Areias offers to mediate Headlands dispute


State Parks and Recreation Director Rusty Areias last week offered to mediate a 4-1/2-year, increasingly hostile dispute between the California Coastal Commission and the city of Malibu over parking at the Point Dume Headlands park.

The former state legislator and former Coastal Commission chair wants to be the point man on a commission settlement offer, which, in an Aug. 30 letter to then-Mayor Walt Keller, the commission says is its last.

The commission is demanding eight parking spaces on the inland side of Cliffside Drive across from the preserve, two handicapped parking spaces on the seaward side of Cliffside Drive, a shuttle program for public parking at Westward Beach, and removal of boulders along the cliff that prevent public parking.

Speaking to about 200 people at the City Council’s special meeting on a proposed Headlands and beach access program, Areias said he had persuaded the commission to postpone action until its October meeting. “My wife is 8-1/2 months pregnant with our first child. Next to that, this [mediation] is my top priority.”

Areias said he was counting on a scientific approach to bring the two sides together.

“We can strike a balance between public access and protecting natural resources. We have to find out how many people we can manage while doing docent training.”

The city would probably lose a legal battle with the commission, continued Areias. “The Coastal Act controls. Take [the Coastal Commission offer] and hit them with scientific-based data to connect the dots.”

State parks proposals

Areias’ chief deputy, Mary Wright, who likened Point Dume to the Point Lobos preserve in Carmel, said, “We are committed to improving resource protection at Point Dume.” She called for recruiting and training hundreds of docents to “interpret” the natural resources, an increased onsite ranger staff for enforcement, studies to assess the fragility of the resources and the park’s carrying capacity, removal of the fence, and creation of a walking path and drop-off zone.

While many area residents were not happy with the parking conditions and did not agree with the Point Lobos comparison, others saw positive aspects of the state Parks and Recreation Department proposals.

“Property owners seem to be the target,” said Jim Gauthier. “They want the eight parking spaces next to my property. There’s no fairness in this.”

“Many people are there for the beach, not for the nature preserve,” said Paul Esposito. “That’s why they are trashing the areas. They want their dogs to run and their children to play. It is not Point Lobos.”

“The preserve is a political football. No property owner should bear the burden of parking,” said education activist Laure Stern. “The main entrance to the beach is Westward Beach Road, not Cliffside Drive.” She supported the carrying capacity study and said the nature education program will get lots of support from the community.

City Parks and Recreation Commissioner Sam Hall Kaplan, while favoring the parks department stewardship, said the eight Cliffside parking spaces would exacerbate the traffic in the area. There were more than 200 spaces and bus transportation available within a block and a half from Cliffside Drive. “The two handicapped spaces are OK, as long as they are not abused by UCLA football players,” he quipped. The Coastal Commission should not bully the Malibu area, Kaplan concluded.

Council votes for settlement

After hearing more than 30 speakers, the City Council approved 4-1 (Tom Hasse against) Harry Barovsky’s motion to draft settlement agreements with the state Parks and Recreation Department and the California Coastal Commission. The agreements would be based on an Aug. 9 memorandum of understanding with the parks department and the commission’s Aug. 30 letter.

Hasse opposed the motion because of commission provisions linking additional parking restrictions, additional on-street parking and enforcement action against “illegal” placement of “no parking” signs to a Local Coastal Plan to be “submitted and certified with a reasonable period of time (three years).”

“This cedes away city authority to regulate parking,” he said. “There is no closure to the public access issue.”

The draft LCP is expected to be submitted very soon, said Keller. What if the commission dragged its feet in certifying the proposal?

House and Keller were persuaded to vote for the motion by the state’s Sept. 15 letter delivered to the meeting. It said the commission would not take any enforcement action on the “no parking” signs if the city complies with the other settlement terms and “continues to make progress” on an LCP that addresses the public parking and access issues at Point Dume.

Lawsuits, ballfields, land use

The commission could collect up to $6,000 a day from the city and eliminate all parking restrictions on the Point if the city loses its lawsuit challenging the commission’s 1997 Cease and Desist Order on violations of the Coastal Act. The commission alleges the city violated the 1972 legislation by placing parking restrictions and boulders along the shoulder of Cliffside Drive.

The city could lose its position with Areias over ballfields at Bluffs Park when the city lease with the state expires in two years.

Commission approval of the city Local Coastal Plan is important because it would streamline the land use permit process by allowing the city to issue its own Coastal Commission permits.

Or, as Areias said, “When you complete the Local Coastal Plan, they will celebrate this community instead of condemning it.”