A court of appeal affirmed a trial court's decision Thursday to reject the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy's plan for overnight camping sites in Malibu.
The SMMC's plan had been supported by the Coastal Commission, which tried to implement sweeping changes in 2009 to Malibu's land use regulations in its Local Coastal Program.
Malibu Mayor Laura Zahn Rosenthal said the city is pleased the court enforced limits on the Coastal Commission's authority.
"This decision is a very big deal because it puts a limit on the Commission's ability to interfere with local planning decisions," Rosenthal said. "In this instance, the commission overstepped its bounds and made planning decisions that are within the city's jurisdiction."
Concerned about potential fires, the Malibu City Council in 2007 rejected the plan by the SMMC and its sister organization the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority for overnight camping and other features in the Malibu Parks Public Access Enhancement Public Works Plan. The council also approved some features, including trails, and it passed a measure to ban overnight camping in the city (something the Coastal Commission rejected).
In response, the SMMC took its plan to the Coastal Commission through a rarely used method called a Local Coastal Program Amendment Override. Coastal Commission Executive Director Peter Douglas determined this method could be used.
The city and the Ramirez Canyon Preservation Fund claimed this was not the kind of situation for the override procedure.
In the ruling, a three-judge Court of Appeal panel agreed and found that the Coastal Commission overstepped its bounds by using the override amendment to approve the plan.
"In the wake of the Court's ruling, the City will be able to assume its role in the development of policies and work with the Conservancy to achieve our shared goals of public access, a world-class trail system and wonderful parks," City Attorney Christi Hogin said.
In a statement, the SMMC and the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority said they remain committed to increase public access to parks in Malibu.
"There is nothing in the ruling that prohibits the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority from re-filing the plan that the Coastal Commission has previously approved,” said Laurie Collins, Chief Staff Counsel for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. “We will re-file the specific projects shortly, possibly in the next week.”
Joseph T. Edmiston, executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, also affirmed that the fight will go on.
"Malibu can hire all the lawyers they want, but in the end the five city council members of Malibu, representing 13,000 people, can't prevent public camping and recreation use of the tens of millions of dollars worth of parkland acquired on behalf of all the people of California," Edmiston said.