Lagoon Project Foes Step Up Efforts to Increase Ranks and Raise Funds
• Organizers Explore Process to Recall Mayor While They Wait for Ruling on Injunction Request
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
Opponents of the State Parks sponsored Malibu Lagoon Restoration and Enhancement Project are raising a host of new questions and concerns about the plan to drain, dredge and rebuild the Malibu Lagoon, following the city council's airing of the issue last week.
The council deadlocked 2–2 at the meeting in a vote on whether to send a letter to the governor on the issue in support or opposition of the controversial plan, which has already received approval from the Coastal Commission and is scheduled to break ground in June, but is facing a growing groundswell of opposition in the community.
At the same meeting, immediately before the lagoon issue discussion, US Geologic Survey scientist John Izbicki presented information that sent a shockwave through the chamber and has added fuel to the arguments opposing the lagoon project.
According to Izbicki, the most recent research by the USGS scientists indicates that bacteria in the lagoon originate with birds, not humans, and that 16 percent of the lagoon experiences low levels of oxygenation, a statistic that project opponents state supports their contention that 84 percent of the lagoon is not impaired.
A flurry of emails from project critics this week calls for a recall effort to remove Malibu Mayor John Sibert from office. Discussion is focusing on the number of signatures required for a recall and the dates for a potential deadline.
Sibert, who is a member of the governing board of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, was requested by two speakers at last week's meeting, to recuse himself from the discussion. He declined, stating, "You can change opinions, not facts. My bias is towards science and truth. I represent Malibu on the council."
The opposition group says it is also incensed that the three council members who pointed out flaws in the restoration project then refused to oppose it for fear of losing the bond money funding the project to another project elsewhere in the state.
Third generation Malibu resident and surfer Andy Lyon had harsh words for Sibert following the meeting. "The mayor acted reprehensibly. He doesn't care about this city," Lyon told the Malibu Surfside News. Lyon stated that the USGS study confirms that the State Parks project is based on "faulty science."
Sibert didn't err on the side of Malibu," Lyon said. "He brushed off [our concerns]. He wasn't impartial."
"Sibert downplayed the USGS data, then allowed someone from the restoration commission to come up and comment on the disputed oxygen levels," Lyon added. "That person didn't speak during public comment on the agenda item. He didn't have a speaker slip. It wasn't his data. The mayor is acting like the Wizard of Oz and now Toto is pulling back the curtain."
Longtime Malibu resident Alden Marin called the three-hour city council session "arduous." "They can't let go of the money," Marin said, referring to Sibert and Councilmembers Jefferson Wagner and Lou LaMonte, who criticized the plan but declined to oppose it. Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich opposed the project and wrote a personal letter to Governor Jerry Brown.
Mayor Pro Tem Laura Rosenthal was absent from the meeting. Critics soundly criticized her for not attending a session on the controversial subject.
Marin called the council outcome a fait accompli. He told The News that Save Malibu Lagoon has delivered two packets of material on the lagoon debate to the governor. He encourages Malibu residents to contact the governor's office at 916-445-2841 to express their views.
"The subtext is basically about development," Malibu Colony resident Carol Moss said.
"They're going to be using pumps 24 hours a day. They can call everybody out of the ocean for up to six months [if pumping increases bacteria]," Save Malibu Lagoon member Wendi Werner said. "They're pulling out bridges, putting in massive amounts of concrete and steel. This project is going to be a fiasco. It's greenwashing."
"This is a pilot program," Werner added. "Heal the Bay will be making money off of it. They'll be doing monitoring for the next five years."
Members of Save Malibu Lagoon are also expressing concern that the plan to deepen the lagoon and increase its holding capacity is intended to provide a massive wastewater storage facility for Civic Center's sewage treatment plant.
"It will be Malibu's biggest leach field," Lyon said. "The lagoon may never breach again if they make it deep enough. It's going to be a freshwater lake."
The lagoon is on the Pacific flyway [for migratory birds]," Warner said. "Bird guano is part of the life cycle. The USGS study shows that. This isn't about conservation or restoration. It's about agencies and money."
The project's opponents, including Steve Hoye of the public access advocacy group Access for All and the Wetlands Defense Fund, have filed for an injunction to prevent the project from breaking ground in June. The motion will be heard on May 9 in San Francisco.
Save the Lagoon members say they are planning a protest march and rally at the lagoon on Saturday, April 23, from 12-2 p.m., followed by a fundraiser in a private home in Malibu Colony.
More information on the rally and other opposition events is available online at savemalibulagoon.com
RIFT—This bumper sticker, an example of backlash generated by anger over the lagoon project, is cropping up on local cars.