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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Malibu Lagoon Project: A Case Study in Community Controversy

• Opposition to State Proposal Appears to Be Growing as Proponents Watch from the Sidelines


It was standing room only at Coogie's Beach Cafe on Saturday night, for an information session and silent auction to raise awareness and funds for the lawsuit challenging the California State Parks Malibu Lagoon Restoration Plan. Crowd estimates ranged from 150 to over 300 people. The audience included surfers, birdwatchers, area residents and beachgoers.
A series of speakers outlined their concerns, which included fears that the proposed changes will negatively impact native bird and animal populations, alter the surf break, limit access to the wetlands and the beach and potentially damage cultural artifacts. Others stated that the restoration plan will result in the wrong kind of wetland, one that did not historically exist in the Malibu watershed.
An information sheet available at the event states that litigation is necessary to save the lagoon: “The habitat in Malibu Lagoon has taken 27 years to develop since the last restoration in 1983, and the concept that destroying our wetlands is necessary to improve that very same wetlands is not supported under the Coastal Act. The project would also permanently demolish Malibu Lagoon's most popular public access trail to the sea, a valued recreational and educational resource that cannot be replaced. There are better alternatives that would protect existing resources.”
Opponents state that the plan, which has already received all of its permits and approvals, is not a restoration project but wholesale destruction that will have a permanent negative impact on the 31-acre park's flora and fauna, including several species of threatened or endangered birds and the endangered tidewater goby, a tiny fish that was reintroduced to the lagoon in the 1990s and has reportedly thrived-a fact that project opponents say indicates that the lagoon is a functioning ecosystem.
“The Malibu Lagoon is a magical place for me,” Save Malibu Lagoon spokesperson Marcia Hanscom told the audience on Saturday night. “There are more birds and animals every year. I love it so much. I can’t bear to see it bulldozed.”
Hanscom stated that the park receives 1.5 million visitors a year and is home to five endangered species.
“The people who are studying this on the other side don’t understand. They think this is a salt marsh. [Instead] it’s one of the few naturally functioning lagoons left, open [to the ocean] in winter, closed in summer.”
“I was under the impression that my speech to the California Coastal Commission would make a difference,” project opponent Athena Shlien said. “It didn’t matter what we said. The wheels were already turning. I went from sad to mad.” Shlien described the lagoon as “a grandmother who has been there for three decades,” and blasted upstream sources of pollution, including Tapia and Pepperdine, and the City of Malibu for using the herbicide Roundup at Legacy Park.
“A lot of people say you have to have a plan, we have a plan,” Shlien said. “It’s not about stopping restoration, it’s about using kindness, care and love, because life is precious.”
UCLA biologist Vladimir Kasho described the restoration project as “a very dangerous experiment.”
“The people who designed it are mostly engineers. [They] know how to make channels, not so much about life,” Kasho said. “People [will say] 20 years from now ‘whatever these people did is completely wrong.’” Kasho said that academic scientists publish papers and encourage peer review of their work. “These people had their own meetings with their own scientists. They didn’t want discussion,” he said.
“The lagoon is not getting worse, it’s getting better,” said longtime Malibu resident and surfer Andy Lyon.
“The proof is going out there and seeing it. The guys who designed [the restoration plan] never came back to look at it.” Lyon accused the planner of using outdated satellite maps to design the project. “I realized on the way home from the CCC meeting that they based the plan on a 2004 aerial photo where the breach was going where its never been,” Lyon said, expressing concerns about how deep the channel will be and the impact of the increased water capacity planned.
“It’s wrong on so many levels,” Lyon said. “[The lagoon] has finally healed. Finally looks normal.”
“I look at this as an experiment on animals,” Malibu resident Alessandra de Clario said. “Have you ever tried to herd a cat, a kitten, or a dog? And they’re going to herd fish?”
“I worked with Jerry Brown in the 1970s, when there was talk of turning the lagoon into a marina,” longtime Malibu Colony resident Carol Moss said. “Jerry Brown needs to be updated. He needs to hear, so he can act.”
Several organizations, including The Wetlands Defense Fund, and Access for All have filed a lawsuit to stop the restoration project.
They are also planning to file for a restraining order, because they anticipate the June starting date for the project will pass before the lawsuit arrives in court.
Arguments against the restoration plan and details on the lawsuit and the alternative plan developed by project opponents are available at

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