Camping Remains a Hot Button Issue in SMMC Proposal to Increase Public Access
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
More than a hundred angry Malibu residents packed the auditorium at Webster Elementary school to hear more than two dozen speakers address the Environmental Impact Report for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy’s controversial Malibu Parks Public Access Enhancement Plan that includes trail connections and improvements, increased ADA access and camping at SMMC properties in Ramirez, Escondido, Latigo, and Corral canyons, and at Bluffs Park Open Space above Malibu Road.
The SMMC may have underestimated public interest in the issue—an October scoping session in Pacific Palisades attracted only a handful of participants—but observers criticized the physical set up for the meeting, which placed some members of the SMMC board—including Executive Director Joe Edmiston—with their backs to the audience. Less than a third of the room was allocated to the standing-room-only crowd, and a large area of empty space off to one side that could easily have accommodated the overflow was inaccessible.
The two dozen speakers included two city council members, three city council candidates, many residents of areas that burned in the 2007 Corral Fire, and representatives from numerous homeowners associations and organizations, all seemingly united in opposition to the SMMC camping plan.
Fire danger and public safety were the primary concern of almost all of the speakers, although the majority were supportive of the project’s proposed trail improvements. Plans to place campsites in Latigo and Escondido canyons continued to attract the highest level of criticism.
Many speakers told the SMMC board that they had not yet had time to completely review the massive EIR document, which is thousands of pages long.
Joyce Parker-Bozylinsk, the planning manager for the City of Malibu, stated that city staff believe the EIR is inconsistent with the city’s certified Local Coastal Program. “We disagree with conclusions reached in [the section pertaining to development in Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area]. We [also] have concerns and disagreements with the findings as it relates to fire safety. We will be putting our comments into writing and submitting them to you,” she told the board.
“I’m sure you are all aware of the six campers who were lost last week,” Malibu Park resident and public safety commission member Susan Tellem said. “They put a campfire in Newton Canyon and no one saw it. This presents a real danger. People trying to get warm in a cold canyon.” Tellem also raised concerns over the SMMC’s contention that the improvement projects would have a less than significant impact on the environment. “‘Less than significant impact’ is hard to explain when you take a pristine area and put grading, parking, fire shelters, sheds, and so on,” she said. “This cannot be less than significant. Just dragging this stuff in is significant.”
“Trails going in is a good idea,” Corral Canyon resident Brian Weiss said, “but I’m worried about the potential impact of fire. Camping between Corral and Latigo is reasonable. It’s the hike-in camps I have problems with. The problem isn’t responsible people, it’s when irresponsible people show up. My concern is supervision.” Weiss asked that the SMMC work with Corral residents to find reasonable solutions.
“I want to talk about not the EIR but your process,” city council candidate Lou La Monte told the board, speaking as president of the Big Rock HOA. “You’re in danger of becoming a behemoth who doesn’t listen to people. We are one of the most environmentally friendly cities. This Conservancy has alienated neighborhoods just because of the process. Malibu residents are as ready and able of mounting battles as you are. I urge you to reach out to the residents of Malibu. We all live in the Santa Monica Mountains and we deserve that respect.”
“I’m an avid camper and equestrian, Malibu Park resident and city council candidate Steve Scheinkman said. This project is not in the backyard where I sleep at night but backyard where I spend a lot of time. It puts a lot of people at risk of losing their homes, their property and their lives. There is no budget for enforcement and no guarantee that it will be enforced. I ride my horse on these trails. It’s really insulting to say to these people who have lost their homes to fire that it’s safe, to think that everybody is going to camp by the rules, to think they’re not going to get lost, not light a fire like what happened last week. It’s common sense. “
“When you read the EIR, there are two things that stand out that scare the people of Malibu: fire and public safety,” planning commissioner and city council candidate John Mazza said.
“Your report says 90 percent of fires are caused by people. The 10,000 gallon water tank [planned for one campsite] is like pouring a Dixie cup on a wildfire,” Mazza continued. “In 1994, fire burned all of these proposed campsites. We want trails, we can work together to get trails, but we are putting a small amount of campsites in a highly dangerous area. If you can burn to the beach in eight minutes, you have an evacuation issue that you have not considered. The people of Malibu don’t want to fight you, but there are hundreds of millions of dollars in property at risk.”
“You’re supposed to be protecting the parks. Burning them up doesn’t qualify,” Malibu Township Council representative Lucile Keller said. “The SMMC plan is totally deficient in commitment to provide rangers. A walk through these campsites once a day will not be enough to enforce violations,” “It’s totally inadequate. No needs assessment has been provided. We’ve asked for it repeatedly. There are 1300 camping sites already [in Malibu]. If more sites are needed they should be placed at Leo Carrillo. The state has admitted that it does not have enough rangers. If a fire starts in one of these parks, it could reach residents in two minutes. The whole area is in an area of highest fire danger. There is no guarantee that users of campsites will be knowledgeable or responsible.”
“You don’t have a full understanding of what we deal with in Malibu,” another member of the Corral Fire Safety Alliance stated at the end of public comment, summing up the views of many of the speakers. “We want trail access, we support that. This is about fire safety. In Corral Canyon we have one way in and one way out. You are essentially blocking our only way out. People will die and it will be on your hands. We support trail expansion, we do not support camping.”
The comment period for the Environmental Impact Report for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy’s Malibu Parks Public Access Enhancement Plan will remain open until March 22. Written comments can be submitted via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The EIR document is available at the Malibu Library or online at www.smmc.ca.gov