SMM Conservancy Board OKs Swap of Bluffs Park for Charmlee
• City Council Expected to Try to Move Quickly to Prevent ‘Lagoonization’ of Proposal
BY BILL KOENEKER
When the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy unanimously voted Monday night to swap the 93-acre Malibu Bluffs Park with the City of Malibu for 534-acre Charmlee Park, they also approved proposed plans for eight campsites and five parking spaces and a single ADA accessible campsite near the existing restroom facility at Charmlee.
“Based on a ground lease being in place, the proposed action would authorize staff to submit a joint application with the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority to the California Coastal Commission for a coastal development permit for construction of one, supervised ADA-accessible campsite, not more than seven supervised standard campsites and related improvements including adding five additional parking spaces,” wrote SMMC Executive Director Joe Edmiston in a staff report to the board.
The board also adopted a resolution approving development of two supervised ADA-accessible campsites to be open between Jan. 15 and Sept. 15 annually, building out the Coastal Slope Trail through the 21.8-acre Ramirez Canyon Park owned by the SMMC, which is the location of its headquarters.
“Public access to the proposed new improvements in unincorporated area will be split between Ramirez Canyon Road and the Coastal Slope Trail from Kanan Dume Road. Users of the ADA-accessible campsites would arrive via Ramirez Canyon Road unless they chose to use the Coastal Slope Trail via some workable means. Users of the day use facilities would arrive via the Coastal Slope Trail from Kanan Dume Road initially and then also from Murphy Way once the trail is extended eastward within the city’s jurisdiction,” wrote Edmiston in the report. That application was submitted to the CCC on Tuesday, according to SMMC spokesperson Dash Stolarz.
At the same time Monday night, though Conservancy officials insisted it is not related, the SMMC board also approved entering a ground lease agreement with the City of Malibu for Charmlee Wilderness Park and possible sublease to the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority and acceptance of fee title to Charmlee.
The board also approved a resolution authorizing entering into a ground lease agreement with the City of Malibu for the Malibu Bluffs open space and authorizing subsequent transfer of the fee title to the city.
Next week, the Malibu City Council is expected to discuss the matter with City Attorney Christi Hogin, who recommends in her staff report to “direct the city attorney to negotiate agreements and implementing documents to effect a land swap resulting in complete city control over all 93 acres of Bluffs Park and reach resolution in the lawsuit over the uses in Ramirez Park.”
Hogin noted the city acquired Charmlee from the county in 1998 and in 2006 acquired from the state 10 of the 93 acres of Bluffs Park.
“The lack of local control recently frustrated the city’s consideration of a plan [to build a skate park] that would re-configure and increase parking at Bluffs Park; the SMMC rejected the proposal to make any changes to the parking lot,” wrote Hogin in her staff report.
Hogin said the land swap would take time because it will require action by the state of California. “In order to provide each other immediate benefits of the eventual swap, Mr. Edmiston suggested that the city and the SMMC/MRCA enter into respective $1-per-year leases, which would confer possession of the respective parks while the longer process of transferring title is underway,” the city attorney wrote.
Hogin reported that with respect to the uses of Ramirez Canyon Park, the SMMC proposes to agree to the exact same restrictions that have been in place since 2007, which the city and SMMC negotiated as part of a stipulation to suspend a lawsuit while the SMMC applied for an LCP amendment which would address the uses in the park.
The restrictions have been in place continuously for the past five years. The SMMC has abided by their terms and the city as not had any complaints from activities at Ramirez since these restrictions have been in place.
“SMMC and the MRCA have indicated that they are interested in proceeding with the land swap with the condition that the city also settle the dispute over the uses in Ramirez Canyon Park. The settlement would include a requirement to restore the riparian habitat disturbed by the unpermitted development of the property and otherwise bring the property into compliance with the Coastal Act.”
The city attorney indicated Mayor Lou La Monte and Councilmember Joan House approached Edmiston to see whether the SMMC and MRCA had any interest in a swap.
“The SMMC and the MRCA are interested in swapping Bluffs Park for Charmlee, if the transaction commences in January, but they also want to resolve the Ramirez Canyon Park [issue],” Hogin wrote.
Ironically, before all of the expensive litigation between the Conservancy and the city, the results of this latest deal making is somewhat similar to compromise efforts worked out by Edmiston and a previous council whereupon the Conservancy would offer overnight camping at Charmlee and withdraw camping plans in other coastal canyons such as Corral and Solstice. However, at that time the Bluffs Park was not in play.
The council was poised to approve the arrangement, but nearly 100 members in the audience, many of them critics and from the west end of Malibu, literally shouted down the council, accusing members of sacrificing the safety of west end homeowners for mid Malibu coastal canyon residents, who had previously vociferously rejected the coastal canyon overnight camping plan.
The council then rejected Edmiston’s deal leaving the executive director fuming at the council’s sudden turnabout.
Thus began series of lawsuits between the city, the SMMC and the Coastal Commission, which went along with Edmiston’s override attempt and camping plan including an 11th hour successful attempt by Edmiston to include overnight camping at Bluffs Park. Those CCC approvals and other SMMC mechanisms were later struck down by the courts in the city’s favor.
Hogin sums that up in her staff report. “With the Override and Public Works Plan lawsuits (including attorneys’ fees) resolved in the city’s favor, the remaining litigation involves just the second lawsuit over the uses at Ramirez Park,” Hogin wrote in her staff report.
The city attorney indicated there would still be a lot of legal and technical details to work out.