Letter: Dangerous Campsites

Projects such as hiking trails, picnic shelters and campsites are proposed at various sites in unincorporated LA County above Malibu in June 2018

A letter in response to the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority’s Puerco Canyon Camp and Trailhead Project.

My wife and I have lived full time on Malibu Road since 1990. We love Puerco. Over the last 27 years, we have hiked the trail up and down, from the base to Backbone Trail, and along the trail to Piuma or to Corral Canyon, in the morning, afternoon and at twilight multiple times. It’s a little hard in the summer, though, because even though there are great views of the ocean, it does get rather hot. 

One thing you will observe on the trail is the evidence of past fires—gutted houses and barns, charred pipes, and fragments of paving destroyed by the flames from past fires. 

We’ve had to evacuate at least five times, all from fires originating down or near Puerco.

Maybe you’ve never hiked Puerco—before you decide to take inner city youth and subject them to the possibility of injury or death, you might want to see what it looks like (and feels like) yourself.

Site B (which, by the way, has no view of the ocean, and sits in its own box canyon) has numerous examples of past fires. What a great place for kids. Generally no breezes, no views and a few harsh climbs up trails where we’ve seen lots of snakes and some coyotes. And this is where you want to put campgrounds?

Site C is at the top of that mini-canyon, where Mr. Cameron tried to plant some gardens. No views of the ocean, generally no breezes. Not a great place for picnics.

So, you, of course, know that Puerco is a prime Southern California example of a Funnel Fire Canyon. When the wind blows from the north, from Calabasas or Agoura, it rips down the canyon at wind velocities of up to 80 miles per hour. Most of the fires which have ravaged Malibu over the past century have started “over the hill” and the fire storms have been intense by the time they reach the base of Puerco (where your three sites are located).

And the time it takes for the fire to get down the hill can be shockingly rapid. The fire that started at Bluffs Park at few years ago in similar winds took, what, eight minutes to rip down to Malibu Road and destroy 10 houses (the nearest four houses away from ours)?

Cindy and I hate the fact that we never got notice of the scoping meeting. We would have been there. We would have been there. And you all were probably laughing among yourselves when you decided to hold it, with little or no notice, in Pacific Palisades for “the convenience of property owners and residents in the project area.” 

Sort of like what you tried to do when you were going to put campsites at Bluffs Park.

I know that all of our neighbors want more time to review and discuss your plans, to get our City Council and the various homeowners’ associations to marshal the resources to stop this before it happens.

A few questions from reading the article in Thursday’s Malibu Times:

For the campers – We, of course, are not opposed to inner city youths being able to experience the ocean in Malibu. Looking at my window right now, there are maybe 40 of them on the public beaches on Amarillo Beach along Malibu Road. We’ve always had a public access point within one house of ours. But we are concerned about their safety. You should be too.

(i) Why is this a place that inner city kids are going to want to go to?

(ii) How are you going to get sufficient water to allow them to take showers and bathe?

(iii) With 25 camping sites, probably each with at least four kids, plus your staff, how long will it take to evacuate them? Are you going to try to convince people (like you tried to do re: Bluffs Park) that you could build underground shelters where the kids could hunker down while the fires pass over their heads?

(iv) The desert-like heat in the summer afternoon can be very uncomfortable. The kids will need lots of shelter and hydration. Doesn’t sound like a lot of fun.

(iv) Are you going to give full disclosure to their parents, including the risk of death to their children, and get them to waive their rights against your organization for subjecting their kids to these risks?

For the residents (and tourists) down below –

(i) By adding camping and organized activities for maybe 100 to 200 people, you have to realize that you are significantly increasing the chances of fire in a place that has no water resources; over the years lots of fires have been started by issues relating to vehicles. Buses? Parking for 90 cars?

(ii) How are the “firefighting vehicles” going to get up to the fire before it rips through the campgrounds? Maybe it might make sense to ask the fire departments how they handled prior Puerco blazes, and see if there’s any possible way to prevent or slow the spread of the fire coming down the hill? I don’t recall them ever really trying. Aerial drops are usually the best way.

(iii) Fires starting that close to PCH spread far to fast to provide time for our firefighters to adequately protect homeowners.

(iv) You say that you’re doing everything you can to mitigate these dangers, but you’re missing the easies thing to do—don’t build there.

(v) Ask yourselves – if your grandmother was living downhill from Puerco, would you be pursuing this project?

Conclusion – Cindy and I are opposed to this plan. It needs more research and examination by your agencies, by the county (where the project resides) and by the City of Malibu. We strongly request that you delay this project until all of these issues have been addressed, and presented to our neighbors at a properly noticed meeting.

Richard Troop