LA County supervisors vote nearly ensures camping coming

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Malibu residents vocal in their opposition against “cold camping” in fire prone areas

Despite a tremendous showing of opposition, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has voted to relax existing local coastal plans that will inevitably allow for camping in the foothills of Malibu. 

At a virtual meeting March 19, the BOS heard by phone from area residents who were opposed to the proposal of camping in Malibu especially on the heels of the Woolsey Fire that destroyed 480 homes in Malibu alone, 1,600 total. With only 76 homes rebuilt after three-and-a-half years and hundreds of fire victims still not back in their Malibu residences, the opposition was fierce. 

Of nearly 250 letters submitted against camping, there was only one presented in favor. That was from the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, the agency run by the government-appointed Joe Edmiston, who has long been at odds with Malibu over public access versus community safety issues. 

For years the MRCA been pushing to open campsites just outside Malibu city limits to “provide affordable coastal overnight accommodations” and for Los Angeles’ millions of residents to enjoy the experience of nature “for mental and physical health.” 

Malibu residents who’ve endured multiple destructive brush fires call campsites proposed in Ramirez and Puerco canyons risky and irresponsible. Those canyons are known as “box canyons,” those with only one way in and out, and they are also located in designated Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas (ESHAs).

Malibu’s representative on the BOS, Sheila Kuehl, called the move “a good example of the art of compromise.” Malibu Mayor Paul Grisanti doesn’t agree. 

“I’m pretty disappointed,” he said.

Representing a united City Council, the mayor spoke at the meeting against additional local camping. Grisanti lost his home in the 2007 Malibu brush fire when “on a red flag day, people made a fire in a cave and when it became too smoky inside, their solution was to kick the wood out so the wind could put out the fire. That resulted in the City of Malibu losing 75 houses.” 

Grisanti told The Malibu Times that property owners who’ve tried to develop lots located in ESHAs are “not allowed to do anything, but now it seems if you want to become a camp operator you can. It doesn’t make sense.”

Commenters to the BOS pointed out what they deemed “hypocrisies” such as the California Coastal Commission, whose mission is to protect the California coast and make it accessible for public enjoyment, favors camping while also “creating nightmares for tax paying citizens wanting to build their homes in the Santa Monica Mountains” and for changing “county safeguards for ESHA and fire safety.”

The camping proposal states camping would not be allowed on red flag days when there is a high fire danger and a “no-flame rule,” yet Kuehl has said the campsites may be equipped with “fireproof cooking stations” with “flameless stoves.”

Emphasizing that he was speaking as a 32-year Malibu resident and not on behalf of his employer, the LA County Fire Department, former Malibu Mayor Rick Mullen said he was impressed by how many people sent in letters of opposition. 

“This was not asked for by the residents. It’s opposed by the residents and the supervisors didn’t really care,” Mullen said. “I’m very disappointed that with a robust turnout they didn’t listen to the residents and ruled in favor of two government agencies, the CCC and the MRCA. The potential campsites are remote and make for a greater danger since they are closer to the flammable material of the Santa Monica Mountains. They’ll be less supervised than the more established campsites like Leo Carrillo and Malibu Creek State Park.” 

Mullen termed the BOS changing the fine print of the local coastal plans’ language as creating “wiggle room.” “Sometimes you can drive a truck through wiggle room,” he said.

Malibu’s letter to the BOS says the city “is supportive of public access and recreation in the Santa Monica Mountains including camping in appropriate locations that are suitable safe zones and with supervision like Malibu Creek State Park and Leo Carrillo State Campground.” 

“There are lots of places you can camp in locations where there will be someone looking out,” Grisanti said. “No one wants to live through another Woolsey or, worse yet, not live through another Woolsey.”