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Sunday, August 3, 2008

Batttling Over the Malibu-Santa Monica Mountains Coastal Slope Trail

the First Round Is a Draw

by David Brown, Sierra Club Santa Monica Mountains Task Force Conservation Chair,
July, 2008 Newsletter

One of our major projects in recent years has been completion of the Coastal Slope Trail, which would follow the coastal slope of the Mountains above Malibu from Lower Topanga to Leo Carrillo, providing outstanding views of the Malibu coastline and Santa Monica Bay. The trail is in the master plans of every park agency and local government, but completing it will require the willingness of either park agencies to buy the route or of local governments to require dedication of the right-of-way during the subdivision process.

A key link in the Coastal Slope Trail is the section just south of Solstice Canyon Park between Corral Canyon and Latigo Canyon. Over a year ago the Malibu Planning Commission approved creating four lots on this mile-long property without requiring dedication of the right-of-way for the Coastal Slope Trail.

Fearing the failure to dedicate this section of the trail would prevent completion of the entire trail, the Task Force joined the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, the Malibu Trails Council and several other organizations in appealing the Planning Commission’s action to the Malibu City Ccouncil.

The subdividers were rumored to be a world-famous rock group, represented by a businessman from Georgia and a well-known, hard-line local developer lobbyist.

Instead of trying to work something out with the opponents—who at first would have settled for the trail dedication—the subdividers’ lobbyist tried to play hardball with us, offering to dedicate the trail only if we would agree to development of four oversized mansions on the ridge overlooking Solstice Canyon. We refused to go along with that offer, leading to a year- long stalemate during which the entire property—including an old house on the site—burned over in last Fall’s Corral Canyon Fire. Then in this Spring’s City Council Election an extremely pro-development councilmember was "termed out" and a couple of new councilmembers were elected.

After numerous postponements our appeal finally came before the City Council on June 23rd. To our surprise city planning staff recommended that the Council either deny the subdivision or require the subdividers to do an Enivironmental Impact Report on the project that would address the trail issue, the visual impact on Solstice Canyon Park, the fire hazard, and the numerous faults and landslides on the site.

The "hardball" lobbyist and the man from Georgia were not happy with this turn of events, to say the least, and angrily withdrew the project. For the moment that kills the subdivision, but it also kills any chance of a trail dedication for the time being.

Past experience tells us that the development community should now know there is strong public support for the Coastal Slope Trail, and that any future plans for this property will have to address the trail. Either the subdividers will cool down and come back with revised plan or they will sell the property to someone who realizes he will have to address the trail issue before getting approval to subdivide the property.

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