Every weekend, and even more on the summer weekends, crowds of visitors head up Winding Way to go to Escondido Canyon’s only access. They park their cars in the limited amount of parking at the lot on Winding Way and PCH, which, of course, immediately fills up, and then people park for several miles along both sides of PCH. It’s something of a perfect storm. The story in this week’s paper by Jimy Tallal will give you a sense of the dangerous area and the history of accidents and traffic fatalities there. There have also been multiple accidents among hikers in the area of Escondido Falls. The problem is in the management of the area, which is principally under the control of the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) and its director, Joe Edmiston. The highway, of course, is under the control of Caltrans. Worldwide, there is a growing recognition that unlimited use of highly attractive environmental sites can destroy the very thing that draws the people. Locally, along Winding Way, when it comes to crowd management (and there are crowds every weekend), sanitation (virtual nothing other than someone’s bushes), policing with rangers or some sort of security (almost non-existent), and cleanup afterwards (minimal at best if at all), the MRCA and Joe Edmiston get an “F” in every category. There are solutions but they all cost money and the MRCA doesn’t seem very interested. They’re off chasing their next parcel to acquire. As for Caltrans, well, they are simply Caltrans and speak only to God. The city has got to take the lead on this and appoint an ad hoc committee to start looking for solutions before there are more injuries and fatalities.
It is no secret that there is not much love lost between Sheriff Alex Villanueva and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors (BOS). The sheriff is elected by the voters and, therefore, is only answerable to the voters—at least that’s the way the sheriff sees it. The BOS controls his budget for law enforcement, which includes jails. It’s a major item in the county budget and the BOS has oversight responsibilities over all county departments, which include the sheriff. However, the law governing the relationship is a bit squishy and the sheriff and BOS interpret it very differently.
The conflicts between the LA County Sheriff and the County Board of Supervisors are not unique to LA County; in fact, there are many counties where there is considerable tension. Part of the problem is politics. Typically, the major cities are Democratic and liberal and the overall counties are much more Republican and conservative. County sheriffs are a long-established Western law enforcement tradition but, unlike a chief of police who answers to a city government and can be red, sheriffs can only be red by the voters. Legislators keep trying to pass laws to limit the sheriff’s powers but normally a very strong law enforcement lobby in Sacramento has defeated the attempts numerous times, although this year may be different.
Today’s political climate after the killing of George Floyd is much more skeptical of police power without restraints. In the past, the police lobby could write its own rules, and did. No legislator wanted to be accused of being anti-police. There is currently a bill in the legislative hopper, AB 1185 (Kevin McCarty (D), Sacramento) to create oversight of sheriffs’ departments that would include an oversight commission with subpoena powers and an inspector general. In the past, this type of bill always died. But sheriffs, like our sheriff in LA, have been stonewalling the supervisors on releasing information—again, not unique. In many counties, BOS members are ready to fight. In this climate, who knows, this might be the year.
I’m delighted to see that nine people have pulled nomination papers to run for Malibu City Council. There are three seats open for the council race and only one incumbent, Rick Mullen, who is a candidate for his second term. The two previous holders of those other seats, Skylar Peak and Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner, have served the allowed two terms and are now termed out, meaning they can’t run again. Presidential years are, politically, always interest- ing years because there is a much higher voter turnout. This year, in what looks to be a Trump / Biden contest, I’m guessing that the turnout will break all records. Locally, that means voters, which include many new voters who might not normally vote in a city election, will be going to the polls. It makes the races much more unpredictable. The nine who pulled nomination papers are Paul Grisanti, Andy Lyon, Rick Mullen, Alia Ollikainen, Bruce Silverstein, Lance Simmens, Doug Stewart, Regina Voarino and Mark Wetton. In next week’s column, I’ll set out our Malibu Times rules for election contests.
A few years ago, the California Coastal Commission imposed a fine of $4.185 million upon Malibu beachside homeowners whose property is on Las Flores Beach in the vicinity of Duke’s Malibu Restaurant. The fine was for, essentially, failing to open a public access on their lot adjacent to their home, where public access was previously granted by a preceding owner of the real estate. At the time they imposed the fine, the California Coastal Commission indicated publicly that they thought they were being eminently reasonable since they could have ned them as much as $8 million. Needless to say, lawsuits followed. One LA court said they had to at least to give the homeowner an opportunity to be heard. Homeowners needed the chance to present witnesses and perhaps expert testimony and have a 15- or 20-minute hearing in front of the coastal commission, in the midst of three days of meeting. The court said the commission probably didn’t meet that standard and, as such, the fine has been vacated and they have to go back and do it right. It’s now on appeal and should be decided later this year or early next year.