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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Opponents of State Parks Lagoon Plan Say They Won’t Let Up Efforts

• Petition for Writ of Mandate Cites Five Areas of Concern under State Coastal Requirements

BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN

The Malibu Surfside News has obtained a copy of the petition for writ of mandate requesting a temporary stay, temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctions filed by the Wetlands Defense Fund, Coastal Law Enforcement Action Network and beach access advocacy organization Access for All against the California Coastal Commission, named Respondent; California Department of Parks and Recreation, the applicant; and the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation, agent of applicant, to prevent the State Parks’ Malibu Lagoon Restoration and Enhancement Project, which is scheduled to break ground in June.
The project, which involves dredging, draining and reconstructing approximately 12 acres in the western portion of the lagoon, has received all of the necessary permits and to proceed-including the contested Coastal Commission approval-but it has also become increasingly controversial, generating a growing groundswell of opposition.
“This petition seeks to protect wetlands, environmentally sensitive habitat, and a public access trail to the beach in Malibu Lagoon,” the document, prepared by the law firms of James Birkelund and Rose M. Zoia, states.
The petitioners allege that the Coastal Commission's approval “violates the Coastal Act…and its provisions that protect wetlands from dredging if less environmentally damaging alternatives exist, prohibit significant impacts to protect environmentally sensitive habitat areas and endangered species, and mandate the preservation of existing public access trails to the sea. Respondent’s approval of the project also violates the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).”
According to the petition, the lagoon is “impressively diverse with 17 vegetation communities and habitats” that “provides habitat for an array of endangered or sensitive species, including the tidewater goby, steelhead trout, California least tern, elegant tern, snowy plover, California brown pelican and Heermann's gull.”
The petition also states that “The project is slated for development within Malibu Lagoon State Beach, an area that is designated ESHA under the coastal act. ESHA is afforded one of the highest degrees of protection under the Coastal Act.
“Construction of the project would eradicate existing habitat in the western lagoon, destroying the ecology on which the tidewater goby and other species depend for survival and recovery.”
Access for All Executive Director Stephen Hoye blasts the project’s plan to remove the wooden bridges and the trail that connects them to the beach, stating that the plan reduces public access from two trails to one.
“From a public access standpoint, this is a radical, ill-thought out project which would squander important public access opportunities, and, indeed, would destroy what I and others consider one of the best accessways in Southern California,” Hoye wrote in his declaration in support of the injunction, which accompanied the petition.
“It’s so difficult to open up new access situations, which can take up to five years of litigation and associated work, that to destroy such a wonderful route to the beach as the wooden bridges is unacceptable…The final version approved by the commission entails the destruction and complete elimination of one trail.”
Malibu resident David Olan, founder of the Association of Surfing Lawyers, also had harsh words for the project in his declaration.
“The project would destroy one of the two public access ways through the Malibu Lagoon area. There is no replacement planned for the potential loss of this public access,” Olan wrote.
Olan described the bridges trail as “vastly more popular of the two trails and provides the shortest route to the sea.”
It is a California state requirement to provide access for all and the project would be clearly an inhibition of public access.”
Olan stated that,“once destroyed, this trail would not be replaced, and, in fact, cannot be replaced because the project’s massive grading plans will render replacement of the trail physically impossible. If destroyed, the remaining public access route to the beach would be around the edge of the lagoon, which is much longer, less sightly, and very cumbersome.”
Olan called the bridges trail “a unique and irreplaceable public access route to the sea,” its loss would cause “irreparable harm to a public good.”
Olan also raised the issue of the potential impact of the project on the surf break. He wrote: “The project also threatens to adversely affect the sand flow at Surfrider Beach, which was named the world’s first surfing reserve,,,The environmental documentation for this project fails to adequately analyze potential impacts to the surfing waves.”
The petitioners conclude that the commission “failed to consult with a responsible and trustee agency, the Department of Fish and Game, as required under CEQA; the commission prejudicially abused its discretion by issuing staff reports that do not comply with the requirements of CEQA”; and the commission “improperly approved the project in the face of feasible alternatives.”
The petition will be heard on May 9.

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