Land Swap Proposal Generates Angry Response at Charmlee Wilderness Park Walk Event
• Critics Question Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy’s Ability to Adequately Maintain and Patrol Holdings
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
More than 50 citizens participated in a discussion at the City of Malibu’s Charmlee Wilderness Park to talk about the city’s proposed land swap that would trade 532-acre Charmlee for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy's 83-acre Bluffs Open Space Park. The conversation was heated at times, with many participants expressing angry opposition to the proposed land trade.
The walk was conducted on just a few hundred feet of the park's more than eight miles of trails and consisted of a tour of the SMMC’s eight proposed campsites, followed by extensive discussion. Although it was a shorter walk than the Bluffs Park event, it was more emotionally charged and less organized. The participants finally split into two smaller discussion groups with Malibu City Manager Jim Thorsen and Malibu Councilmember Laura Rosenthal leading one discussion and Councilmember John Sibert with the second group. Sibert repeatedly reminded the crowd that no decision has been reached on the swap. “You voices are not the only voice we have been listening to,” Sibert said. “No decision has been made “
New questions were asked and some additional clarification was provided on the proposed swap.
Tempers flared more than once.“This is not a debate,” Sibert shouted during a particularly heated exchange.
“Why are we here if we can’t talk?” responded a member of audience.
“If you give [Charmlee] to [SMMC executive director Joe] Edmiston he won’t honor [the deed restrictions],” said longtime Encinal resident and Malibu Township Council Boardmember Lucile Keller.
Keller and other walk participants alleged that the Conservancy has allowed illegal or inappropriate use of several SMMC properties.
“Mr. Edmiston has a reputation for doing whatever he wants to do,” Keller said.
“He allowed a commercial to be made on one of his holdings that did a tremendous amount of damage,” Keller said, referring to an incident at Lasky Mesa in the Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space, where environmentally sensitive habitat was reportedly damaged during filming of a vehicle commercial.
“He does what he wants unless you run to court every five minutes.” she said.
“ Unpermitted” construction at King Gillette Ranch, to accommodate filming of the TV series “Biggest Loser,” was also alleged.
Other walk participants criticized the SMMC for failing to provide adequate ranger supervision at Escondido Canyon Park, which currently attracts over-flow crowds on the weekend and has been the site of numerous recent medevac rescues.
“You know that he already wants to build structures in this place,” MTC attorney Frank Angel said. ”He already has a plan that is submitted, so you know he is violating [the deed restriction]” Angel said.
“Is there a difference between want and do?” Sibert asked. “Is there?”
“It’s deed restricted. It will always, always be a wilderness park,” Rosenthal said.
“If you give it to Edmiston you cannot expect that to continue because of his history and what he has done.” Keller said.
“You, the city, have done a tremendously good job in this park, thanks to you Laura and others,” Angel said. “The information people here want to convey is that we want the city to be the steward because the city has been a steward that has really abided by the deed restrictions. But you cannot assume based on the evidence that a conservancy that depends on commercial filming, that has no budget, that they are not going to dramatically change this park. You cannot trust that they will abide by the deed restrictions just because you abide by them.”
“What we are here for is information,” Sibert said. “That’s not information, it’s opinion.”
Ramirez Canyon Park was also discussed. An agreement to end litigation filed by the Ramirez Canyon Preservation Association and the City of Malibu to stop the Conservancy from hosting hundreds of activities, including weddings, at the property located at the end of a private, single-track road in Ramirez Canyon, is a component of the Charmlee-Bluffs Park swap proposal.
“It’s like any other negotiation and you feel like if you make this little swap its going to get you out of a lot of hot water and poor decisions that were made in this Ramirez deal,” a member of the audience said.
“I don't know what you mean by that,” Thorsen said. “The Ramirez deal is not a city issue and it’s not a hot water issue. It’s an ongoing litigation between the Ramirez Canyon folks and the [Conservancy’s] Barbara Steisand Center. They’ve had ongoing litigation for years over the use and how to use that, and as part of this swap, is that [Edmiston] would like to resolve all of those issues.”
“This is something that the people who live along Ramirez wanted,” Sibert said. Because, originally what [Edmiston] wanted to do was the ability to go in there, widen Ramirez Road, do all sorts of things.”
“And have over 200 events,” Rosenthal added. “You might sue too if you lived around there.”
“We live around here,” several people replied.
“There was an interim agreement,” Sibert said. “It limited the amount of events, no changes to Ramirez Canyon Road, etc. and limited the number of vehicles, including having a counter at the entrance. And so potentially what would happen if this happens, and all of this is still an if, that would be resolved and the interim solution [would become permanent],” Sibert said. “Which is fine with the people in Ramirez. We had joined in with their lawsuit simply to support them.”
At one point a debate erupted over whether camping was part of the deed restrictions on Charmlee.
“Joe never gets a site that he doesn’t use to make money,” Harriet Pollen said. Is there anything in the arrangement that you as the city may put in that would not allow him to use this as a site for concerts, large gatherings, weddings, etc. because he has no property that he is in charge of that does not make him money and that's the problem.
“I believe it’s already in the deed restrictions for the park.
“If and when whatever council decides those are great points, maybe they can be conditions that would be added,” Thorsen said.
“We can put anything in,” Rosenthal said. We can say, OK, this is what we want. If we are going to go forward with this swap, there are the things that we want in here, whether Joe would agree to them, or not. He may put things in that we would agree to or not. To reiterate, that's why John and I wanted to be able to do these walks, to inform and to learn.
Most of the walk participants expressed reservations over the swap.
“I was a docent here before it belonged to the city, when it belonged to the county,” longtime resident Mary Smith said. “It was natural and beautiful as it is now, and they do so much more than children. Anything that you build on Bluffs Park a skateboard park, what the hell does that do? You can build that. You can’t build this.”
Some walk participants wanted to know why the city can’t lease Bluffs directly from the state.
“We could ask,” Sibert replied.
The impact on the wilderness aspect of the park was another issue.
“Recreation impedes habitat,” Charmlee docent Julie Simpson, who led a portion of the walk, said. “All of this is core habitat for large vertebrates. It’s a wilderness park. “To enjoy the park you don’t have to spend the night. ”
Simpson said that one campsite is planned for the middle of a wildlife corridor that is regularly used by mountain lions. “Animals need quiet. They’re going to cut a big, wide swath there,” she said. “We have endangered species here, Santa Susanna tarweed, Plummer’s mariposa lilies.”
Simpson indicated that another campsite area indicated in the SMMC plan for Charmlee is located near a Chumash trade route. The docents were reluctant to point out the exact location, explaining that a university archeological excavation in the area was vandalized as soon as its location was known and artifacts removed. “There has been destruction here from the public,” the walk participants were told.
“The Chumash people don’t want more development,” Chumash representative and Malibu resident David Paul Dominguez said. “I’m really concerned. I’ve seen some of the culturally sensitive areas here, the rock sites.”
“This is a wildlife corridor,” Dominguez continued. “I’m concerned, especially about the mountain lion. The range is being decimated.”
“It’s nice to see Charmlee is protected,” Dominguez said. “It’s culturally sensitive to us. There are people buried here. Only one percent of this land has been archeologically surveyed. My whole purpose of being here is to protect our cultural sites.”
Dominguez asked why the land swap was “so lopsided, 532 acres [for 83]? If you don’t want this land, give it back to the Chumash people. The Chumash can’t come up here and camp, then why are you allowing having other people to camp?
“I can’t speak for Joe,” Rosenthal said. “I don’t know what he’s going to do, but I think that if he put in camping anyone could come up and camp, and that’s what our country is based on, and hopefully our state and everything, that it is equal opportunity and its getting more and more that way.”
“All I’m asking is to consider the Chumash people,” Dominguez said.
“We couldn’t give it to the Chumash. It’s a whole thing as part of the deed restriction,” Rosenthal said.
Sibert indicated that the swap issue proposal could potentially be on the agenda as early as the March 25 City Council meeting and assured the audience that there would be opportunity for additional public input when the item is heard.