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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

City Planning Commission Approves Trails Map but Makes Some Changes

• Controversy Erupts Over Staff Additions and Deletions
BY BILL KOENEKER


The Malibu Planning Commission last week was asked to carefully review some of the trails that were added by staff planners after the trails committee had handed in their final work product.
Some speakers told the planning panel the inclusion of their properties on a trails map would encumber their land and others said the last minute additions of such trails gave property owners little notice.
The commission was charged with making their recommendations, which will be forwarded to the city council to include the city’s updated Parkland and Trails Systems Map into the Local Coastal Program Land Use Plan and General Plan Open Space and Recreation Element.
Staff Planner Joseph Smith indicated that updating the trails system “has been a work in progress since the Trails Committee was first created in 1999.”
Smith told the commission, the committee had worked to produce “an accurate assessment of historical, existing and future-planned trails throughout the city.”
Some planning commission members, especially chair John Mazza, emphasized the trail maps is a wish list for the city.
“It was the Trails Committee’s intent to incorporate as many trails as possible into the proposed map with the understanding that some of the trail segments may never be built,” both Smith and Mazza said.
However, some speakers challenged the so-called wish list saying it represented an encumbrance on their properties and that some lending instructions and escrow companies took the maps much more seriously.
“Future buyers and [others] go beserk,” said Ed Niles. “I don’t want my future family burdened with an imaginary line on my property.” Later, during commission deliberations, the panel agreed to delete what they called the “Lower Niles Trail,” from the trails map.
The proposed map includes 121.3 miles of trails within city limits which includes a 22.3 mile segment of the California Coastal Trail.
The trails are mapped along public and private streets, property lines and bisect some parcels. Including the coastal trail, about 2737 public and private parcels are affected by the proposed trail alignments..
However, what generated the most controversy was the recommended six changes to the trail committee’s adopted map including adding the Encinal Creek Trail between Pacific Coast Highway and the beach near West Sea Level Drive.
A nearby property owner wanted to know why the proposed trail was mapped given the current exisiting trail that follows Sea Level Drive, which is so close nearby. “This addition was requested by the Mountains Recreation Conservation Authority staff. The lower three parcels along this alignment include a trail offer to dedicate. This trail allows a connection along Encinal Creek between PCH and the beach,” Smith told the commission.
The panel debated whether to delete the Encinal Creek Trail, which it ultimately did not do and subsequently agreed to include the West Sea Level and East Sea Level Rd trail which the trails committee did not include, since its charge was trails landside of the Pacific Coast Highway.
The Escondido Connector Trail was also added to the map by the staff. It is located between the DeButts Terrace Trail and the southwest property line of Escondido Canyon Park—also requested by the MRCA staff.
However, it too, was blasted by property owners who said they are building or are currently planning on building homes in or near the proposed trail.
“That trail will go right through my house,” said one property owner, who asked that it be deleted.
Mazza argued the trail could be realigned and the commission agreed to keep it included on the trails map.
A trail deleted by the staff after a recommendation from the National Park Service was the El Nido Trail. “The trail was located within Solstice Canyon National Park and began near the north city boundary as an offshoot from the Rising Sun Trail. It continued northeast into unincorporated Los Angeles County. National Park Service staff requested this segment be removed because the trail no longer exists. NPS noted that public access from El Nido has been cut off by private development and after the Corral Fire, they decided to no longer maintain it because it is steep and badly eroded,” the staff report states.
However, a trails committee member sought to have the trail put back on the map. The commission agreed to include it on the map with Mazza again reminding others the map is a “wish list.”
There was also a debate about the Rosemary-Thyme Trail. “I don't know how we can eliminate it,” said Mazza.
Commissioner Jeff Jennings said he was on the council when the controversy erupted about how the city could keep the trail.
“I support keeping it on the list. I was on the council. We heard hours of testimony, but no one could prove there had been five years of continuous use,” Jennings added.
In a letter sent to the city and the media, Trails Committee member Jo Ruggles has called on Jennings to recuse himself from the vote of the commission because he had already voted on such matters.
The commission was originally scheduled to review another amendment for a proposed trail incentives plan that would allow minor deviations from required residential development standards in exchange for a trail offer to dedicate or direct grant of a trail easement. That matter was continued until March.

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