risk concerns.

By Jonathan Friedman / The Malibu Times

The controversial plan to bring more than 70 overnight camping sites and other modifications to various parks in the City of Malibu and adjacent unincorporated areas will be up for a vote on Aug. 23.

The plan is an effort by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, or SMMC, and its sister organization, the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, or MRCA, to make the Malibu area more visitor friendly.

Malibu officials, who oppose the plan, will host a workshop five days earlier in preparation for the hearing.

Known as the Malibu Parks Public Access Enhancement Plan, SMMC officials say it is an opportunity to bring much-needed public access to Malibu and its rare coastal beauty. City officials and residents who oppose it say the plan creates a great fire risk to an area with a long history of blazes.

The plan calls for overnight camping sites at Bluffs Park and Latigo, Ramirez, Escondido and Corral canyon parks, a total of 183 parking spaces within those five parks and improvements to local trails to create the Coastal Slope Trail that will connect the east and west ends of Malibu. All five parks targeted for overnight camping have in recent years been burned or threatened by a wildfire. Though the proposed plan would prohibit campfires, residents doubt the extent to which that rule would be enforced.

In addition, the plan would allow 32 special events (for parties of up to 200 people) per year at the SMMC’s Ramirez Canyon property. Public events and tours with a maximum of 40 people would be allowed year-round, seven days a week. A minimum of 10 public events per month could be conducted at Ramirez, Escondido or Corral canyon parks, and a minimum of 12 tours would be permitted per month.

This project is the brainchild of Joe Edmiston, who heads both the SMMC and the MRCA. Based on the track record of both organizations’ boards for approving Edmiston’s recommendations, it is highly unlikely this item will not be approved. Malibu has one vote, usually coming from its representative Dennis Seider. He will be out of town, so Mayor Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner will represent the city at this meeting.

The boards will be voting on the actual project and the environmental impact report, or EIR. Draft versions of both documents are currently available for public review. An SMMC spokesperson on Tuesday said that a final project proposal and final EIR will be available for review next Wednesday online at www.mrca.ca.gov and www.smmc.ca.gov.

The California Coastal Commission will have the final vote on the plan. The 12-member commission last year in June apprtoved the project in concept. The city filed a lawsuit shortly after the commission meeting. At that meeting, the city had requested overnight camping be banned in Malibu, a request that was rejected. The denial of the request is also part of the lawsuit.

Hogin last fall accused the Coastal Commission of dragging out the suit. She noted the fact that coastal staff has not prepared an administrative record, which is the collection of materials that document how the state agency came about its decision. Coastal Commission Executive Director Peter Douglas said a staffing shortage was the reason for the delay. The administrative record has still not been submitted nearly one year later.

The Aug. 18 city workshop will take place at City Hall in council chambers at 6 p.m. The SMMC and MRCA hearing will take place at 5 p.m. at Temescal Gateway Park in Pacific Palisades.

The Malibu Times will offer more in-depth information about the plan in next week’s issue as well as online after the final details are released by the SMMC and MRCA.