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.