Future of Conservancy plan uncertain


City Attorney Christi Hogin and Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy head Joe Edmiston give conflicting reports on the status of discussions since the City Council hearing.

By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor

The outcome of Monday’s Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy board meeting could be a major factor in whether the current version of the conservancy’s parks enhancement plan ever becomes a reality. Executive Director Joe Edmiston said he would be asking the board to advise him how to proceed following last week’s City Council hearing in which Malibu leaders did not vote, but at least one strong disagreementsbetween the council members and Edmiston was evident. The hearing was continued to Dec. 5, but it is not even guaranteed Edmiston and other conservancy officials will attend that session.

“I’m still doing a little soul searching, and so is my board,” Edmiston said. “I wish I had somebody in Malibu who could help me with the soul searching.”

He continued, “I’m certainly willing to cooperate. The question is whether anybody in Malibu is willing to cooperate.”

City attorney Christi Hogin said she has had a few conversations with Edmiston since last week’s hearing, and she did not get the impression that he planned to back out.

“We had productive discussions about what further information we [the city] might need, and what further analysis we might need. But if he wants to pull out, that’s his option. There’s nothing we can do to stop that. We can only control our cards. We cannot worry about how he’s going to play his cards.”

Hogin said the council could still vote on the proposal regardless of whether conservancy officials attend the hearing. Edmiston could submit a notice requesting his proposal, which is actually an amendment to the city’s Local Coastal Program, be withdrawn. If this were to happen, then the hearing would be cancelled.

One of the major issues that the city needs more information on is one that could make or break the parks deal: the construction of an access road from Kanan Dume Road to the conservancy’s Ramirez Canyon property. At the Tuesday hearing, the council endorsed in a straw vote a requirement for the conservancy to build the road if its officials want the ability to increase the number of events at the park. An angry Edmiston said at the hearing that this would be unfair because in order to build the access road, he would need to purchase an estimated $7.1 million property off Kanan Dume from owner Harold Lauber. And with the council requiring him to build the road, Lauber had unlimited potential for how high he could raise the price, Edmiston said last week. California Coastal Commission staff has also preliminarily said the property is located in an environmentally sensitive habitat area, or ESHA. State law prohibits development within 100 feet of an ESHA.

Edmiston declined to comment further this week about the issue. City Councilmember Sharon Barovsky said the requirement of the access road was essential to her before she could consider increasing the size and frequency of events at Ramirez Canyon.

“I don’t want to see increased use up there unless there is a guarantee of a mitigation,” Barovsky said.

Holding social events at the Ramirez Canyon property, which can only be accessed by one narrow and delicate road, has been a contentious issue for the conservancy since it obtained the property from Barbra Streisand in 1993. It has been the subject of litigation for the conservancy with both the city and local homeowners. For this reason, Mayor Jeff Jennings said it would be a good idea to remove the item from the rest of the plan, which calls for 26 overnight camping sites, as well as enhancements to the local trails and expansion of the public transportation to the parks along with the construction of at least one parking lot.

“This is a really complicated and difficult process,” Jennings said. “If the road becomes a reality, I don’t think there’s any obstacle to the conservancy trying to get as many events as it can there. If the road doesn’t become a reality, then we’re back to arguing about stuff we’ve been arguing about for the past 14 years.”

At last week’s hearing, the council members appeared at first to mostly support the other elements of the plan, including the overnight camping at Ramirez Canyon, Corral Canyon and Charmlee Wilderness Park, despite opposition from dozens of residents about a perceived fire danger. In a straw vote, only City Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich said she opposed the camping. But then just before midnight, Barovsky asked if it were possible to ban any type of cooking for the campers (the original plan limits campers to using propane stoves). Edmiston said at the meeting that eliminating all cooking would not be a true camping experience. He would not speak further about the matter for this article.

“I am hoping to get more information on that at the next hearing, but it’s not a deal breaker” Barovsky said this week. She added that she still stands by her statement made at the hearing that if cooking were prohibited altogether, and people still protested the overnight camping proposal, then it would be a sign that they were just acting with a NIMBY (not in my backyard) attitude. But she said that would not be the reason for her vote.

“I am not going to vote based on ‘Ha ha, I got you,'” Barovsky said. “I will vote what is best for the city.”

The conservancy meeting begins on Monday at 7:30 p.m. at King Gillette Ranch, located at 26800 Mulholland Highway in Calabasas. To access the agenda, go to www.smmc.ca.gov.