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Malibu City Council OKs Exploration of Proposed Land Swap

Many residents ask for the city to slowly deliberate the proposed land swap outside of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy's tight end-of-January deadline.

The Malibu City Council gave its city attorney the go ahead Monday to further explore a proposed land swap and settle a lawsuit over uses in Ramirez Canyon, with some conditions.

The proposed settlement of a lawsuit between the city of Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC) calls for the resolution over uses in Ramirez Canyon and a land swap of Charmlee Wilderness Park for Bluff's Park.

The SMMC board has already given a nod to its approval of the settlement and proposed land swap. The idea came up during a meeting with Mayor Pro Tem Joan House, Mayor Lou La Monte and SMMC Executive Director Joe Edmiston.

In a 5-0 vote, the council directed City Attorney Christi Hogin to explore the proposed deal. The council asked her to first allow time for the city to determine if it could build more recreational facilities at Bluff's Park and explore what fire safety standards would be in place for the SMMC's proposed camping plan at Charmlee. The city attorney will also see if the proposed deal can include a discussion about restricting camping in Escondido and Corral canyons.

At the beginning of the three-hour hearing, Hogin said the council would not be making a decision to approve the land swap and settlement on Monday, but instead hear council and community input on the idea.

Hogin said this is a unique time where the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy is talking about how to resolve differences at Ramirez and other issues.

"This is a moment where everybody is talking," Hogin said. "... This seems to be a good moment."

According to City Manager Jim Thorsen, there is a 10-acre spot in the northwest corner of Bluff's Park that is not an Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area.

The SMMC had proposed camping in the 10-acre spot and in the middle of the park, Thorsen said. If the land swap goes through, Edmiston has said he would give up camping at Bluff's Park.

He said the city could put additional parking, soccer fields, baseball fields or a potential 20,000-square foot skate park in the 10 acres.

Hogin said the transfer of ownership could allow the SMMC to seek coastal development permits for camping at Charmlee from the California Coastal Commission.

During public comment, two young children, 9-year-old Andrew and 7-year-old Amanda Parks, both asked that the proposed deal go through so they have more space to play sports in Malibu.

"We need more fields for all of us to play on," Andrew said.

Jeff Stern, a Malibu resident and board member of the Malibu Little League and AYSO, said the city needs a safe environment for children to recreate.

"It’s a struggle every year to get field space and to have enough field space for our 1,000 kids who use field space," Stern said.

Others spoke in favor of further exploring the proposal, including many parents involved in AYSO who believe that there are not enough fields for children in Malibu.

"This about them. This is about the kids," one man said.

Rick Mullen of the Ramirez Canyon Preservation Fund praised the city for keeping Ramirez Canyon residents in the loop.

"This is a big decision for the city and its residents. We encourage the city to move deliberately and decisively with great attention to detail," Mullen said.

Paul Morra, president of the Corral Canyon Fire Safety Alliance, read out loud an email from Joe Edmiston to the SMMC/MRCA board of directors dated Dec. 21.

Morra quoted Edmiston as saying:

"Camping on Malibu Bluffs will never happen if the city obtains jurisdiction. That is the principal benefit that the city gains from this agreement. The perception that SMMC is giving up on camping on the iconic property within city limits, i.e., that Malibu has “won” the camping issue on the Bluffs will be touted by the Malibu politicos. And they will be right. This is an important political victory that the council members can claim (conversely a reason they will vote for it). It represents for me personally a bitter defeat in that a local municipality can defeat classic park uses on land acquired from all the state’s taxpayers. On the other hand, Malibu’s victory is only in a technical sense because camping will be proposed just a few yards outside the city limits, and beyond their ability to veto."

Frank Rich of the Charmlee Nature Preserve Foundation said docents often lead children from disadvantaged Los Angeles schools to Charmlee to learn about the outdoors.

“We believe this unexplainable rush trade threatens our 20 year program there," Rich said, adding that thousands have children have gone through the program.

Malibu Planning Commissioner John Mazza said he wants the council to deliberate on the proposed swap.

“We already have one park where we can’t do anything with it but walk around,” Mazza said.

He also asked for restrictions on camping within Charmlee.

"Truly you are voting for camping next to Malibu if you don't put that restriction in," he said.

Ryan Embree, speaking on behalf on the Malibu Township Council (MTC), said the MTC opposes the project.

"We don’t need to jump to Joe Edmiston’s schedule," Embree said. (Read more of the MTC's concerns here.)

Walt Keller, a former Malibu councilmember, encouraged the council to take its time with the decision, especially since Malibu is unique to have a wilderness park.

"I'd like you to be assertive and to tell the conservancy what you want to do," Keller said.

Keller also said that fires always remain a risk.

"You have that risk, always. It doesn’t take much," Keller said. "My house was burned totally to the ground. That fire came through Charmlee."

His wife, Lucille Keller, asked for more time for the residents to air their concerns.

"The major reason for the city owning Charmlee was keeping local control over park use," she said.

Bruce Dunn, a 38-year resident of Malibu, said he takes his grandchildren up to Charmlee for a hike every time they come to visit.

Dunn said he's fought off several fires at this home over the years.

"It would be totally unacceptable to the citizens of Malibu particularly the citizens of West Malibu to negotiate a deal with Joe Edmiston," Dunn said.

Jonathan Kaye of the Winding Way Homeowners Association said he wants the city to include the association in the discussion.

Many people spoke during the hearing. Didn't see your ideas? Feel free to leave them in the comments below.

Just Wondering... January 18, 2013 at 01:53 AM
J. Flo, thank you for being reasonable. Ball fields are just a small thing in the big picture, but youth sports are a part of the majority of children's and families lives in communities all over the United States. Are youth sports "unbecoming" and "beneath" Malibu? When I see people write (above), "There are many towns with ball fields, why didn't you buy there instead of Malibu? Why don't you move there?" it makes me wonder. Youth sports bring communities together, and are a vehicle to expand social circles in Malibu, b/c kids from different schools are mixed together on teams and make new friends. My wife, my kids and I are friends with numerous families specifically because our kids were on teams together once or twice. We would have never even met many of these families if not for youth sports. The problem is that with the limited field space, there is not enough room for practices and games. We need one or two more fields so the kids can do both. That's not a lot of space. I am always surprised by how violently opposed to this many people seem to be - as if one or two fields in 27 miles is a ridiculous request and will ruin Malibu. To be clear, I am NOT in favor of the swap. It seems like an "end-around" regarding camping restrictions in west Malibu, and I think additional ball fields will likely never be built at the west end of Bluffs. I think the City is putting that "carrot" out there to try and get people (like me) to support the swap. I know better than that! :)
J. Flo January 18, 2013 at 02:20 AM
I hear you, JW and I agree! Let's solve this together as residents. I think the great fear, and it has been created from experience, for a lot of people is that reasonable suggestions like yours are started and as that door cracks opens it suddenly becomes unreasonable. One request that makes total sense turns into a - "we got 'em now" - let's demand more and push it through! It's created a distrustful public. I would suggest that most people will agree that 1-2 extra ball fields is just fine. Right? Let's find them. Solve this and we'll no longer have this community pitted against each and can focus on what is transpiring in the big and formidable picture. 1,000,000 sq. ft of new development headed towards the Civic Center. A 590 acre historic park on the cutting block. Overnight camping that literally threatens our homes and lives. Malibu is about to be forever changed and that's a fact. Let's unite.
Susan Tellem January 18, 2013 at 02:27 AM
Just Wondering - you attributed a lot to me in your comment when I just mentioned one of the reasons I moved here. There is nothing wrong with moving here for nature though your comment made it sound like that is not a good reason. Everyone had good reasons for moving here and I would propose with certainty that the majority did not move here for ball fields since we only have a few or did you move here just to play ball? That would be wacky. So you did not move here for nature? I didn't say that ball fields were good or bad - you interpreted my post as all or nothing which is completely wrong. If you had taken the time to read my other posts you would have seen that I actually suggested ways of getting more ball fields.
J. Flo January 18, 2013 at 02:33 AM
How many here have lived through a Malibu wildfire? How many were here in 1993? Over 400 houses burned to the ground. If you lived through that, then you know. Your life in Malibu was never same again. Right? Duncan Gibbons, my personal and dear friend died in that fire. He died running back for one moment to get his sweet cat. He was burned to death. New people, and it's not their fault, don't understand. Yet . . . But the rest of us do. I think we can unite behind that truth and make intelligent choices for the future. An out of control fire raging down a canyon towards your home is a fact of life in Malibu. Take it seriously.
Susan Tellem January 18, 2013 at 02:38 AM
Our house burned down in 1978. And with the temperatures rising as reported this week and the Santa Anas, we are all sitting ducks. I am stunned that the council voted 5 - 0 for this. Not a clear head among them. I am proud to say that I didn't vote for one of them.

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