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Another view on Malibu camping

Marshall Lumsden, a former magazine editor who lives at Broad Beach, takes exception to Jenny Price's Native Intelligence case for camping in the Malibu area.

 I must take issue with the recent Native Intelligence column in which Jenny Price takes some broad swipes at Malibu and its residents. Did she miss? Let me count the ways.

Her opening sentence refers to the Malibu City Council’s vote to “ban camping on many public lands. . .” In fact, only three sites were at issue: Santa Monica Mountain Conservancy land in Corral Canyon, where the most recent fire started, Ramirez Canyon, and Charmlee Wilderness Park, which is owned by the City of Malibu and not the Conservancy. She adds, rather breezily, that as far as she knew it was “the first official measure the city has taken to prevent future fires.” In fact, the City has had a fire prevention program in conjunction the LA County Fire Department almost since Malibu became a city. It combines educational programs with brush-clearing efforts in inhabited areas.

The fact that the L.A. Times reported that 3 percent of all wildfires in all of California are caused by campfires is hardly reason to ignore the risk, especially since few of the other activities she cites take place in these contested areas, or will not unless they move construction crews in to build the camp sites.

And the next time her North Carolina friends ask her why “rich people in Malibu” continue to live in places where fires are inevitable,” she can ask them why rich people in North Carolina build houses on the barrier islands where they are prone to hurricane damage.

The drainage pipes she refers to were built by the county and the state of California long before Malibu became a city. Certainly, big houses on the beach don’t help the environment, although the residents tend to be better day-to-day stewards of the beach than some visitors are. But that certainly isn’t a serious argument for keeping the public off the beaches, and nobody I have known in twenty years of living here has ever suggested such a thing.

She accuses Malibu of having some of the state’s dirtiest beaches, but that dubious honor is actually spread fairly evenly up and down the coast. Interestingly, the one beach that ranks in the top (bottom?) ten is Surfrider Beach in Malibu, which is a public beach and doesn’t have houses on it. A second Malibu beach that got dishonorable mention a couple of years ago was at Paradise Cove, which is a gated community with some mobile homes. Unlike Broad Beach and other residential beaches, which have free access and free parking, it treats its beach as private and charges $25 for parking. Your regular correspondent, Veronique de Turenne regularly files pretty pictures from there of wildlife, sunsets and cute dogs on the beach (in violation of county ordinance, I’m afraid).

Price also refers to “notorious efforts just a few summers ago to re-engineer the tide line” which “created extensive environmental damage.” She is referring to Broad Beach and she has not the slightest proof that it was either the intent or effect of the homeowners’ attempted repairs of storm damage to “re-engineer the tide line.” If she had a better knowledge of the natural movement of sand on the beach, she would know that such a thing is impossible in any case. Nor is there any evidence that there was any extensive or lasting environmental damage stemming from those actions. She must find it ironic that some of the biggest contributors to Heal the Bay, the nonprofit that monitors the above-mentioned dirty beaches, live on Broad Beach.

All of this just to make the case once again that people who live in Malibu are bad sorts who want to keep out the great unwashed. Sorry, but it isn’t true. The camping issue is NOT an access issue, however much she would like it to be. Thousands of people come to enjoy Malibu’s parks and beaches every year (even Broad Beach) and there are already some 1,300 camp sites in safer venues close to the ocean from Mugu through Malibu. This is a dispute about proposed camp sites in three fire-prone and environmentally sensitive places near human habitation, Corral Canyon, Ramirez Canyon, and Charmlee Wilderness Park, a city park prickly with deed restrictions and ESHA regulations.

Most of the people I know would agree with me that the Santa Monica Mountain Conservancy has done great things in rescuing wilderness areas from the developer’s bulldozer. And sometimes we wish that the planning commission and the California Coastal Commission would put some brakes on development. But this time, we think Joe Edmiston has gone a bit too far. And any argument that relies on insinuations, exaggerations, half-truths and downright falsehoods is not likely to change our minds.

Marshall Lumsden

Jenny Price stands by the accuracy of her post — ed.

December 31, 2007 6:06 PM • Native Intelligence • Email the editor

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