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Trancas Lagoon restoration considered

Pictured is the Trancas Creek bridge and the existing remnants of the Trancas Lagoon. Suzanne Guldimann/22nd Century Media
Pictured is the Trancas Creek bridge, with view of the former seven-acre Trancas Riders and Ropers property in the background. Suzanne Guldimann/22nd Century Media
Suzanne Guldimann, Staff Writer
2:20 pm PDT June 23, 2014

After almost five years in limbo, a National Park Service plan to acquire the former Malibu Riders and Ropers site — eight acres to the east of the Trancas shopping center — restore a portion of Trancas Lagoon, improve fish passage and provide trail access to NPS parkland in Trancas Canyon, is beginning to move forward again. Residents had an opportunity to learn about the project’s feasibility study and provide input at a stakeholders’ meeting on June 17.

Unlike State Parks’ Malibu Lagoon Restoration and Enhancement Project, which generated significant controversy in the community, including a petition opposing the plan with almost 14,000 signatures, the National Park Service’s Trancas project currently appears to have community support. Participants of the meeting described the atmosphere as positive and encouraging.

Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains senior conservation biologist Rosi Dagit opened the meeting with a brief history of the property and described the goals of the study. The RCDSMM is working with NPS to conduct the study.

In 2008, the owners of the shopping center agreed to sell the property to the NPS. Initial plans for a connector trail and additional wetland habitat adjacent to Trancas Creek were developed. When the Trancas shopping center changed owners, however, the entire NPS conservation easement agreement was left in a state of flux. A feasibility study grant was awarded in 2012, but lost when the landowner revoked access. 

Although the Trancas property, at one time slated for extensive commercial development, is not yet acquired by the park service, NPS spokeswoman Melanie Beck said the outlook appears promising. A smaller, privately owned parcel known as the “Boomerang Property” because of its shape, is also part of the project proposal and would provide an essential link missing from the current trail plan.

Last year, the current owner of the Trancas shopping center contributed $81,719 toward the project feasibility study. A $47,000 grant from the Fisheries Restoration Grant Program was also obtained, with a focus on the potential to increase Southern steelhead trout habitat and fish passage. The study is finally underway.

Dagit said an $8 million Caltrans plan to replace the aging Trancas Creek bridge may offer a opportunity to make more substantial habitat improvements to the lagoon than previously envisioned, and that the NPS, which is the lead agency in the project, proposes to work with Caltrans.  

“We recognize that it is not possible to ‘restore’ the historic lagoon at the mouth of Trancas creek due to current conditions,” Dagit said at the start of meeting.  “The goal of the project focuses on developing a functional, self-sustaining lagoon that is supported by current conditions.”

The study will examine rehabilitation of Trancas Lagoon — a small seasonal lagoon that is located at the mouth of the creek and immediately under the bridge, and improving the bridge area to provide fish passage and modifying the existing county flood control channels to increase floodwater capacity and provide a more natural bottom to the channels to allow for southern fish to travel upstream. 

According to Dagit, the Southern steelhead trout, currently on the edge of statewide extinction due to loss of spawning habitat, were documented in Trancas creek as recently as the 1980s. She said studies indicate modifying these two “keystone” barriers could help the fish to return. 

Dagit said there is quality habitat upstream, including many deep pools, and that even without improvements, the existing lagoon already supports a number of fish species. 

One of the lagoon improvement alternatives under discussion is a longer span for the bridge. Ron Kosinski, Deputy Director of Environmental Planning for Caltrans District 7, described the existing PCH bridge as “old and falling apart,” and said that CEQA review for the replacement bridge is slated to begin in January 2015.  

Project proponents said increasing the bridge span could help provide on-site mitigation required by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Several members of the audience requested Caltrans to add a right turn lane for Trancas Canyon and the shopping center to the new bridge, in addition to incorporating adequate room for cyclists. A safe pedestrian walkway under the bridge was also requested by a majority of meeting participants.

After the presentation, audience members were given maps of the site, marker pens and encouraged to make suggestions.

Among the priorities that emerged from the group discussion were connector trails from the beach to the Backbone Trail; retention of the existing trail that leads to Morning View Drive in Malibu Park; and emergency access via an unpaved fire road from Paseo Canyon Drive in Malibu West to PCH. 

According to the information presented at the meeting, no construction will take place on the beach, and the existing non-channelized creek bed will not be disturbed. The National Park Service has no plans to build anything other than trails and place signage at the site. Parking would not be permitted on the land side of PCH but the proposed underpass walkway would enable visitors to park at Zuma lot and safely cross under the highway.

Dagit told the Malibu Surfside News that some of the necessary reports, including soil studies and a survey of cultural resources at a major Chumash site excavated in the 1960s, have already been completed by the owners of the shopping center and that the data will be incorporated into the feasibility study.

The feasibility study is scheduled to be completed by March 2015. 

A second public meeting will take place in the fall.