Malibu council seeks to ban overnight camping in parks

Concern over fires is cited in killing the city’s deal with conservancy.

Source of this article – Los Angeles Times, December 6, 2007

To the relief of residents in fire-prone canyon areas, the Malibu City Council voted 5 to 0 Wednesday to ask the California Coastal Commission to certify an amendment to the city’s local coastal plan that would prohibit overnight camping in Malibu parks.

The council vote, at a special meeting attended by about 75 opponents of camping, squelched a hard-fought compromise that had been negotiated between the city and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, a state agency charged with increasing recreational use of the hills and canyons.

The compromise would have created more trails and allowed overnight camping at Corral Canyon and Charmlee Wilderness Park, a city-owned park near the Ventura County border, and would have allowed the conservancy to hold events such as weddings and conferences at its Ramirez Canyon Park headquarters .

Council members said they were influenced by the fears of residents, who have endured three wildfires this year.

Many residents contend that overnight camping would raise the risk of more devastating blazes.

“I understand that fear,” said Councilwoman Sharon Barovsky.

Joseph T. Edmiston, the conservancy’s executive director, said he was “disappointed but not surprised” by the council’s action.

He vowed to continue to press the case for more camping in publicly owned lands by taking a proposal directly to state coastal commissioners.  He  accused Malibu residents of using the fear of fires to try to limit lowcost recreational options for nonresidents.

“It’s a total diversionary issue to hide behind keeping people out of Malibu,” he said.

“Fortunately, this isn’t the end of the battle,” Edmiston said. “We will bring our case to the California Coastal Commission, where, unlike at the Malibu City Council, the broad public interest can get a fair hearing.”

Edmiston said he expected to take the conservancy’s camping proposal to the Coastal Commission early next year.

Malibu residents said they, too, looked forward to presenting to the Coastal Commission their arguments that camping in the hillsides and canyons is dangerous and should not be allowed.

“The Coastal Commission is committed to public access, but they’re also not crazy,” said E. Barry Haldeman, an entertainment attorney whose Latigo Shore Drive house narrowly escaped damage in the latest blaze. “I feel that the City Council has … realized that… there are certain areas that are just too risky.”

Haldeman contended that Edmiston was off base in suggesting that Malibu residents were trying to limit access for nonresidents.

“Malibu is host to millions of people a year,” he said. Opposing a couple dozen campsites, he said, “shouldn’t be viewed as trying to keep the public out.”

Seth Jacobson, a Corral Canyon resident whose house was heavily damaged by the Thanksgiving weekend fire, showed up at City Hall with plastic bags filled with the charred remnants of irreplaceable family photographs.

He presented a bag to each council member and said: “This is all I have left. Before you vote today, I want you to think about the lost memories my children will have and how your vote will impact all of the residents.”

Last year, the conservancy proposed a plan that included supervised tent camping sites in Corral, Escondido and Ramirez canyons, new parking areas and trail connections between parks.

The city and the conservancy subsequently agreed to a compromise that would add campsites in the city’s Charmlee Wilderness Park instead of Escondido Canyon Park.

Edmiston said he planned to present the conservancy’s original proposal to the Coastal Commission.

Even if the panel decided in the conservancy’s favor, Councilwoman Barovsky said, the agency would be obliged to seek coastal development permits from the city.

At that point, she said, the city probably would sue to require an environmental impact report, imposing yet another delay.

It is possible, Barovsky said, that “a year from now, if Joe’s scenario plays out, we’ll be right back where we started from.”

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