Environmental, Cultural Center Proposed at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

Santa Monica Mountains NRA officials are developing a plan to build an environmental and cultural center at the King Gillette Ranch property, which the National Park Service jointly owns with the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority and the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Area photo of King Gillette Ranch via LAMountains.com.

Core to the mission of the National Park Service is opening the eyes of visitors to the wonders that can be found within the National Park System. At Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, officials hope to expand their efforts in that arena through construction of an environmental and cultural center at the King Gillette Ranch.

Now through March 15 officials at the NRA are taking public comment on an environmental assessment they prepared for the proposed Anthony C. Beilenson Visitor Center. The vision to establish such a center in the geographic heart of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area has been discussed for many years. Implementing part of this vision by establishing a full-service visitor center at King Gillette Ranch is now under way. The proposed interagency visitor center would fulfill the long-running need of the national recreation area to have a centrally located, full-service visitor center similar to visitor centers at national parks throughout the country, NRA officials say.

The King Gillette Ranch was purchased from Soka University in 2005 with funds from 11 different funding sources in an almost unprecedented partnership of federal, state, and local government agencies, and private donors. The ranch is now jointly owned by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, the National Park Service, and the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

One of the most stunning locales in the Santa Monica Mountains, the biologically diverse landscape of the ranch contains broad meadows and low ridgelines, valley and coast live oak savannah, grassland, coastal sage scrub, chaparral, and riparian woodland. Park features include several structures from razor baron King Camp Gillette's 1920s Spanish Colonial Revival country estate. The park is enjoyed daily by hikers, birders, picnickers and school children. Public interpretive programs are offered regularly.

The proposed visitor center is part of a larger planning process for King Gillette Ranch. The overarching plan for the 588-acre property, referred to as the King Gillette Ranch Design Concept Plan, would address trail connections and use designation, management zoning and prescriptions for education and administration and natural areas, and would identify uses for each of the existing buildings.

Public scoping for the overarching Design Concept Plan took place in late 2008. Additional public scoping specific to the visitor center was held in September, 2009. All compliance related to the visitor center was originally going to be included in the Design Concept Plan for the entire King Gillette Ranch. However, the complexity of the visitor center project and related funding requirements necessitated a separate in-depth compliance document for the visitor center. This is the document that is now available for public comment. The larger King Gillette Ranch Design Concept Plan will be available for public review later this year.

The EA describes the proposed visitor center facilities and development and analyzes potential impacts on a variety of environmental conditions, including natural and cultural resources, visitor experience, accessibility, traffic, aesthetics, and several other topics. Copies of the EA are available for review at the following locations: Online at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/samo ; CDs and a limited number of hard copies of the document are available upon request.

For more information, you can call or visit the National Park Service Visitor Center, 805-370-2301, 401 W. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks, CA, 91360-4207 (open seven days a week from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) Agoura Hills Library, 29901 Ladyface Court, Agoura Hills, CA 91301 Calabasas Public Library, 200 Civic Center Way, Calabasas, CA 91302 Malibu Library, 23519 West Civic Center Way, Malibu, CA 90265 Santa Monica Library, 601 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, CA [90xxx] Thousand Oaks Library, 1401 Janss Road, Thousand Oaks, CA 91360

You can comment on the EA via mail:

Superintendent Woody Smeck
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
401 West Hillcrest Dr.
Thousand Oaks, CA 91360

Via email:

Or on-line through the NPS Planning Website: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/samo

Comments

As long time residents of Woodland Hills, Ca., located within 20 minutes of the Gillette Ranch, my wife and I fought many years to make sure that this land became public park lands, and remained open space. Much to our chagrin, the property has now all but been taken over by the entertainment industry, which has set up industrial filming operations in and around the Gillette Ranch. Meanwhile, the original buildings remain in a completely dilapidated state, and the Gillette mansion itself has become a multi-tenant residential unit, providing long-term housing for TV show contestants and their families. Meanwhile, the entertainment industry appears to have acquired more land located in close proximity to the Gillette property where large trucks, generators, and other industrial equipment is stored. Consequently much industrial-related truck and automobile traffic is now generated on the main thiroughfare - the narrow and twisting 2 lane Malibu Canyon/Las Virgenes Road.

Just today, approximately 20 vehicles apparently belonging to the entertainment industry were parked and stored on public lands immediately east of the Gillette property, just a few feet from a noted scenic lookout. These vehicles marred an otherwise pristine mountain vista.

Many of the same arguments brought forward against the development of the Gillette property by Soka University (e.g., industrial use of the property, additional car and truck traffic in a pristine natural environment) can be made against the current use of the Gillette property. In retrospect, in view of the scandalous use of the property today, it may have been better to let Soka develop the property.