New Plan Calls For Overnight Camping Outside Malibu's City Limits

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy has proposed a plan for camping in two Malibu parks, which will go before the Coastal Commission.

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy board discussed a new, seasonal camping plan for two Malibu parks Monday.

In a unanimous vote, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC) board agreed to seek a coastal development permit from the California Coastal Commission for overnight camping at Ramirez Canyon and Charmlee Wilderness Park.

“All the proposed improvements are outside of the city of Malibu and in unincorporated Los Angeles County,” said Paul Edelman, chief of Natural Resources and Planning for the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, of the plans.

The camping proposal came out around the same time as a proposed settlement of a lawsuit between the city of Malibu and the SMMC. The settlement calls for the resolution of a lawsuit over uses in Ramirez Canyon and a land swap of Charmlee Wilderness Park for Bluff's Park.

The board OKed the terms of the settlement in a closed session, and a $1-a-year lease to pave the way for the land swap. The Malibu City Council will consider the settlement and the land swap at its Jan. 14 meeting. 

Malibu Planning Commissioner Jeffrey Jennings, who attended the meeting and sits on the SMMC's advisory committee, said concerns about the proposed camping and the land swap emerged after local news reports of the pending deal.

"It didn’t take too long for a well-honed conspiracy theory that there was some sort of a link between the land swap and the camping issue," Jennings said. "They are really independent."

Joe Edmiston, executive director for the SMMC, agreed.

"You are absolutely right," Edmiston said, without elaborating.


The new camping plan is in response to the SMMC's failed attempt to go around the city of Malibu's opposition to overnight camping within the city limits. In 2011, the SMMC sought the Local Coastal Program amendment override procedure, a seldom-used method that allows an applicant to bypass a local jurisdiction and present a proposal to the Coastal Commission if it is for a public works project or energy facility.

Instead, a judge found that the Coastal Commission overstepped its bounds by using the override amendment to approve the plan for overnight camping at Bluffs Park and the parks at Corral Canyon and Ramirez Canyon as well as trails and sites for day-use.

After the SMMC meeting on Monday, Edmiston said the conservancy is seeking camping in Ramirez and Charmlee parks as part of a strategy to gain quick Coastal Commission approval.

"We want to get some camping in without going to the city of Malibu," Edmiston said.

With a proposed land swap pending between the city of Malibu's Charmlee Wilderness Park for the SMMC's Bluff's Park, Edmiston said the conservancy has dropped its plans for camping at Bluff's Park, but still has plans on the back burner for Corral Canyon.

"We're not pursuing Corral at this current time," Edmiston said. A fire in Corral Canyon in 2007 destroyed more than 50 homes, raising alarms among residents about camping proposals in fire-prone areas.

Ramirez Canyon camping

The plans call for overnight camping in the L.A. County-owned section of Ramirez Canyon Park, which is accessible through the Coastal Slope Trail from Kanan Dume Road by foot and by Ramirez Canyon Road by car.

The plans call for two ADA-accessible campsites and not more than seven supervised standard campsites, a bathroom and shade structure in the northern section of Ramirez Canyon.

Camping will not be allowed from Sept. 15 to Jan. 15. 

Rick Mullen, who serves as the president of the Ramirez Canyon Preservation Fund, submitted a letter to the board, asking that the campsites be reserved for exclusive use by disabled visitors.

“While our concerns about fire safety are as high as ever, we believe that the level of direct supervision that will necessarily be part of disabled camping facilities will minimize the risk that the activity will increase fire danger in the canyon,” Mullen said.

Mullen opposed the new location in the northern section of the park, calling it “adjacent to fire-prone vegetation.”

The SMMC also has plans to seek a separate permit from the city of Malibu for restoration of Ramirez Creek and the existing tennis courts.

Charmlee Wilderness Park camping

The Charmlee proposal is also outside of the city of Malibu limits and includes seven regular campsites and one ADA campsite. Some of the campsites will be located on a firebreak that was graded in 2006, where the vegetation has not come back.

Camping would also not be allowed between Sept. 15 to Jan. 15, the peak fire season, according to Edmiston.

Dave Brown, a member of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Advisory Committee, said he is concerned about fire danger at Charmlee.

“I was nearly killed trying to stop a fire in my property,” Brown said. “… In my experience, water does not put out a raging fire.“

He asked that the conservancy develop a detailed fire management plan at the proposed campsites.

"What we’re looking at is a tremendous amount of fuel. We need to look at a game plan at making it safe," Brown said.

Edelman said measures have been taken to safeguard against fires.

“Campers are the last people that would want to start a fire,” Edelman said.

Jennings said he believes limiting the time of year for camping is a "step in the right direction."

"When the wind is down, you can have an open campfire. When the wind is up a cigarette is enough to cause a disaster," Jennings said.

Craig Sap, the Superintendent for State Park's Angeles District and a SMMC board member, said the state allows its campers to have fires year round.

"We haven’t had a fire escape from the developed campsites," Sap said.

Marianne Riggins January 08, 2013 at 01:50 PM
The biggest question I have about all this camping is why is money being spent to open new areas to camping when the existing locations need attention? Leo Carrillo, Malibu Creek, Thornehill Broome, Sycamore Creek and Tapia could all use some much needed TLC, additionally what is the status of Topanga? Also, day use areas such as Escondido Falls need to have an updated management plan to assist with the overcrowding and problem parking.
Susan Tellem January 08, 2013 at 03:45 PM
That is an excellent point Marianne as those dead trees at bluffs park and the tangle of brush has been a fire hazard for years. SMMC needs to step up and clean up the rest of the real estate it owns. We should sue the group for putting us at more fire risk.
julie January 08, 2013 at 04:13 PM
Who are you guys Edelman and Jennings, Edelman has done a camping personality profile and states campers don't start wildfires, really? And Jennings says when the winds are down start a fire...I live here, the canyon winds are some of the most unpredictable and powerful winds anywhere in Malibu. In fact the winds kick up at the wee hours in the am when the camp fire embers are simmering, how can the both of you be so stupid and out of touch. Often times there are winds up at Charmlee Park when there are no winds anywhere else in Malibu...Again disconnected politicians making decisions that are outlandish....Hope you get fire insurance!!!!!!!
Cindy Vandor January 08, 2013 at 04:15 PM
Fire stops at city limits? Fire reads boundary signs? Are you all insane? Why not just give blow torches to the Conservancy Board, Paul Edelman, and Joe Edmiston? Lou LaMonte and Joan House can gift wrap the blow torches and when they give it to Joe and his crew of fools, Joan and Lou can include a nice card thanking Joe for all he's done to burn down Malibu.
Hans Laetz January 08, 2013 at 04:30 PM
Two damaging fires have broken out in recent years on the MRCA's blufftop wildlands just west of the city's Bluffs Park. Getting that bluff, which is surrounded by homes, into city ownership and control seems smart, plus some (not all) of the MRCA land may be used for city parks purposes. Getting rid of the MRCA veto power over Bluffs Park is, politically, the only way we will get get both a temporary and permanent skate park built. Some people in Malibu say this is not a priority, but last year the parents and skateboarders presented a strong case that it is. The city council has committed 5-0 to building a skate park at Bluffs. I have recently been to Leo Carrillo and Sycamore Canyon campsites and found them to be in fine shape. All parks in California, of course, could use a little TLC. A person here recently claimed the 1993 Altadena fire was started by campers. It was caused by a transient from China who lit an illegal fire, not in a patrolled campground with rangers and fire hoses. The 93 fires in Malibu, OC and Altadena were not related to park use whatsoever. There are real concerns about preventing fires, I spend much of my time arguing with SC Edison about its responsibility here. The utility has just issued a "fire plan" for Malibu that is of real concern, and got zero attention. Unlike myths about campgrounds, power poles have a real bad record of causing fires.
Terry January 08, 2013 at 04:53 PM
sparks cause fire. fires cause fires to spread. we dont want any fires in the santa monica mountains. evidently u have never camped at leo. where people sit around having a good time. fires in the fire pit. drinking a little. seeing how big they can make their fire to keep warm. no a perscription for fire safety to have camping spread out throughout the sm mountains. who will monitor this
Hans Laetz January 08, 2013 at 05:23 PM
Camped at Carrillo last year. Saw very-defensible fire clearances. Saw a campground host monitoring things. Saw a lot of people really enjoying their little temporary piece of Malibu for the night. The old plans called for campsites to be staffed by rangers when in use. Take a step back. The people of the State of California have paid a lot of money to buy parkland outside the Malibu city limits. Joe Edmiston and the Coastal Commission are going to put campsites there no matter what we say. The question is, how good a deal can Malibu get out of it? How on earth is Mallibu going to claim with a straight face that "all camping is unsafe, all outdoor fires are unsafe" when a large campground with outdoor firepits is permitted by the city within city limits (with no problems), when legal campsites with open fire already encircle Malibu (with no problems), and when Malibu fatcats like me can barbeque or have wood fires outdoors without any regulations at all (with no problems)?
John Mazza January 08, 2013 at 07:19 PM
If and when there is a fire we can name it the House/LaMonte fire and they can have the legacy they yearn for (Legacy Park ?) "We are not pursuing Corral at this current time," said Edmiston .......... no mention of Winding Way and the other locations. Edmiston is getting over 400 acres for free above what we get. Only a small portion of Bluffs Park can be used and it is not near the present park.The city council should be able to negotiate no camping in the Malibu hills and canyons and could deed restrict all of Charmlee to ban camping. Fires in Malibu have cost close to a billion dollars and a lot of heart ache. There is no need to rush to our potential doom. What is the hurry? Perhaps it is to cut off public outrage and comment.
Judi Hutchinson January 08, 2013 at 08:22 PM
Would someone tell me how two city council people can make this decision without our input? Will it be the same way they were able to get the stadium lights in?
Marshall Thompson January 09, 2013 at 05:22 PM
Sharon just wants to eliminate low-income campers near her Malibu Road crib.
Jo Ruggles January 14, 2013 at 07:22 AM
Hey guys, you are all talking about Charmlee as though it were a typical neighborhood park. It is NOT...!!! Charmlee is a pristine WILDERNESS AREA, with NO active uses allowed. No roads, no vehicles, no "active" recreation of any kind. This is the Crown Jewel of Malibu's Open Space Element of the General Plan and LCP, and we were blessed to take possession of this treasure after settlement of a lawsuit against a very unsafe proposed residential development on that site. ANY proposed swap or sale of this property should go to a VOTE OF THE PEOPLE...the 85% of us residents the Council is failing to represent.


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