Judge rules against Coastal Commission in Ramirez Canyon case

A Los Angeles judge on Thursday threw out a decision by the California Coastal Commission that allowed the expansion of state operations and public activity in Malibu’s Ramirez Canyon, a ruling that followed years of controversy and litigation.

Superior Court Judge John A.Torribio said the commission “exceeded its authority” in its 2009 decision by altering Malibu’s local coastal program and allowing a sister agency, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, to include overnight camping, hiking trails and party facilities – activities that drew opposition from neighbors and Malibu officials.   

The Conservancy, which is headquartered in the canyon, planned to appeal Judge Torribio’s decision.

“We are not going to let the lawyers keep the people out of parkland that belongs to all of the people of California,” said Conservancy Chair, Antonio Gonzalez. “This is a social justice issue, an issue of public access.”

The 22-acre piece at the top of Ramirez Canyon, appraised then at $15 million, had been donated to the state in 1993 by celebrity Barbra Streisand as a setting for an environmental think tank. The Conservancy used one of the buildings on the land as its headquarters and has long sought land-use policy changes to help bring in revenue and finance the parcel’s upkeep. Gov. Jerry Brown listed the land among those state properties proposed for sale because of its maintenance expense.

The City of Malibu and a number of local property owners challenged the actions by both the Conservancy and the Commission, arguing that local land-use authority had been violated. The issue has been a long-standing source of friction between the Commission and local residents.

The decision also found that the Commission sidestepped the state’s principal environmental protection law, the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, by not allowing the public sufficient time to review the proposed decisions before they were adopted.  “The commission acted in excess of its jurisdiction and did not comply with the strict notice requirements of CEQA,” Torribio wrote.

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