City of Malibu sends formal letter to Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority


The City of Malibu has issued a pointed critique of a plan to allow overnight camping at Bluffs Park and Ramirez Canyon Park. The campsites proposed by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority would allow as many as 480 guests to spend the night in facilities such as yurts, tent cabins, or tent pad sites as part of a plan it calls the Malibu Lower-Cost Accommodations Public Works Plan (MLCAPWP).

In a letter to the MRCA submitted by Malibu City Manager Steve McClary and the City Council, detailed questions are asked about environmental impact reports and, most importantly, fire safety, including the biggest head scratcher: asking for a detailed description of what the MRCA calls “flameless campsites and kitchens.”

McClary explained of the letter, “Its purpose is to get on record in a timely manner per the process the stated concerns of the city and the community. I appreciate the many members of the community who have reached out to myself and the City Council with their interest in this. It’s been a strong response from the community.” 

The response from Malibu residents has been vehement opposition to camping not only in Malibu but also in adjacent communities for reasons expressed in the letter including: “Given the history of fires in Malibu and the fact that the entire City is in a Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone (VHFHSZ), introducing new campsites will increase the fire danger in Malibu.” 

In a scoping meeting in October, Malibu residents voiced only opposition to the MLCAPWP. During the last City Council meeting, 17 people were scheduled to speak who didn’t favor what some termed “an ill-conceived plan.” The MRCA gave a Dec. 16 deadline to comment on the proposal.

The city’s letter requests not only a fire hazard study, but also “a history of fires in Malibu along with the cause of the fire and the challenges and methods used in fighting the fires should be included.” The letter asks for an EIR that would address restrooms, sounds and amplification, and impacts on wildlife and surrounding residential communities. It requests a lighting study on areas that may no longer be dark at night to be consistent with the city’s Dark Sky Ordinance, analysis of view impacts, and information on the availability of water to serve both sites. It also questions trail access that could impact neighborhoods abutting the campgrounds. 

Other important questions include waste water treatment, security precautions to ensure only registered users are on site, maintenance, and ranger and support staffing. 

“We are asking for MRCA to engage with the city in this process,” McClary confirmed, saying there have been no discussions between the agency and the city. “We have not had that engagement. We would like to get at the table and get some answers from them and have them hear the city’s concerns and perhaps see a bit of a collaborative effort. That’s not to say we would agree to a project. But at this point it would be fair to both sides if we could at least sit down and have that conversation.”

When the MRCA issued a notice of preparation in October alerting the public of the plan to add camping to Bluffs Park and in Ramirez Canyon, McClary indicated that no prenotice was given to the City of Malibu. “We’re not aware of any efforts of them to reach out formally or informally on this. Other than receiving the NOP which they are legally entitled to do, I will give them credit for providing the legal minimum. We are stating in the letter this really deserves more engagement than simply a notice to the city.”

Asked if sending a letter is the first step in possible future legal proceedings, the city manager emphatically explained, “It’s premature. The City Council has not had that conversation yet.”

Mayor Bruce Silverstein provided the following statement in his individual capacity and not as a city representative: “According to CalFire, the entire City of Malibu is situated within a Very High Fire Severity Zone, and Malibu residents live with an omnipresent danger of wildfire that is particularly acute when the Santa Ana winds are gusting through the Santa Monica Mountains. Climate change and drought have exacerbated this omnipresent danger to the point that there is no longer a wildfire season so much as a year-round wildfire danger — as evidenced by the Smokey the Bear signs posted in front of Malibu fire stations that routinely warn of “high,” “very high,” and “extreme” fire danger.

The development of a campsite for hundreds of transient visitors in an area that already has been the origin of a fire that burned multiple homes in that vicinity is like throwing a lighted match onto a tinderbox. That poses an unacceptable danger that Malibu residents should not have to bear, and further poses a danger to the health, safety, and welfare of the very campers the proposed development is intended to serve. No responsible steward of the environment would begin to undertake such a development under the existing conditions. Plainly, there are more environmentally sensitive alternatives that do not increase the already very high danger of fire in Malibu.”