Lagoon Project Opponents Vow to Continue Their Fight to Halt Plan
• Chorus of Criticism Continues to Swell as Community Absorbs Full Extent of Demolition at Site
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
Critics of State Parks' Malibu Lagoon Restoration and Enhancement plan blasted the parks department, California Coastal Commission staff, and the project's contractors this week for allowing bulldozing to commence without a final dewatering plan or a public access plan in place.
City of Malibu Planning Director Joyce Parker-Boyzlinski confirmed on Tuesday that the city has still not yet received the project's final dewatering plan.
Bulldozers began clearing vegetation last week. On Friday, seven mature sycamore trees, some of which reportedly predated the earlier restoration in the 1980s, were felled and a massive earthen dam was installed to separate the construction zone from the main channel.
On Monday, all of the vegetation in the western portion of the park had been cleared, including a willow woodland and portion of landscaping near the parking lot that was part of the first phase of the project. Several small areas of tule reeds where birds are reportedly still nesting were the only remaining traces of green remaining at the close of work on Monday. Work appeared to have halted on Tuesday, when the Malibu Surfside News went to press.
Project critics state that bulldozers were used in the main channel on Friday and point to tire tracks that reveal where heavy equipment repeatedly crossed through the channels.
State Parks' representatives have repeatedly issued assurances that no work would be done in the channels until the dewatering plan was finalized and that no construction of any type is permitted in the main channel.
Marcia Hanscom, executive director of the Wetlands Defense Fund, one of three organizations currently seeking to challenge the project in court, submitted a permit revocation request to the Coastal Commission on Friday.
In an open letter to CCC Executive Director Charles Lester on Tuesday she asked why there has been no response.
"When will a ruling be given as to whether or not our request for revocation hearing has been accepted?" the letter asks. 'When [previous executive director] Peter Douglas accepted previous requests for other project(s), he placed the project(s) on hold and immediately scheduled a hearing(s)," Hanscom wrote. "I know the Coastal Commission is entwined with this project in ways that are very challenging politically, but that sort of circumstance rarely stopped Peter from doing the right thing.
"With all due respect, Dr. Lester, we are getting no responses from the Ventura office [of the CCC] Hanscom wrote. "In fact, the only government official providing any response has been the city attorney from Malibu. How did this situation get so upside down?"
Hanscom told the News on Tuesday that Steve Hoye of Access for All, which is also currently involved in the project appeal, has reportedly asked repeatedly for the public access plan, but says that he was only able to obtain a partial plan. Hoye has expressed concern that the materials he obtained contain "no engineering, no explanations of how a sand bag dam became a 10-foot-wide solid soil dam, which was not approved by the Coastal Commission.
"They now are turning [the dam] into a public access trail because, as we predicted, all current public access trails will be closed during construction- even though the Commission was repeatedly assured this would not be the case," Hanscom said. And there is no other analysis of this new part of the plan which at least required an amendment, and more appropriately and legally- a new hearing on this entire permit.
"There is so much wrong with this project," Hanscom told The News on Tuesday. "The more work they do the more revealing it is how wrong and inaccurate the premises are." "Nothing in terms of wetland restoration on the Southern California coast resembles this. It is a complete demolition with a Disneyland-type non-scientific attempt to re-make something that does not exist and never has there. Malibu Lagoon is not a salt marsh. Never has been. Never will be. No matter how many times the landscape architect team of the Bay Foundation try to make it so."
Urban Wildlands Director and Los Angeles Audubon Society board president Travis Longcore, who joined the opposition to the project last week, also criticized the plan to transform the estuary into a salt marsh—a type of ecosystem that he describes as a "closing estuary."
Project opponents provided photographic evidence this week that the lagoon, prior to being demolished, was home to the South Coast marsh vole, a California Species of Special Concern, and a hunting ground for the white-tailed kite, which is also a species with special protections.
Some opponents maintain that it is not too late to stop the project and that areas of critical habitat for animals like the South Coast marsh vole, which has remained mostly undisturbed due to nesting birds, can still be preserved.