If the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) has its way, a campground could be established at Malibu Bluffs Park — an 84-acre park at the foot of Malibu Canyon Road, below the Pepperdine University campus and overlooking the Pacific Ocean already in December 2023.
The MRCA, a joint powers agency that works with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy to preserve open land around the Santa Monica Mountains and open it to visitors, recently announced that it is preparing an Environmental Impact Report to study how Camping in Malibu Bluffs can add 8 to 12 yurts with accommodation for 10-12 people per yurt; 16-20 tented cabins, sleeping six to eight people per cabin; and 18-22 pitches for tents with space for 6-8 people per pitch. Overall, the campground could see up to 480 visitors a night, according to MRCA estimates, in a city notorious for its lack of visitor accommodation (the California Coastal Commission recently estimated the city has about 130 hotel rooms, compared to more than 3,000 in Santa Monica).
In addition to overnight accommodation, the MRCA is proposing day-care facilities including a toilet, a 30-40 vehicle parking lot, an amphitheater and other developments including a ranger residence, medical building, office, kitchen and water storage facility.
The campground is designed as “cold camping” with a fire ban, but residents have long been skeptical of the concept that out-of-town campers will comply with bans on campfires, cook stoves and gas lanterns.
The majority of Malibu residents didn’t seem too keen on the proposal, which drew the ire of the community, including at a recent public hearing in late October.
At that October 27 hearing, E. Barry Haldeman of Malibu summarized the concerns of many neighbors.
“One of the biggest concerns we have in Malibu is fires, and this is being planned because we’re in the Santa Monica Mountains in the worst drought we’ve ever had,” Haldeman said. “One of the things that needs to be looked at very carefully is how you plan to prevent fires. I don’t know what ‘flameless camping’ is.”
Concerns about the proposed Malibu Bluffs campground — alongside the revitalization of another campground in the city in Malibu’s Ramirez Canyon Park — come amid zoning code changes of the larger area of the Santa Monica Mountains, which could lead to more camping in the mountain range that makes up Malibu’s backyard.
During a Nov. 15 meeting, the LA County Board of Supervisors formalized zoning changes that pave the way for what the board is calling “low-impact camping” in the Santa Monica Mountains, including in some areas previously excluded by status protected as environmentally friendly were Sensitive Habitat Area or ESHA.
The administrative action came about seven months after regulators held a public hearing to approve the change, against the wishes of hundreds of Malibu residents who called and wrote to regulators, pleading with them to deny the move.
Last Tuesday, one person called the meeting to demand that the formal zoning changes be reconsidered: Malibu Deputy City Manager Elizabeth Shavelson. In her statements, Shavelson referenced written correspondence the city provided to the board ahead of Tuesday’s hearing.
“In general, the city is seeking more reliable oversight of campgrounds, particularly on red flag days, and more clarity on ‘fireproof cooking stations,'” the City of Malibu letter said. “The Commission’s amendments still leave too much uncertainty as to how compliance with camping restrictions will be adequately monitored and enforced.”
The camping proposal at Bluffs Park came about because of the acute concerns of Malibu City Council members about wildfires. At the time the council feared that the MRCA would bring camping to Charmlee Wilderness Park near the northern outskirts.
Between 2014 and 2019, the two agencies had conducted a pilot that gave the city control of MRCA’s Malibu Bluffs Park in the heart of central Malibu in exchange for the 532-acre Charmlee Wilderness Park on the outskirts. In the charred episode of the 2018 Woolsey Fire, council members there said they feared the MRCA would soon be bringing camping to Charmlee, where campfire flames could easily ignite into a large and destructive blaze.
In April 2019, the Malibu City Council narrowly voted to return control of Malibu Bluffs Park to the MRCA in exchange for assuming administration of Charmlee, a 532-acre wilderness park nestled in the open landscape of the Santa Monica Mountains is.
Now, following the Board of Supervisors’ decision to change zone codes in the mountains, low-impact camping could come to the hills outside Malibu’s back door.
The public comment period for the Environmental Impact Report, which will examine campgrounds at Malibu Bluffs Park and Ramirez Canyon Park, remains open until December 16. For more information on the proposal, visit bit.ly/MRCAMalibuCampingEIR.