Coastal Commissioners Take Quick Malibu Lagoon Field Trip
• Contentious Issue Expected to Play Major Role in Upcoming Malibu City Council Election
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
A man in a nine-foot-tall green frog costume and nearly 40 protesters were at the Malibu Lagoon on Thursday when the California Coastal Commission visited the location to hear a presentation on the controversial State Parks' plan to drain, dredge and reconstruct the western portion of the lagoon. The lagoon stop was part of a commission field trip that included the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy's Ramirez Canyon Park property, Broad Beach and a number of Malibu-area beach easements in addition to the lagoon.
The commissioners listened to a short presentation by California State Parks representative and restoration plan spokesperson Suzanne Goode and were given five minutes to walk to the first of three bridges on the beach easement slated for removal in June if the project does not encounter additional delays, before returning to their bus and heading to the next stop at Legacy Park.
Goode outlined the history of the Malibu Lagoon and discussed the 1979 restoration, which removed ball fields located in the area used today for parking, and excavated the current arrangement of channels and bridges. She reminded the commissioners that the State Parks project is "a matter involving litigation," which restricted the commissioners' ability to discuss the issue.
"I'm glad to have the commission here," Goode said. "Some of you were not on the board when [the restoration and enhancement project] was approved."
Goode stated that the 1979 restoration project "created some habitat," and that some of the fill deposited by Caltrans during the construction of PCH in the 1930s was "removed successfully," creating "habitat where none had existed."
Goode stated that nutrient laden sediment has partially filled the channels. "Vegetation did not develop well, we didn't get plants. We didn't have benthic invertebrates. We realized early that it wasn't working.
"What we want to do is make it a little more natural," Goode said. "Remember, we can never go back to the way it was before, but we can make [the channels] a little more shallow, so that the channels will have a shallower gradient and will be able to have the zonation of different plants that are tolerant of different periods of inundation, so there will be more diversity.
"We cannot hope to get back to what it was before the Europeans came," she said. "It's too hemmed in by development.
"The channels must be reconfigured to allow scouring. The problem with the sediment is that it's extremely high in nutrients and extremely low in oxygen," Goode said, adding that the project will reestablish a bank on the edge of the main channel and create a single channel in place of the three that were created in 1979.
"This can't be done with a teaspoon," Goode said. "It needs the same equipment used to put [the fill] there.
"We will make [the channel] more natural, shallower. We do have two endangered species, the tidewater goby and the steelhead trout. It's not expected that [they will be] affected by dewatering. Biologists will watch for nesting birds. Fish will be moved."
Goode stressed that State Parks has found that "There's very little circulation, very little oxygen," in the channels of the lagoon, despite the appearance of lush vegetation and the presence of numerous bird species. "You will not see birds eating when the water is out," Goode said.
Goode added that "[The plan is] not intended to address fecal coliform [bacteria], it's intended to improve habitat for fish and birds. A side benefit is water quality for recreation," she said.
Goode said that the bridge trail crosses through "sensitive habitat. There are pinch points [caused by the bridges]. The ocean has a very hard time, a right angle turn, to get in," she said.
Goode said that the plan includes improvements to the remaining beach easement, which skirts the western side of the lagoon. "We're going to improve it," she said. "It will be very interesting."
Plans call for a bird blind and education features. Goode told the commissioners that visitors "will be able to view wildlife the way they do now. Habitat will be much better, much healthier."
Opponents of the reconstruction project did not agree.
A debate erupted between project proponent Shelley Luce, city council candidate Andy Lyon and lagoon project opponents Alden Marin and Athena Shlein after the commissioners left. "It has to be your way or not at all?" asked Shlein. "We're angry. That's the difference.
"Another difference is I understand the lagoon," Luce replied.
"Look how the water is moving," Lyon told the Malibu Surfside News. "Look at all of the kelp, how did it get this far up the channel if the water doesn't circulate? It does circulate. It's like a tidal bore when the breach is open."
"It's great that the commissioners came out here today, but I am dismayed that they only wanted to hear one side," said project opponent Marcia Hanscom, who expressed disappointment that the commissioners were not given the time to walk down to the beach and see first hand the bridge trail and channels slated for removal.
She also expressed concerns over Goode's presentation. "Almost 90 percent of Suzanne Goode's data is based on old science," Hanscom said. "Things have changed." She added that mud birds are regularly documented feeding by the channels and raised the concern that it may take years for some species to recover from the proposed reconstruction. "Some may never come back," she said.
Malibu City Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich has also expressed concern over the extent of the project. In a letter to Cliff Rechtschaffen, senior advisor to California Governor Jerry Brown, Conley Ulich wrote that there is "growing public concern that this project will not 'restore' the lagoon, not 'protect' wildlife, and not 'increase,' but decrease, public access.
"Many people with whom I have spoken believe it is a colossal waste of precious government resources," Conley Ulich wrote.