Second Bluffs Walk Attracts Bigger Audience and Raises More Questions
• City Officials Refute Coastal Commission Staff Assertion that Development Plans for Site Can Be Appealed
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
More than 40 people joined Malibu City Council members John Sibert and Laura Rosenthal and City Manager Jim Thorsen on Saturday morning for an informal plein air meeting followed by a walk in a portion of the 83-acre Bluffs Park property that city officials hope to obtain by swapping Charmlee Wilderness Park for the land that is owned by the state and administered by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy
“We wanted to do this today, to have a little town hall [meeting], to get information, to give information about this potential swap,” Rosenthal said.
“In two weeks, on March 9, at 10 a.m. we’re going to meet at Charmlee to do the same thing,” Rosenthal said. “There will be more city council meetings, and more things a city hall for people, for the whole city council to discuss, and for additional time for people who can't be here today or can't be there in two weeks to be able to give their input. A lot of people have already called us, emailed us. We've gotten a lot of feedback already.”
“I certainly haven't made a decision about this yet,” Sibert said. “We are here to gather information about what might or might not be doable. Whether or not this is ever going to happen, I have no idea. So, no decision has been made, no matter what you might have read or heard, no decision has been made by the council.”
Thorsen displayed a map showing the SMMC’s most recent plan for Bluffs Park, which included approximately 40 campsites clustered in three areas of the property, and then the same map with preliminary plans drawn in for a sports complex consisting of two baseball diamonds, three soccer fields, a skate park and a BMX course and 150-space parking lot in the main section of the 83-acre park, with an additional 75-space parking lot with seven tennis courts, or two playing fields in the far west corner of the park, separated from the main park by Marie Canyon.
Thorsen explained that the maps were “not a final design, but to give everyone the perspective for the size of a baseball field, the size of a soccer field, what would be required for a skate park, a tennis court or something of that nature, if in fact the swap went through.”
“This is a diagram of what could happen in the non-ESHA area, and to give everybody just a general sight of just what it would take to develop anything on it,” Thorsen said.
“This is [the Conservancy’s] proposal to develop this site because they own it. Camping is an allowed use at [this] site. It's open space. What you also see is also a biological assessment map, as part of the assessment you see different colors, the light green, they've said these are areas that are not considered ESHA [Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area]. The darker areas are what they've gone through with their biologist and identified as ESHA areas.
Many participants had questions and concerns about the ESHA and non-ESHA designations indicated on the map.
“I would not depend on anything SMMC says,” longtime Malibu Township Council member Lucile Keller said. “We need a current [biological survey]. There was a fire that destroyed ESHA but ESHA grows back.” Keller said the city could find that they have traded Charmlee away and are unable to do anything with Bluffs.
“We don’t want to move ahead and find we can’t do anything,” Sibert said.
“The swap itself requires CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act review] because it would intensify the use [at both parks] Keller said.
“According to the California Coastal Commission, this is public open space, community centers, art venues are unpermitted here., ” Preserve Malibu organizer Janet Katz said, referencing comments made by Thorsen at the previous Bluffs Park walkthrough, when he suggested that the city could consider building new facilities in what is currently the playing fields at the city-owned portion of the park if the swap takes place and there is room to build more fields.
“I hope you go to the press and tell them that none of this is going to be allowed here. And maybe you could have done your homework. None of this is going to happen,” Katz said. “All of this is appealable to the Coastal Commission. I have a message on my phone from the Coastal Commission stating that baseball fields are appealable to the Coastal Commission. All of this is appealable.”
“Then that’s why we are doing our due diligence,” Thorsen replied. “We are trying to find out all of the facts.”
“It’s zoned open space and recreation,” Rosenthal said. “So we can put in everything that falls under that.”
“We don't feel that it’s appealable,” Rosenthal added. “We have it from other people [that it is not], but I’m glad that you brought it up. It’s something that we have to look at.”
Another participant wanted to know about the geologic history of the site.
“We're researching and looking into all of the geology,” Thorsen said. “We had the city geologist do a preliminary review. We do know, based on all the maps, all the information that's been put forward that there is within Marie Canyon definitely small to moderately large landslides. At the face of the bluff down by Malibu Road there are other landslides, and certainly you’ve got to be aware of those.”
“We only have one Charmlee,” Malibu resident Barbara Short said.“Why can’t we keep Charmlee? There’s an exploding senior population, a declining student population.”
Rosenthal responded that the city currently has 750-800 AYSO players. She said that there are also adult teams who would like to get fields and that families currently have to get up early for weekend games that start at 8 a.m.
”People have to arrive at 7:30 a.m.,” she said. “It’s very cold. They have to start really early in the morning. Often they have to share fields.”
“Are these valid reasons to trade Charmlee Park?” Short responded. “Because some people are inconvenienced? Because they’re cold and have to wear a jacket in the morning?”
”I don’t know,” Rosenthal said. But Charmlee Park is deed restricted, you can never build anything there.”
“The Conservancy doesn’t own [Bluffs Park],” said Walt Keller, who was Malibu's first mayor and was on the council when the city first had an opportunity to acquire Charmlee from the county. “The state owns [Bluffs]. The city could take over.”
“Maybe the city could go to the state and become the operator [of Bluffs]. I don’t see that happening ever,” Thorsen said. “We haven’t asked. I didn’t say we wouldn’t ask,” he added.
Malibu Mayor Lou La Mont and Mayor Pro Tem Joan House proposed swapping the City of Malibu's 535-acre Charmlee Wilderness Park, located in Encinal Canyon, for the Conservancy’s 83-acre portion of Bluffs Park, in December, but it wasn’t the first time the swap was proposed.
A 2003 effort to trade the wilderness park for six acres of Bluffs Park was unsuccessful because State Parks was not interested in Charmlee, indicating that is was too far away from other state properties to be adequately maintained and patrolled.
As early as 2001, athletics activists were expressing anger that a portion of Charmlee could not be used for sports courts and playing fields.
“To think that a lawyer can come into Malibu and make it so that the only park the city owns has handcuffs on it, is disturbing and disgusting to me,” said activist Laureen Sills in an interview in the local media in 2001, when she was a commissioner for Malibu Parks and Recreation. “They couldn’t even put a hoop up there,” Sills said.
Many walk participants questioned the Conservancy's ability to maintain and patrol Charmlee, which is not located near any of the other SMMC properties in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Fire fears were a key part of that concern.
Lucile Keller described Encinal Canyon as a historic fire corridor and stated that Charmlee has burned several times.
She said that she is concerned that increased use of Charmlee with the potential for less supervision by the SMMC than is currently provided by the city, will increase fire danger.
“You are asking a third of the Malibu population to increase their fire hazard,” Keller said, adding that the 1978 fire that destroyed her home burned Charmlee minutes before it reached the coast.
“There has never been a fire started in an official campground,” Rosenthal replied.
“I lost my home, I don’t want to see that happen to anyone else,” Keller told the Malibu Surfside News. She added that Charmlee is in a documented fire corridor and has burned in the 1930, 1956 and 1978 fires.
Corral Canyon residents who experienced devastating losses in the 2007 fire started by an illegal campfire, have been circulating a petition seeking to prohibit camping in the canyons.
“Malibu residents are rallying the people of Los Angeles County to join in signing a petition to protect visitors to Malibu canyons and state parks from the danger of campfires in unsupervised terrains, as similar discussions ensue between the Malibu City Council and The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy,” a press release announcing that the petition has reached 1000 signatures, states.
“I was inspired to start this petition out of concern for those who would be coming to these proposed campsites from out of town,” said Corral resident Lori Jacobus.
“Allowing overnight camping in these hills could be potentially devastating and even life-threatening for both residents and campers alike,” added Jacobus. “The terrain and conditions do not lend themselves to the better structured, regulated and monitored camping experiences available in our state and national parks—and in the hills of Malibu, ‘fire season’ has become a year around event as is evidenced by the fire danger signs the have read ‘high’ many times this winter.”