The Malibu City Council gave its city attorney the go ahead Monday to further explore a proposed land swap and settle a lawsuit over uses in Ramirez Canyon, with some conditions.
The proposed settlement of a lawsuit between the city of Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC) calls for the resolution over uses in Ramirez Canyon and a land swap of Charmlee Wilderness Park for Bluff's Park.
The SMMC board has already given a nod to its approval of the settlement and proposed land swap. The idea came up during a meeting with Mayor Pro Tem Joan House, Mayor Lou La Monte and SMMC Executive Director Joe Edmiston.
In a 5-0 vote, the council directed City Attorney Christi Hogin to explore the proposed deal. The council asked her to first allow time for the city to determine if it could build more recreational facilities at Bluff's Park and explore what fire safety standards would be in place for the SMMC's proposed camping plan at Charmlee. The city attorney will also see if the proposed deal can include a discussion about restricting camping in Escondido and Corral canyons.
At the beginning of the three-hour hearing, Hogin said the council would not be making a decision to approve the land swap and settlement on Monday, but instead hear council and community input on the idea.
Hogin said this is a unique time where the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy is talking about how to resolve differences at Ramirez and other issues.
"This is a moment where everybody is talking," Hogin said. "... This seems to be a good moment."
According to City Manager Jim Thorsen, there is a 10-acre spot in the northwest corner of Bluff's Park that is not an Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area.
The SMMC had proposed camping in the 10-acre spot and in the middle of the park, Thorsen said. If the land swap goes through, Edmiston has said he would give up camping at Bluff's Park.
He said the city could put additional parking, soccer fields, baseball fields or a potential 20,000-square foot skate park in the 10 acres.
Hogin said the transfer of ownership could allow the SMMC to seek coastal development permits for camping at Charmlee from the California Coastal Commission.
During public comment, two young children, 9-year-old Andrew and 7-year-old Amanda Parks, both asked that the proposed deal go through so they have more space to play sports in Malibu.
"We need more fields for all of us to play on," Andrew said.
Jeff Stern, a Malibu resident and board member of the Malibu Little League and AYSO, said the city needs a safe environment for children to recreate.
"It’s a struggle every year to get field space and to have enough field space for our 1,000 kids who use field space," Stern said.
Others spoke in favor of further exploring the proposal, including many parents involved in AYSO who believe that there are not enough fields for children in Malibu.
"This about them. This is about the kids," one man said.
Rick Mullen of the Ramirez Canyon Preservation Fund praised the city for keeping Ramirez Canyon residents in the loop.
"This is a big decision for the city and its residents. We encourage the city to move deliberately and decisively with great attention to detail," Mullen said.
Paul Morra, president of the Corral Canyon Fire Safety Alliance, read out loud an email from Joe Edmiston to the SMMC/MRCA board of directors dated Dec. 21.
Morra quoted Edmiston as saying:
"Camping on Malibu Bluffs will never happen if the city obtains jurisdiction. That is the principal benefit that the city gains from this agreement. The perception that SMMC is giving up on camping on the iconic property within city limits, i.e., that Malibu has “won” the camping issue on the Bluffs will be touted by the Malibu politicos. And they will be right. This is an important political victory that the council members can claim (conversely a reason they will vote for it). It represents for me personally a bitter defeat in that a local municipality can defeat classic park uses on land acquired from all the state’s taxpayers. On the other hand, Malibu’s victory is only in a technical sense because camping will be proposed just a few yards outside the city limits, and beyond their ability to veto."
Frank Rich of the Charmlee Nature Preserve Foundation said docents often lead children from disadvantaged Los Angeles schools to Charmlee to learn about the outdoors.
“We believe this unexplainable rush trade threatens our 20 year program there," Rich said, adding that thousands have children have gone through the program.
Malibu Planning Commissioner John Mazza said he wants the council to deliberate on the proposed swap.
“We already have one park where we can’t do anything with it but walk around,” Mazza said.
He also asked for restrictions on camping within Charmlee.
"Truly you are voting for camping next to Malibu if you don't put that restriction in," he said.
Ryan Embree, speaking on behalf on the Malibu Township Council (MTC), said the MTC opposes the project.
"We don’t need to jump to Joe Edmiston’s schedule," Embree said. (Read more of the MTC's concerns here.)
Walt Keller, a former Malibu councilmember, encouraged the council to take its time with the decision, especially since Malibu is unique to have a wilderness park.
"I'd like you to be assertive and to tell the conservancy what you want to do," Keller said.
Keller also said that fires always remain a risk.
"You have that risk, always. It doesn’t take much," Keller said. "My house was burned totally to the ground. That fire came through Charmlee."
His wife, Lucille Keller, asked for more time for the residents to air their concerns.
"The major reason for the city owning Charmlee was keeping local control over park use," she said.
Bruce Dunn, a 38-year resident of Malibu, said he takes his grandchildren up to Charmlee for a hike every time they come to visit.
Dunn said he's fought off several fires at this home over the years.
"It would be totally unacceptable to the citizens of Malibu particularly the citizens of West Malibu to negotiate a deal with Joe Edmiston," Dunn said.
Jonathan Kaye of the Winding Way Homeowners Association said he wants the city to include the association in the discussion.
Many people spoke during the hearing. Didn't see your ideas? Feel free to leave them in the comments below.