The plan for the North Area of the Santa Monica Mountains hasn’t been updated for almost 20 years with implementation possible in 2018. “Resource protection is the priority over development,” county officials say.
The first official outreach meeting for Los Angeles County Regional Planning’s Santa Monica Mountains North Area Plan (NAP) update drew a standing-room-only crowd to the Malibou Lake Mountain Club on August 16.
L.A. County Department of Regional Planning Section Head Anita Gutierrez gave an overview of the update process, after which, participants circulated through six work stations, to learn more and provide input on aspects presented by the project’s planners and consultants.
Gutierrez explained that the NAP, which covers the portion of the Santa Monica Mountains that lies outside of the Coastal Zone, was adopted in 2000, and that the county is just beginning the process of updating the document.
“We’re doing the groundwork,” she said. “At the time it was approved, it was cutting edge, but things have evolved and it needs to be updated.”
The goal is to more closely align land use planning in the north area with the recently adopted Santa Monica Mountains Local Coastal Program (LCP) that governs the neighboring area. Gutierrez said the county is seeking to model the NAP’s biological habitat categories on the methodology developed for the LCP, including a tiered system to identify four categories of habitat sensitivity.
The North Area is unique in Los Angeles County, because almost the entire area is designated as having special biological significance. Gutierrez explained that the guiding principle of the update reflects that.
“Resource protection is the priority over development.” she said, adding that the objectives include protecting biodiversity—including wildlife, wildlife corridors, and native trees; supporting open space and trail conservation; and retaining the rural and agricultural character of the mountains’ different neighborhoods.
“We are looking to start a dialogue,” Gutierrez said, inviting the event participants to spread out and explore the workstations.
At the Significant Ecological Areas (SEA) table, Alejandrina Baldwin, Principal Planner at LA County Environmental Planning and Sustainability Section, clarified that the North Area SEAs are not shifting their borders, but the regulations that apply to them are under revision.
Poison Free Malibu cofounder Kian Schulman discussed the issue of pesticide use and the impact of rodenticides on predators.
“Between 80-90 percent of large predators in the Santa Monica Mountains and surrounding areas are exposed to rodent poisons,” she said.
The county was able to ban pesticides in the LCP because the area is in the Coastal Zone, under the authority of the California Coastal Commission (CCC). A state-mandated exemption prevents the same ban from being put in place in the north area, but Schulman said she hopes the county will continue to push for pesticide controls there.
Topanga activist Carrie Carrier concurred, but suggested that the county could work around the preemption, banning pesticides on its own property and right of ways. “We can start there,” she said.
Schulman was also concerned about the potential impact of marijuana cultivation in the North Area. “Commercial cannabis farming uses a lot of rodenticides and other pesticides,” Schulman told the Messenger Mountain News. “They’re having problems in Northern California. It’s decimating wildlife populations like the fisher [a member of the weasel family]. We need regulations to be set up.”
Schulman was also concerned about the potential impact of commercial cannabis on the aquifer. “Commercial cannabis requires a lot of water,” she said. “Wells were running dry, especially during the drought. This is already a problem in some areas where vineyards are drawing on the aquifer.”
At the Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) table, Michael Frawley, president of the Triunfo Lobo Canyon Community Association was concerned that the size of driveways and especially requirements for fire truck turn-around—70 by 50 feet he said)—would impact the ability of homeowners to build additional units on their property. He argued that regulations dependent on square footage for single family home additions should exclude the driveways and turn-arounds.
The county has had an accessory dwelling unit ordinance since 2014, but a state law passed in 2016 now limits local jurisdiction. The county is seeking to address setbacks, parking and conversions of open space, as well as the driveway and fire turn-around issue.
SEA’s Baldwin gave some information on the regulations, stating that homeowners are currently allowed to expand their square footage by 25 percent, provided that the total square footage remains under 10,000 square feet without triggering additional permit requirements.
At the Tree station, county employees handed out oak saplings and received a barrage of comments. Protections for all native trees, not just oaks, was one common theme. Some event participants wanted to see better oversight for the oak tree removal and encroachment permit process. “Not enforced!” a written comment stated.
Traffic and parking; the Dark Skies ordinance and light pollution; fire danger; and public access were hot topics at the Code Enforcement table, while fencing and stream setbacks were being discussed at the Equestrian table.
On the lighter side, participants were asked to vote for one of three logos that will identify the NAP project. A design with the sea in the background and a winding mountain road, green tree and mountain lion in the foreground garnered the most votes. “Those are all things that are important,” one participant summed it up. “Things that make this place unique.”
The project is expected to take a little more than a year to complete. A full environmental impact report will be required and more outreach sessions regarding the NAP are expected to be announced soon.