City Council

At the beginning of the council meeting on Monday, May 13, Tim Bigelow (left) receives a commendation from Mayor Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner. Bigelow was recognized for service to the community during and after the Woolsey Fire.

Malibu residents were out in force Monday, unified in complaints against the embattled Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, better known as the MRCA, under the control of executive director Joseph T. Edmiston. 

At the tail end of the four-hour meeting, nearly a dozen residents voiced concerns about an LA County Supervisors’ proposal to allow for camping in ESHA, or Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area, in the Santa Monica Mountains. 

According to MRCA spokespeople, camping in local mountains would not only increase visitor access in Malibu, but it is specifically allowed in Malibu’s Land Use Plan, part of the Local Coastal Program written for Malibu by the Coastal Commission in 2002.

Mayor Pro Tem Karen Farrer requested the council consider writing the letter in opposition.

“The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is tentatively scheduled to consider a proposed ordinance that would amend the County’s LUP and LIP, including amendments recommended by the California Coastal Commission that would, if approved, allow camping in ESHA,” according to a report prepared by city staff for the meeting. 

“The MRCA has proven itself to be an incredibly poor steward of the property that it runs,” Farrer said during the meeting. She later added, “We need rangers on MRCA properties. We need better maintenance with trash, with graffiti, with dogs not being cleaned up after, with drinking, with bonfires. We’ve had a whole lot of search and rescue operations going to MRCA properties. Lack of bathrooms. Parking problems. Noise. That doesn’t sound like a good neighbor.”

One resident, Barry Haldeman, said he was surprised Malibu’s supervisor, Sheila Kuehl, would support such a measure.

“We cannot believe Sheila Kuehl is about to sponsor an amendment that would allow camping in ESHA areas, but that is in fact what’s going on here,” Haldeman said. “ESHA is the cornerstone of environmental protection and she ... has said she’s devoted to protecting the Santa Monica Mountains. So, we all understand what’s behind this and who’s behind this, but Malibu can’t stop it, per se, but we applaud Karen [Farrer]’s idea of Malibu taking the position of writing a letter to say how much we’re opposed to it.”

After Haldeman, Angelica Ochoa, a representative from the MRCA, spoke to defend the idea of camping in ESHA, saying it was “feasible, desirable and conforms to the Coastal Act.”

“Camping in [the] Santa Monica Mountains advances the goals of the Coastal Act and Malibu’s own LUP (Land Use Plan) policies,” Ochoa said. “I’d like to quote from Malibu’s own LUP: ‘The shoreline, parkland, beaches and trails located within the city provide a wide range of recreational opportunities in a natural setting, which include camping.’ It goes to on to say, ‘These recreational opportunities shall be protected and, where feasible, expanded or enhanced,’ and that is what we have here. The county is seeking to do just that.”

Council Member Rick Mullen suggested the city cite a 2017 decision by LA County Superior Court Judge James C. Halfant in 2017, which included language describing the importance of protecting ESHA. 

The decision came from a case Mullen was very familiar with, as former spokesperson for the Ramirez Canyon Preservation Fund—Ramirez Canyon Preservation Fund v. California Coastal Commission.

“The judge is very clear: No disruption of ESHA. Not ‘mitigate,’ or ‘the least extent possible,’ or any of that. It’s like, ‘no.’ Near absolute protection of ESHA, that’s the standard to which the judge is going to rule, or already has ruled,” Mullen said. He later cited passages from the decision.

“ESHA is not an environmental resource for which environmental impacts must be assessed and then minimized to less than significant,” Chalfant’s decision from 2017 states. “Section 30240 [of the California Coastal Act] permits no significant disruption of ESHA habitat values.”

Council agreed to follow Mullen’s suggestion to “write a letter essentially that says, ‘City of Malibu supports the protection of ESHA in the Santa Monica Mountains from any significant disruptions and encourage the county to follow Judge Chalfant’s direction to correct the appropriate language in the Santa Monica [Mountains] LCP as referenced in this case.’”

Earlier, at the top of the general public comments portion of the meeting, residents came out to complain about Edmiston’s appearance at last week’s California Coastal Commission meeting, where he caught many off guard with his comments about Malibu’s zoning in Sycamore Park. More information on that story is available in “Malibu public access map updated” on page A1.

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