Coastal Commission says ‘lights out’ at Malibu High


Coastal Commission head calls Malibu city attorney’s complaint over “dragging” out the lawsuit over the approval of overnight camping in Malibu a “cheap shot.”

By Jonathan Friedman / Special to The Malibu Times

Over the protests of the city attorney and a local homeowners group, Malibu Bluffs Park was officially added to the list of possible Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy camping sites in Malibu at last week’s Coastal Commission meeting in Oceanside. The Coastal Commission had unofficially added it to the list in June when it approved overnight camping for Escondido, Corral and Ramirez canyons.

The Coastal Commission’s vote was needed on the Bluffs Park selection because it was not part of the conservancy’s application in June. Conservancy head Joe Edmiston requested it be added to the list during the June meeting. The conservancy owns most of the 94-acre park. A 10-acre portion containing the ball field and Michael Landon Center is city property.

The commissioners did not discuss the item, and the lone public speaker was Edmiston, who said he supported a vote of approval. The Coastal Commission received letters of opposition from the Ramirez Canyon homeowners group and City Attorney Christi Hogin. They challenged the Bluffs Park selection, and the concept of overnight camping in general, on several grounds, including that camping at Bluffs Park has never been formally reviewed.

Hogin wrote, “Ask yourself this: What does Malibu think about the idea of camping at Bluffs Park? The answer will be that you don’t know. In fact, I don’t know either. Why not? Because the issue was never presented to the city.”

Coastal Commission Executive Director Peter Douglas said in an interview this week that he did not read Hogin’s letter, and forwarded it to a regional director. But he said he was not surprised to hear about the content.

“That’s Christi Hogin for you,” Douglas said. “Just about anything we do, she doesn’t like.”

Hogin declined to comment for this story.

Douglas said he has spoken to the Coastal Commission attorneys, and there is no issue with adding Bluffs Park to the list despite it not having originally been included in the conservancy’s application. He said the commission could not be restricted to approving items that are on applications.

“That would be boxing us into particular boxes, so we can’t make changes at the meeting,” Douglas said. “We don’t operate that way under the Coastal Act.”

The city filed a lawsuit shortly after the Coastal Commission’s approval of overnight camping in June. At that June 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, in an article that appeared in last week’s issue of The Malibu Times, accused the Coastal Commission of “dragging” out the suit. She noted the fact coastal staff has not prepared an administrative record, which is the collection of materials that document how the state agency came about its decision.

Douglas said this week a staffing shortage was the reason for the delay.

“I’d call it a cheap shot to accuse the commission of dragging their feet when she knows very well that our current staffing situation leaves us no choice,” Douglas said. “If she wants to fund a new position on the Coastal Commission through the city, then that would be great.”

Douglas mentioned how the state has mandated three employee furlough days per month and that the number of coastal staffers has been reduced in recent years. He said there is only one person available to put together the administrative record.