Mountains coastal protection plan approved for LA County

Some laud Local Coastal Program, others see it as government overreach

Source of this article: The Thousand Oaks Acorn, April 24, 2014

Environmentalists see the recent approval of the Santa Monica Mountains Local Coastal Program as a milestone. For Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, the April 10 vote in favor of the new land-use plan was a personal victory.

Yaroslavsky had championed the California Coastal Commission’s landmark LCP for more than a decade. The plan guides future development in the 80-square-mile Santa Monica Mountains Coastal Zone that includes, among other areas, the unincorporated Los Angeles County terrain south of the Conejo and Las Virgenes valleys.

Yaroslavsky spoke to the coastal commissioners at their meeting in Santa Barbara.

“This is a historic day for the Santa Monica Mountains,” Yaroslavsky said. “This is a very special place. We consider it the Big Sur of Southern California. (The mountains) have some of deepest canyons, some of the most beautiful scenery.”

The plan will protect mountain resources against pollution and what Yaroslavsky called “ill-conceived development” inside an urban national park.

At the meeting, a photograph of an access road carved into a mountain leading up to a mansion was used as an example of the kind of development that would not be allowed under the new policy.

Not everybody was happy with the new restrictions.

NO NEW GRAPES— While existing grape gardens can stay, no new vineyards can be planted in the Santa Monica Mountains under the newly approved Local Coastal Program. The decision is controversial.

Existing mountain vineyards are safe under the approved plan, but additional grape-growing plots will be prohibited.

“The Santa Monica Mountains are simply not the place for additional vineyards,” said Yaroslavsky, adding that the vineyards contribute to soil erosion and loss of wildlife habitat.

So-called hobby gardens will continue to be allowed under the plan, he said.

“It is not the case that we’re chasing agriculture out of the mountains that is now being used,” Yaroslavsky said. But without the plan, big agriculture and development threatened to “mar a national treasure,” he said.

Yaroslavsky said another benefit of the plan is that landowners from Monte Nido, Malibou Lake, Cold Creek and other local rural communities will be able to work directly with county employees in Calabasas on their permits and land issues rather than having to go through both the county and the Coastal Commission, which had led to expensive delays.

Grape growers upset

Fred Gaines, a Calabasas City Council member, spoke to the Coastal Commission as the attorney for Rancho Francisco in Malibu and the Coastal Coalition of Family Farmers, which was formed to oppose the LCP. Gaines said public hearings were not held for seven of the 10 years that the plan was being developed.

He said a 30-day review of the 1,000-page plan was not enough time for a careful reading and understanding of the document, and that a 179-page addendum introduced one day before the commission meeting should have been enough to postpone the vote.

“You can’t call that a normal process,” Gaines said.

And, he said, there were mistakes in the some of the plan’s maps.

“Remove the maps and let them be part of further discussions. Extend the time to adopt (the plan) or remove the agricultural conditions.”

Gaines said a prohibition on agriculture is illegal and he believes the county and the Coastal Commission have “gone too far” with the vineyard prohibition.

“ The new Santa Monica Mountains wine trail has been a great addition to our local economy and tourism, and a wonderful way for visitors to enjoy the Santa Monica Mountains,” Gaines said. “To address environmental concerns, new vineyards could be limited to certain areas and be required to minimize fertilizer, pesticides and water use. Of the 50,000 acres in the LCP area, there are only about 200 acres of vineyards. A complete ban on all new vineyards is unreasonable and unnecessary.”

Agricultural interests in the Santa Monica Mountains run deep, land-use consultant Don Schmitz said.

“Who can possibly assert that agricultural uses are not feasible in the Santa Monica Mountains?” Schmitz said. “No one has done the analysis.”

But Jess Thomas, an Old Agoura resident and co-owner of a 2-acre parcel in the coastal zone, said he did not favor Sonoma vineyards being “cloned” in the Santa Monica Mountains.”

“I want it to remain habitat. . . .” Thomas said. “The LCP will prevent intensive new development but protect the lifestyles of the homeowners now.”

Preserving a way of life

Others also spoke in favor of the LCP.

Phil Culberg, a resident of the Santa Monica Mountains for four decades, said the mountains’ “beauty, tranquility and scientific discovery” should be preserved for generations to come.

Culberg’s wife, Leah, spoke in more practical terms.

“I wanted less smog,” she said. “I wanted to let my kids eat eggs from our chickens. We have watched neighbors dam creeks, plant vineyards. The water table has dropped over 100 feet. It sucked up the groundwater, making the chaparral even drier . . . and leaving us with even less water to fight a fire when it comes,” Leah Culberg said.

Ruth Gerson, president of Recreation and Equestrian Coalition, said she wants to see the traditions of the Santa Monica Mountains continued.

“We have more than 40 years guarding traditions,” she said. “Equestrians are the original stewards of the land.”

The audience applauded the Coastal Commission’s unani- mous vote allowing the county to have regulatory control over the mountains by the sea. Kim Lamorie, president of Las Virgenes Homeowners Federation, commended Yaroslavsky for backing the plan.

“He spoke eloquently and passionately about the importance of the landuse plan policies and the significant time, energy, community outreach and dollars that have been invested in protecting the coastal resources of the Santa Monica Mountains,” Lamorie said.

“It was a great outcome,” Yaroslavsky said.

 

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