If a government agency sent their minions out to arrest you just because you publicly disagreed with what the agency wanted to do, well, people would be outraged and rushing to court shouting “First Amendment!”

If a government agency came to the doorstep of your neighborhood to confront you, and yelled at you, and charged you with doing something unlawful, and threatened to have you arrested, again, people would be outraged and rushing to court.

But if a government agency was more insidious and cunning and decided just to sue you personally in Superior Court, charging you with violating the Coastal Act and start out asking damages to the tune of $15,000 per day, what then? Then you have to hire private lawyers to protect yourself, while the government agency uses government lawyers to effectively prosecute their claim against you, and other government officials to investigate and perhaps testify against you, and you have the prospect of being bankrupted and see a lifetime of savings just go down the drain trying to defend yourself. Well, that’s just appears to be business as usual when dealing with certain government agencies.

This is not a theoretical scenario I’ve described—it’s actually happening here in Malibu. It’s happening in Sycamore Canyon, it’s happening to Ken and Barbara Kearsley, who are both senior citizens, and also a number of their other neighbors in the canyon who are being sued by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC) and its satellite affiliate the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority (MRCA). Ken was formerly the mayor and council member of Malibu for years and has had previous battles with Joe Edmiston, the executive director of the SMMC (which I’m going to call the Conservancy). Ken is a former high school teacher at Santa Monica High School and, at this stage in his life, was not looking for a large expensive legal battle with a conservancy that is a state agency, charged with buying and managing land, among other things. The issue they are battling about is whether the conservancy can buy a lot in a canyon, in this case Sycamore Canyon, and throw the entire canyon open to the public. Understand that all of the homeowners in the canyon share the costs of the private canyon road, which is pretty typical in many of the canyons here in Malibu. Joe Edmiston takes the position that if you own a lot in the canyon you can invite whomever you want, and since he also owns a lot in the canyon, he can invite whomever he wants, which is the total citizenry of LA County. The immediate cause of the lawsuit was a back-and-forth over a guard shack, or a guard, and who said what to whom, but the bottom line is this is a serious conflict over property rights and public access and ultimately a higher court will have to decide. We decided that this is a very important issue here in Malibu and deserves a careful and detailed look by The Malibu Times.

We are going to do a series of articles over the next couple of months about the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC) and its joint powers affiliate, the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority (MRCA). Since both entities have an enormous influence in the mountains and canyons, we intend to first take a careful and detailed look at Sycamore Canyon and the litigation related to public access and alleged Coastal Act violations. Additionally, we will be looking at the Bluffs Park plans and then additional activities of both entities. We are doing this series jointly with the journalism department at Pepperdine University and we expect there will be print stories running in The Malibu Times, and both a video and broadcast aspect.

We intend to look at the past history of both entities, their purchases, their funding sources, past litigation, use of monies from bond and ballot propositions, and oversight of their activities by the executive and the legislature. 

This is going to be a fair, journalistic exploration of the facts. Part of it is going to be here in Malibu, and part in LA County. We also anticipate it will take us up to the state capitol in Sacramento

We could use your help. There are many people who have interacted with both organizations and their executive, Joe Edmiston, and we want to talk to those people. We know there are all sorts of documentary evidence, documents from legal proceedings, letters and emails that we would like to review. If you know of people we should be interviewing, please send me an email at agyork@malibutimes.com giving me their names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses and tell us why you think they might have information. Please don’t call unless it’s absolutely urgent—use email instead.

Thank you all for your help.

P.S. Investigative pieces are complicated, involving many people, and these days many people state opinions as if they were facts. We’ll try to avoid those mistakes, but if do go wrong, write us and tell us.

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