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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Protests Continue as Malibu Lagoon Project Start Date Arrives

• State Parks Drops Controversial Dewatering Plan but Has Not Yet Released Any Details on Alternative Design

BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN

Last week, justices of the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco refused to grant a “stay” requested by opponents of State Parks’ Malibu Lagoon Restoration and Enhancement Project.
The stay was requested by the Wetlands Defense Fund, CLEAN, and Access for All, the trio environmental groups whose appeal against the court decision to approve the project is not expected to be heard by the court until July.
“The action clears the way for a project which has gone through almost 17 years of planning and is supported by key federal and state agencies and numerous environmental groups,” a news release from Craig Sap, district superintendent for the California Department of Parks and Recreation, states.
“The partners of this much-needed restoration strongly believe that the work to be done will arrest the continuing deterioration of aquatic habitat and bring back an array of plants, animals and aquatic organisms that comprise a healthy ecosystem for the lagoon.
“California State Parks and its supporting partners believe that significant intervention is needed to fully restore the lagoon,” Sap said. “Without significant intervention, with only mild treatment, this wetland will continue its decline, dooming it to becoming a stagnant waterway that is devoid of the levels of bird and aquatic life that we expect when this project is complete.   
“State Parks will carry out its work in strict compliance with all of the permits issued for the project, which will include special protections for the endangered species located within the lagoon.”
However, at least one permit seems to be in limbo, as the June 1 start day for the project. The public learned on Tuesday that State Parks appears to have discarded a controversial dewatering plan that is essential for the plans to drain, dredge and recreate the western portion of the lagoon, but which has received extensive criticism from project critics. It is unclear when  a new plan to treat the 48.5 million gallons of water that must be removed from the west channels of the lagoon.
The dewatering plan, which on paper, appeared to have only the capacity to treat one-tenth of the water that must be pumped out of the lagoon to enable the project to proceed, raised a number of unanswered questions from the Malibu City Council and City Manager Jim Thorsen.
The Malibu surfing community has also expressed concern that contaminants, including MRSA and other pathogens that could potentially be harbored in the lagoon water will be pumped, untreated, into the surf zone. The state refused to indemnify the city for the potential risk associated with the project.
“I’ve been told now that State Parks has been given the permit [from the California Coastal Commission] to proceed with the project and we don’t have a dewatering plan. I’m wondering what it is the city will do now?” said outspoken project critic Andy Lyon at the Malibu City Council meeting on Tuesday night. Lyon also criticized State Parks for not putting up signage that the project is scheduled to begin on Friday, and questioned the plan to place tons of lagoon mud in what is currently the park’s parking lot to dry.
“We’ve collected over 10,000 signatures as of today,” Georgienne Bradley, the executive director of the Sea Save Foundation told the council. “Sea Save doesn’t know what the solution is for the Malibu Lagoon but we do know that there are some red flags being raised. If you do the math it's wrong. This is a big deal. If they can't hold the water how are they going to do this project? I don't know what you can do but I implore you to do everything you can to delay this. ”
Robert Roy Van de  Hoek, speaking for the Wetlands Defense Fund, told the council that opening statements in the organization's legal appeal are expected to begin in July. He asked the council to request that the city contact the executive director of the Coastal Commission and request that the project’s permit be revoked.
 “The executive director has complete authority, is required by the [Coastal] Act that if a proposal is made to him for revoking, and the credibility has to do with issues that weren't brought up [the request must be heard]. This gives power to you,” he said.
“Science has flaws. There was going to be a nuclear power plant here in Malibu. Science said it was OK to go ahead and do that, other scientists said no, but it was activists, non-scientists who were the ones who stopped it. Rindge Dam, sewers. This is all linked into the Malibu Lagoon project. Stopping all three must start with first one.”
“There’s been several things going on with lagoon,” City Manager Jim Thorsen said. “Staff has been trying to discuss several issues with the permittees. The Coastal Commission definitely issued the permit. They received the city's letter [enumerating concerns] but went ahead and issued the permit.”
Thorsen said that there were “major deficiencies” in the dewatering plan. “State Parks [has] abandoned the dewatering plan and [is] coming up with a new dewatering plan,” he confirmed.
“We have been unable to get any additional plan. The plan in the permit will not be utilized.”
 Mayor Laura Rosenthal stated that the city is continuing to look for “Anything that we can find to put a kink in their armor”
“You are preaching to the choir,” Mayor Pro Tem Lou La Monte said. “I couldn’t agree more. I think that there is an issue and obviously they figured out there is an issue.” LaMonte described a PowerPoint presentation he had seen on the project. “Between the picnic tables and kelp umbrellas it looks like a tourist attraction, not a lagoon. I wish they would just leave us alone.”
 “Science doesn’t make decisions, science should inform decisions,” said Councilmember John Sibert. “There is a real issue if they have decided not to do the dewatering because if they are off by a factor of 10-100 that may be an issue we can raise with the CCC. I would be happy to speak to a CCC commissioner about it. This one still worries me.”
Thorson said that the city will evaluate the project's new dewatering plan as soon as it is released.
Councilmember Joan House offered to bring the issue of city indemnification up with State Parks Superintendent Ruth Coleman next week. Councilmember Skylar Peak was absent.
Opponents of the project continue to protest. A silent pray vigil was held on Sunday. On Monday, the Surfers Coalition to Save Malibu Lagoon sponsored a protest. Protesters are expected to gather on Friday—the official start date of the project at the lagoon. State Parks has reportedly prepared an ambitious crowd control plan that includes numerous park law enforcement officers and a sizable sheriff’s department presence.
The troika of environmental organizations pursuing legal action against the project are expected to file suit in Federal court, alleging the unauthorized take of the endangered tidewater goby, threatened California least tern, and threatened Western snowy plover, as well as adverse modification of designated critical habitat for the Tidewater Goby.
Malibu’s mayor urged the city council and the public to continue to call and write to the governor, the California Coastal Commission and the regional and state water boards to continue to express concerns with the project.

SMC Satellite Campus EIR Scoping Session Planned

• Project Calls for Demolition of Old Sheriff’s Station and Construction of New Campus Complex

BY BILL KOENEKER

The Santa Monica Community College District, the lead agency on the planned satellite campus in Malibu is conducting an Environmental Impact Report scoping session for the construction of a SMC satellite campus on May 31 from 6 to 7 p.m. at Malibu City Hall in the multi-purpose room.
The scoping meeting and the entire Environmental Impact Report process is being overseen by Parker Environmental Consultants.
The proposal consists of about 128,000 square-feet (2.94 acres) irregularly shaped ground lease area within the larger 9.18-acre Los Angeles County-owned and operated Civic Center complex, according to SMC documents.
The site is the former Los Angeles County Sheriff's Station, which was decommissioned in the early 1990s. The existing building includes approximately 23,882 square feet of developed floor area.
SMC is proposing demolishing the existing building and the construction of a new two-story, 27,500-square-foot educational facility including approximately 5700-square-foot community sheriff's substation and emergency operations and planning center.
There would be a net increase of 3618 square feet compared to the size of the old building, according to SMC officials.
The school campus will include five classrooms and labs, a multi-purpose community room that will convert into a emergency operations center for local emergencies, a computer lab, administrative offices to accommodate up to 210 students (full-time equivalent) and 12 faculty and staff members during peak time periods, according to a project description prepared by the consultant.
Other features of the school include an interpretive center to support Legacy Park “or other programs to highlight Malibu’s coastal environment and cultural history.”
The project plans to connect to the On-Site Wastewater Treatment System currently serving the Los Angeles County Civic Center complex, including the existing sheriff's station building, on an interim basis subject to verification that the new development will not exceed the current wastewater flows of capacity of the existing OWTS.
“The project proposes to connect to the City of Malibu's planned wastewater treatment facility for the Civic Center Area when it becomes operational,” the EIR notice states.
While most folks, who are interested in all of the sudden building plans slated for the Civic Center, were bracing for three projects and the requisite EIR scoping sessions and subsequent EIR process involving projects in the Civic Center area-Whole Foods in the Park, Rancho Malibu Hotel, and the so-called Crummer site subdivision, it came as somewhat of a surprise that a fourth Civic Center project was ready for the EIR scoping session.
It had been planned at around the same time as the fourth project, with little forewarning or notice until recently.
On the other three EIRs, the lead agency is the City of Malibu. Two of those scoping sessions were held in the last couple of weeks for the Rancho Malibu hotel and the Whole Foods in the Park Some critics contend there should be some kind of cumulative impacts master plan to assess just how all of the projects put together will impact one small area of Malibu.
Of most concern to many are the impacts when the traffic is generated by all of these four projects plus those approved and not yet built such as La Paz and the Pepperdine expansion.
How will the water district provide all of the potable water needed when currently it is turning down individual homebuilders?
How will there be adequate parking, especially on weekend summer beach days, when currently parking is difficult or impossible as experienced by many this past holiday weekend even after the city added the additional parking spaces for Legacy Park now used by beachgoers?

DEIR Scoping Set for Bluffs Subdivision

• Critics Say Megamansions Will Dominate Malibu Skyline

BY BILL KOENEKER

An Environmental Impact Report scoping meeting for the so-called Crummer site subdivision has been scheduled for June 7 at 6: 30 p.m. in the City Hall multi-purpose room.
The Crummer site, so-called for a former owner of the property, is located on the bluffs near Bluffs Park where story poles have been located for some time.
The poles are utilized to show the mass of the five homes planned for the site and the height of the two-story structures on the ridgeline, which is prominent from many areas of the Civic Center and Pacific Coast Highway.
The project applicant Robert Gold wants to subdivide the 24-acre property into seven individual parcels for the development of five new single-family homes and accessory structures on the property located adjacent to the city-owned Bluffs Park.
Plans call for a new private gated road with a guardhouse and dedication of approximately 1.74 acres of land to the City of Malibu for active and passive recreational use.
Lots one through five would be developed with single-family residences and various accessory structures.
Each residence would be two-stories high with a maximum height of 28 feet and would include a basement, attached garage, swimming pool and spa.
Lot five would be developed with a private gated street, a gatehouse, an onsite wastewater treatment system, landscaping and open space to be owned and maintained by the homeowners association.
According to planners, the OWTS will be designed with a stub-out box to allow for possible connection to a municipal wastewater treatment in the Civic Center area in the future.
New water service will be provided to the project site by the Los Angeles County Waterworks District 29 by way of a new 10-inch water line running approximately 3200 linear feet from the intersection of John Tyler and to Malibu Canyon Road connecting to the project site at the northwestern corner of Lot 6, according to a public notice.
The project includes the dedication of land to the city to expand Malibu Bluffs Park by 1.74 acres to the east and northeast. The recreation component has yet to be designed and would not be developed as part of the housing subdivision.
Currently, municipal plans call for using the site for a parking lot for the temporary skate park. The developer and the city have signed an agreement.
For purposes of the EIR, the notice indicates several foreseeable alternative uses for the recreational area will be evaluated as part of the EIR.
The recreational area, as an example, could be used as a baseball or soccer field and a portion of Lot 7 could also be developed with a parking lot resulting in 50 new parking spaces for Bluffs Park, a city-owned maintenance shed and passive recreation uses such as public sitting area and picnic tables, according to the project plan.

Plans for Temporary Skate Park Hit a Snag

• Planners Must Resolve Issue of SMMC’s Deeded Use

BY BILL KOENEKER

The Malibu Planning Com-mission is being asked at its meeting on June 5 to once again continue the public hearing on plans for the construction and operation of a temporary skatepark in Malibu Bluffs Park.
Currently, plans call for the interim skatepark to be located in an existing parking lot and the conversion of vacant land into an auxiliary temporary public parking lot, according to city officials.
The matter had been continued from the May 15 meeting after commissioners were told additional time was needed for the staff to work with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy to resolve issues regarding the SMMC’s deeded use of the existing parking lot.
The location proposed by city officials is the Bluffs Park and private property adjacent to the city-owned parkland.
The action comes after the Malibu City Council approved a license agreement for parking to allow a temporary public parking lot on privately owned land formerly owned by the Crummer family.
However, until a recent letter from the Conservancy, there was apparently no knowledge about the SMMC easement.
Skating enthusiasts and municipal officials have pointed to Bluffs Park as the ideal for relocating the skatepark, but had been initially thwarted because of a lack of adequate parking, according to city planners.
“The feasibility of relocating to this site is dependent on the use of the privately owned property adjacent to Malibu Bluffs Park to offset the loss of the parking spaces,” wrote Bob Stallings, the city’s parks and recreation director in a staff report.
The agreement provides the city use of the property with the understanding that the landowner has plans underway to develop the land for single-family homes. Story poles on the site show what his tentative plans are.
An upcoming scoping session on an Environmental Impact Report is scheduled for the five-home subdivision is planned on June 7.
The parking lot agreement, according to Stallings, contemplates a broad scope of indemnities and liabilities the city agrees to undertake.
In his staff report to council members, Stallings indicated the city attorney has expressed “serious concerns over the extent of liability the city will be accepting,” if the agreement is executed.
Council members did not discuss those concerns when it approved the parking agreement.
The property owner is also requiring $50 million in commercial general liability coverage.
“That level of coverage is usually associated with an environmental calamity, not with risk of personal injury,” wrote Stallings, who also said the property owner wants the city to accept liability for unauthorized activities and trespassers.
“Although staff is cognizant of atypical liability provisions, due to the importance of the skate relocation project, council is being asked to authorize the city manager to negotiate and execute a license agreement with the property owners,” Stallings concluded.
At the same time efforts are moving forward with securing design plans for a new skatepark.
On Feb. 8, what is called a Request for a Proposal or RFP was released by the city's Parks and Recreation Department to solicit proposals to complete design elements for a skatepark facility to be located at Malibu Bluffs Park.
There is nothing in the RFP that states what type of skatepark the city wants. Skatepark designers had until March 14 to submit their proposals to City Hall.
 “The goal for the project is that it be a permanent skate facility. Construction material and type of facility have yet to be determined. The consultant selected for the project will identify those items as tasks are completed,” the staff memo noted
There are no dimensions available for the proposed skatepark, according to city officials, who let consultants know that the actual skate facility will be determined in the second phase of conceptual design.
“The goal for the project is that it be a permanent skate facility.
Construction materials and type of facility have yet to be determined. The consultant selected for the project will identify those items as tasks are completed.”
 “The concept discussed in community meetings with the Skate Park Ad Hoc Committee was for a mixed-use skate park plaza that would combine challenging skate features with pedestrian-friendly pathways and landscaping amid a skate park layout.
“The design could include an all-wheel friendly features that would allow BMX and rollerblade uses. There was also discussion of a traditional style, permanent skatepark specifically for skateboarding,” the RFP concludes.
City Manager Jim Thorsen said it would take anywhere from 15 months to two years to build a new skate park.

Still No Official Cause in Guido’s Employee Death in Malibu

• Man Died Mysteriously 10 Weeks Ago

BY ANNE SOBLE

Although it has been over two months since the puzzling death of Carlos Ivan Rodas, a kitchen employee at Guido’s restaurant, the official cause of death is still listed as deferred, the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner terminology when a cause of death has not been determined.
The blood-splattered body of 32-year-old Carlos Ivan Rodas was discovered yards from an entrance to the restaurant on March 18 and led to a mini-brouhaha of botched media statements by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officials and the appearance of investigation mishandling.
DOC spokesperson Chief Coroner Investigator and Chief of Operations Craig Harvey informed the Malibu Surfside News on Tuesday that the toxicology and tissue analysis reports for Rodas are not yet complete.
Harvey said, “I have an inquiry as to estimated closure to the deputy medical examiner pending his response. The DMEs are allowed up to 90 days to close cases before any red flags start flying.”
Sources connected with the case have indicated that “more-than-usual” extensive testing is involved in the Rodas analysis, including tissue cultures.
Harvey indicated that an official cause of death would not be determined, if a cause could be determined, until that test data has been thoroughly analyzed.
During the preliminary LASD announcements in late March, there was a statement about the possibility of respiratory infection being a factor in the ostensibly healthy appearing man’s demise. That supposition has not been repeated by the agency since then.
Harvey had earlier noted that the LASD has removed its security hold on DOC information about the Rodas case, which should mean that the coroner can make any final determination in the case public.

Planning Commission May Opt to Meet on Mondays

BY BILL KOENEKER

Should the Malibu Planning Commission move back to its original meeting dates on Monday nights? That is the question commissioners are scheduled to talk about at their next meeting on June 5.
The planning panel used to meet on the first and third Monday of each month. The city council meets on the second and fourth Monday of each month.
Planning Commissioner John Mazza wants to bring the matter to the attention of the commission for discussion.
“The commission has a lot of important projects coming before it and it is important for the citizens to be informed on a timely basis,” he said.
The meeting date was changed in 2006 when Joan House, who was recently elected to the city council, joined the planning commission.
It was reported that House was not available on Mondays and that is when the meeting dates were changed.
At the time, there was discussion about commission coverage in the weekly newspapers since Tuesday is a deadline day with the papers going to press Tuesday night.
To be sure, coverage did drop off and most often the major issues were covered, but for the most part, the stories were published a week later.
Changing the meeting date would conflict with one other commission since the Harry Barovsky Memorial Youth Commission meets on the third Monday of each month in a conference room at City Hall, according to a staff report.

Dam Plan Is Controversial

BY BILL KOENEKER

Some Serra Retreat residents came to council chambers two weeks ago to talk to the city council about the latest development in the proposed removal of the Rindge Dam.
Anne Payne, a 37-year resident of Malibu, told members she went to a State Parks meeting on the issue.
“I’m one of 100 property owners in Serra Retreat. They were talking about having $30 to $100 million and they were rolling their greedy hands in talking about taking down the Rindge Dam,” she said.
“They talked about wouldn’t it be fun to sell the sediment. They snickered about it. I’m not a [Tidewater] Goby. I’m not a Steelhead. But I feel like an endangered species,” she added. “We have owned property on Malibu Creek for years.”
Another neighbor, who said he lives across the creek from Payne, said, “It is an absolute utter waste of money to remove the dam. I’ve seen steelhead.”
Later during public comment, Robert van de Hoek said the dam has become part of the landscape and should be studied that way. “Think of it as a waterfall,” he said.
Councilmember John Sibert said he has had some of the same concerns “as some of these folks,” and suggested he would talk to the coalition of cities, which are upstream of the dam, known as the Las Virgenes-Malibu  Conference of Governments or the COG who might share some of the concerns.
For years the dam has been studied for possible removal, with advocates saying the creek upstream would provide habitat for steelhead if the concrete structure was removed.
Others have suggested there could be unintended consequences and the removal process might damage the downstream habitat.
Surfers have worried the process might somehow disrupt the pebble rock reef responsible for the world-famous waves
Other studies were carried out suggesting the dam has historical significant because of the type of dam it is.
Others downstream, especially those living in Serra Retreat have expressed concern how the remnants of the dam might impact creek flow especially during flooding cycles.
The dam is 100 feet tall and has filled to the top with sediment. The runoff from Malibu Creek creates a waterfall as it spills over the dam.
How to remove the dam and what to do with the sediment are other issues that have led to scenarios from trucks driving out the dam and sediment to helicopters pulling out the debris because the trucks are not able to maneuver in the steep terrain.
The Rindges—the last family to own the entire Malibu Rancho, built the dam in 1926, reportedly using railroad materials from the abandoned Rindge Railroad for at least a portion of the building materials.
The dam was constructed in two parts around a natural stone pier.
By 1950, the reservoir behind the dam was already full of silt.
Today, the upper dam supports a small wetland ecosystem that supports arroyo willows, rushes and tules. The dam functions like a waterfall during wet winters.
It remains difficult to access and largely undisturbed, except for the several generations-worth of  graffiti.
The pool below the dam is even more inaccessible  but popular with the Los Angeles cliff diving community, who scramble down the steep ravine to use the rocks surrounding the deep water as diving platforms.

Publisher’s Notebook

• On the Trail with Journey •

BY ANNE SOBLE

Having grown up around sport hunters, I must acknowledge no small amount of concern every time I receive an online news alert about “Journey,” aka OR-7, the solo young male gray wolf from an Oregon pack who ventured into California on his own late last year and has achieved iconic status in the environmental and biological diversity community.
There are those—including a whole town whose civic leaders were ready to vote for a law allowing the wolf to be shot on sight, even though wolves are federally protected—who want Journey as a trophy. Too many late-night readings of Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs; and, more importantly, denial of the fact that shoddy animal husbandry practices claim more livestock than wolves ever did, or could, have addled these folks’ brains.
Although the return of a decimated species is a cause for celebration in its own right, there will be no fireworks until the wolf rock star has found a mate with which to set up housekeeping and establish territorial boundaries. In the interim, pack animals love company, and OR-7 has decided that he’ll settle for group time with other canids, if that’s all that crosses his path.
The ostensibly healthy and well fed—without having to dine on live ranching stock—wolf has been seen with small groups of comparably sized coyotes. The animals have the same diet, hunting styles and sports, and just like the domestic family canine, they play tag and roughhouse for fun.
On May 8, a California Department of Fish and Game biologist spotted Journey and took the first photo of the wolf in California—in Modoc County in the northeastern corner of the state.
The biologist and other wildlife observers were visiting ranchers in the area to notify them that GPS signals showed the gray wolf was in the vicinity, when they happened to look around a vista point with binoculars and there was Journey looking at them.
The wolf kept his distance from the surprised observers but paused long enough for DFG to obtain visible proof of his presence and apparent good health.
OR-7 left the Imnaha pack in northeastern Oregon last September, shortly before that state was preparing to dispatch his sire and another offspring for killing cattle. That action remains on hold pending litigation by conservation groups. These wolves are descendants of animals introduced into the Northern Rockies in the 1990s that headed west and grew in ranks to over 1500.
Journey traveled down the Cascade Range in winter and crossed the border into California in December, making him the first wolf in the state in nearly a century. He went back to Oregon for a quick visit and returned to California, where he appears content to stay.
State biologists will continue to closely monitor OR-7, with the help of his GPS collar, which remains securely attached. As long as that device monitors his well-being, everyone eager to see Journey’s journey be a safe one can anticipate uninterrupted news alerts.

Coroner’s Office Says Katie Wilkins Tox Results Still Weeks Away

• Family Members Keep Up Drumbeat for Last Person Known to Have Seen Her to Come Forward

BY ANNE SOBLE

The official cause of death for Katherine Jessie Wilkins continues to be listed as deferred. Chief Coroner Investigator and Chief of Operations Craig Harvey of the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner told the Malibu Surfside News Tuesday that he “just heard back from the deputy medical examiner on this case [and] it appears that the toxicology is still 4-6 weeks out before final results will be available.”
Wilkins family members anxiously await the lab work with the hope that it will provide clues to what transpired the evening before April 28 when the body of the 25-year-old graphic designer that everyone called Katie was discovered by her brother on the garage floor of the family home she had moved back to last year after graduation.
Even as these family members deal with overriding grief, they continue to focus their attention on what has become their primary objective, the need for Christopher Benton, 27, the son of the president of Pepperdine University—whose drug troubled past intersected with Wilkins’ past at a time she wrestled with drugs before ostensibly getting them under control three years ago—to meet with law enforcement about the time he spent with Katie Wilkins the day before her death.
Katie Wilkins’ brother, Steve Wilkins, told The News this week, “My family has gotten a ton of meaningful support from the community that has been essential to our well-being since Katie’s death. The support remains of paramount importance given that our loss has been irreversibly complicated and abused by the actions of Chris Benton and those who have enabled his cover during this time.”
Steve Wilkins said, and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department personnel assigned to the case publicly agree, “It is a logical conclusion that Chris [Benton] was at our home and was the last person to share company with Katie during her life. Chris was only asked to answer some basic questions about his involvement with Katie hours before she died, so I was surprised when I learned of his actions following Katie’s death, and it then became troubling to realize that Chris’s actions meant he knew important information.”
The older brother added, “What exactly has Chris chosen to hide from the investigation that is so important that he has been hidden from questioning in rehab and further covered behind a highly regarded criminal defense attorney?”
The News emails Chris Benton’s attorney, Ron Lewis, on a weekly basis, to ask whether there has been a change of circumstances and is Benton available for an interview. The first email received a noncommittal response and the subsequent emails have not received any responses.
Steve Wilkins conjectures that Benton’s “texts to Katie on her last day indicate a number of important things: Chris was driving around with his father earlier in the day prior to meeting up with Katie; Chris lived back at home in Pepperdine; Chris was recently in an auto accident and without use of his car; and Chris was recently divorced.”
Wilkins queries, “What does this information mean and what can it reveal about what took place prior to Katie's death? It’s hard to know when Chris won’t speak. The Benton family has also kept silent, amongst other things, but particularly regarding the issue of why Chris is in rehab following Katie’s death. Chris’s texts [to Katie Wilkins] indicated he was clean from dope [as was she since approximately 2009], so I wonder if Chris lied to Katie, or if he was simply put in rehab to avoid questioning, or both.”
Providing additional insight into his sister’s condition when her body was discovered and an indication of a possible death timeline, Steve Wilkins said, “Katie’s hair was wet, which could indicate she was having a [medical] problem and someone tried to revive her.”
He continued, “That together with her body appearing to have been dragged, and the lack of any drug paraphernalia in the house, paints a pretty clear picture that someone was with Katie, knew she was in trouble, and made an intentional effort to cover their tracks rather than call 911. These choices demonstrate a consciousness of guilt, so I have to ask myself what really took place?”
Family members allege that Benton fled the Wilkins home in Katie Wilkins’ silver BMW when the young woman experienced an adverse heroin reaction, or was already dead.
Regarding possible heroin overdose as the cause of death, Wilkins family members raise the issue of whether someone else administered the drugs to Katie Wilkins and speculate whether that drug use by her was voluntary. It has been confirmed with the LASD detectives on the case that needle marks were found on Wilkins’ right arm and the young woman was right-handed.
Instead of watching more pieces of the complex puzzle surrounding Katie Wilkins’ death fall into place, the puzzle seems to be expanding its borders on a regular basis.
If forensic test results are up to six weeks away, one wonders whether any progress can be made in filling in pieces of the puzzle until then. If, as family members contend, the person who might be able to provide missing puzzle pieces, refuses to do so, it’s not clear what can happen next.



ACCOMPLISHMENT—Katie Wilkins was excited about the future. The Malibu High School graduate had received a degree with honors from the Art Institute of California in Orange County last year. She then moved back to the family home in eastern Malibu and began establishing a graphic design business.

City Hires Financial Consultant for Civic Center Sewer Proposal

• Will Explore Establishing ‘Community Facilities District’

BY BILL KOENEKER

Despite protests from residents and a threat of litigation, the Malibu City Council, on a 4-1 vote with Councilmember Skylar Peak absent,  this week approved this week agreements with a bond counsel, legal specialists and banking and underwriting officers for financing a Community Facilities District for the proposed Civic Center wastewater treatment system.
Council members were told another $6 million is needed to complete preliminary work on the design phase of the project including an Environmental Impact Report.
“I agree this is a good idea,” said Mayor Laura Rosenthal. “This is an innovative way to pay for this not by the city. I understand the frustration about [how this] will affect development in the Civic Center.”
After citing a lengthy history of the septic prohibition and Memo of Understanding, Councilmember John Sibert said, “As painful as it is, this is something we need to do. We need to move forward,” he said.
Councilmember Lou La Monte said, “Everybody up here was opposed to this project. Ultimately everybody was against us. This is what this is about, money. We need to meet the deadline for design. I don't think we should invest half of our own reserves. The people benefiting from this should pay. We are obligated to the MOU.”
Assistant City Manager Reva Feldman, told council members the agreements they approved do not authorize the issuance of any type of indebtedness nor the formation of a CFD.
“Final approval of a CFD will require additional city council action and a vote by properties within the proposed district and will be brought forward to council at a later date,” Feldman said.
City officials indicated the properties in such a district would include at this time only the commercial properties in phase one
However, there were protests from some homeowners who said they wanted to be extracted from any district.
Serra Retreat homeowner Ozzie Silna cautioned the city on how it proceeded. “We will be taking legal action against any and everybody on behalf of our self-interest,” he said.
In 2009, a previous council approved $2.6 million for an agreement with RMC Water and Environment to provide engineering and design services for what is called the Malibu Civic Center Integrated Water Quality Management Plan.
Of the total approved $102,800 was used toward stormwater design and engineering services for Legacy Park leaving over $2.5 million for the design and engineering of a wastewater treatment facility.
City Manager Jim Thorsen when explaining meeting the MOU deadline did not talk about the design specifics., However, Feldman, in her staff report, noted the design costs have increased because of the apparent dispersal process being considered, lower aquifer injection.
“All of the design and engineering work that has been completed to date indicates that the city will be able to proceed with a lower aquifer injection process. Exploratory test well drilling and groundwater extraction was successfully completed. It is anticipated that this assessment will be successful and allow the city to continue the project by constructing and testing a full-size well, the installation of six adjacent monitoring wells, and the completion of a final model,” Feldman wrote, in her memo to council members.
What Feldman told the council was the total of funds needed is $6 million including final design and engineering  for $1.5 million and additional $1.9 million will be needed for the development of the EIR, final construction drawings, bid documents and all permits bringing the total to $6 million. The funds provided by the city are expected to be reimbursed by the CFD. 
The council approved a bond counsel agreement with Stradling, Yocca, Carlson & Rauth for bond counsel services to establish the Communities Facilities.
The council also approved an agreement with Stone&Youngberg, which is now a division of Stifel Nicolaus for investment banking and underwriting services to help in establishing the CFD and in financing the project and issuing CFD debt, 
“Due to the complex nature of the CFD and the potential subsequent benefit assessment district, a special tax consultant is necessary. David Tausig and Associates, Inc. has worked with the city on other assessment related projects and has provided public finance consulting services to over 2000 public and private sector clients,” Feldman added.

Two Cities Add to Reward for Solution to Mitrice Richardson Case

• Calabasas and Agoura Hills Join City of Malibu in Effort to Learn How Young Woman Died

BY ANNE SOBLE

Although the headlines are less frequent, the friends and supporters of justice for Mitrice Richardson have not lessened their full-time commitment to stay involved until a cause of death has been determined for the woman who would have turned 27 in April.
The group recently attended city council meetings in Agoura Hills and Calabasas to seek additional reward money to provide a greater incentive for someone who has information that might help to solve the mystery of how Richardson died to come forward.
On Tuesday, Calabasas and Agoura Hills officials announced approval of a joint $15,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the death of Mitrice Richardson if it was a homicide.
This brings the current reward total to $30,000 as the City of Malibu is committed to a $15,000 reward even if it is not budgeted annually, according to City Manager Jim Thorsen.
The Malibu reward is defined as “for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the disappearance of Mitrice Richardson.”
In addition, Richardson’s supporters will urge reactivation of the $10,000 reward previously offered by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors “for successful resolution of any criminal prosecution of person or persons who were involved in her disappearance.”
Some of the public officials involved in the local rewards privately indicated interest in determining whether the parents of the dead woman, who split a $900,000 settlement from the sheriff’s department, would consider contributing to the reward total.
If each parent agreed to add $5000, it could bring the reward total to $50,000, which is considered a strong incentive that might overcome any reticence about stepping forward with information.
Mitrice Richardson’s nude skeletal remains were found in a remote Malibu Canyon location in the Calabasas area on Aug. 9, 2010, nearly 11 months after the 24-year-old honors college graduate and beauty pageant competitor went missing following her release from the custody of the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station just after midnight on Sept. 17, 2009.
Richardson had been put under citizen’s arrest at Geoffrey’s restaurant on the night of Sept. 16, 2009, after failing to pay an $89 dinner bill and behaving strangely.
Supporters say her bizarre actions should have led to her being 5150’d, or held for medical evaluation, instead of being released without a means of transportation, cell phone or wallet in a dark industrial area with which she was not familiar.
“Although years have passed since Ms. Richardson disappeared, we are hoping this reward will help trigger the public’s memory about that late September night and early morning hours,” Calabasas Mayor Mary Sue Maurer said in a written statement.
Agoura Hills Mayor John Edelston added, “We are hoping that this reward will prompt someone to come forward with a key piece of information,” without which investigators will not be able to  determine whether Richardson’s death was the result of homicide.
Anyone with information on the case can call the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500, or Crime Stoppers at 800-222-TIPS (8477). They can also visit http://sheriff.lacounty. gov/wps/portal/lasd/contact

TRAGEDY—Mitrice Richardson, an honors college graduate who aspired to begin doctoral work in psychology, may have been experiencing the onset of a bipolar episode, which triggered unusual speech and behavior that should have resulted in medical attention that she did not receive at the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station.

Late Bloomers Offer Wildflower Watchers a Blaze of Summer Color

BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN

Unusually cool temperatures and late rains have helped to prolong Malibu’s spring wildflower season into summer.
The Santa Monica Mountains are still ablaze with the pastel orange sticky monkey flowers, the pale blue and lavender blossoms of black and purple sage, brilliant yellow canyon sunflower, pink clarkia, royal blue larkspur and even the sky blue and mist gray of late-blooming ceanothus, also known as California lilac.
Malibu residents have many wildflower viewing options. A drive through any of the area’s canyons offers a glimpse of the living tapestry of color. Solstice Canyon, Charmlee Wilderness Park, Nicholas Flat, and Zuma Canyon are all good choices for late season wildflower walks.
Native plant enthusiasts now have a variety of field guides to assist with plant identification, including several 21st century aids.
Last year, the National Park Service introduced a free app based on park volunteer Tony Valois’ extensive Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area online plant database. The app showcases 950 plants and includes 6000 photos.
“Users can choose from several basic flower characteristics on the app’s interface like color, size and shape,” the NPS website states. “Based on those characteristics, the app presents several possible photographs to compare to the actual flower. Flowers that are more difficult to identify often come with several additional photographs so that visitors can confidently make an accurate identification.”
The app is memory intensive, requiring 600MB to store the entire database, but it can be used in locations where cell phone reception is nonexistent. There is also a mobile Internet version on the official SMMNRA site: www.nps.gov/samo. The wildflower database is periodically updated as new flowers are added.
 Calflora, “an independent organization dedicated to providing scientific information about California plants for research, conservation, and education,”  also provides Internet-based plant ID.
 The Calflora website, http://www.calflora.org/Calflora, covers the entire state, but the site’s search engine is designed to allow users to narrow their search to a specific area.
The site was started in 1994 by a researcher named Ann Dennis, who was assessing how management practices might affect wildlife, plant diversity, and forest health for the U.S. Forest Service, according to the Calflora website.
In 1997, Calflora began collaborating with the UC Berkeley Digital Library Research Project to pair the Calflora database with a collection of wildflower images. The site has continued to expand to include more and more species. It also now features an app, but instead of a portable field guide it operates instead as a way to submit photos and observation information, which can be viewed by website visitors.
In January 2012, “The Jepson Manual,” often described as the bible of California plant identification, and easily mistaken for a door stop—a warning on the official UC Press website for the print edition states that  “due to the weight of this book, standard shipping charges do not apply”—was reissued in print but also, for the first time, as an e-book.
The e-book version of “The Jepson Manual: Vascular Plants of California, Second Edition, Thoroughly Revised and Expanded” costs $125,  but it’s a boon to field researchers and dedicated amateur naturalists and marks the first time in the tome’s 50-year history that it can be conveniently used in the field.
The boast that the work is “the single most comprehensive resource on California’s amazingly diverse flora,” isn’t hyperbole. The work covers 7600 species, subspecies and varieties, nearly two-thirds of which are illustrated with detailed diagnostic drawings.” It also provides “geographic distributions, elevation ranges, flowering times, nomenclature, and the status of non-natives and native taxa of special concern,” according to the UC website. “This edition also allows for identification of 240 alien taxa that are not fully naturalized but sometimes encountered. A new chapter on geologic, climatic, and vegetation history of California is also featured.”
For those who prefer a more user—friendly—and portable—wildflower field guide, several older books remain indispensable.
In 1985, self-taught botanist Milt McAuley compiled and self-published the first comprehensive field guide of plants in the Malibu area, entitled “Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains.”
McAuley died in 2008 at the age of 89. His book remains one of the best resources for local flora and includes helpful information on the location of specific plant populations in Malibu and the surrounding area.
Published the same year as McAuley’s book, Nancy Dale’s “Flowering Plants of the Santa Monica Mountains Coastal Chaparral Regions of Southern California,” is less extensive than McAuley’s but offers a more in-depth look at the included plants.
Dale delves into the meaning of many plant names and includes historical notes for many species. Fascinating botanical trivia includes the fact that the Jack of Spades in early Spanish Californian playing cards was depicted holding the yellow flower called gold fields.
A much more detailed look at the ethnobotany of local native plants can be found in Jan Timbrook’s “Chumash Ethnobotany: Plant Knowledge Among the Chumash People of Southern California,” published by the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.
Timbrook includes Chumash names of many local plants, as well as medical and ceremonial and culinary uses.
One doesn’t need to know the names or taxa to enjoy the sight—and scent—of Malibu’s abundant wildflowers, but it can add an extra dimension of enjoyment to the experience.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Packed Meeting Illustrates Strong Local Interest in Hotel Plans


• City Staff and Consultants Hear Project Opponents Vow to Actively Challenge Its Size and Design

                 BY BILL KOENEKER

Dan Gira, the consultant for the Environmental Impact Report required for the proposed 146-room Rancho Malibu Hotel project, was barely out of the starting gate during the scoping session last week when the howls of protest began.
Many of the 60-plus local residents that filled the multipurpose room at City Hall questioned why the city timetable indicated the conclusion of the EIR process during the summer and the first planning commission meeting by early fall this year.
“Nobody is in town in the summer,” noted activist Hans Laetz, who had already submitted pages of written questions for the EIR to consider.
Planning Director Joyce Parker Bozylinski interjected that the city has the ability to extend the time period.
“We thought it would be helpful to have the draft out as soon as possible,” she said.
It did not take long for residents and activists to voice their other concerns, especially in light of the many other Civic Center commercial projects already approved or in the pipeline wending their way through the approval process.
The consultant told the audience that each and every one of those concerns would be addressed in the draft document.
Activist Susan Tellem said the water supply and traffic were two big infrastructure problems. “We don’t have the water. There are traffic impacts, especially during summer beach traffic,” she said.
Fire is the number one problem cited by Janet Flora Katz. “Fire is the biggest concern,” she said, adding, if western Malibu residents were told to evacuate towards the Civic Center, they would run into the thousands of hotel guests in a panic also trying to leave.
Serra Retreat resident Ozzie Silna agreed that traffic was the biggest problem. “We have one road,” he said.
Silna also talked about the construction impacts. “There are 269,000 cubic yards of grading proposed for the hotel,” he said.
Silna ticked off a list of other projects either with approvals or nearing approval.
“There is the construction of the lagoon starting this summer.. The installation of a Civic Center sewer system, the construction of a wastewater treatment plant, the proposed Crummer subdivision, the planned SMC campus, all of this impacts Serra retreat. The La Paz shopping center is already approved at 125,000 square. There is another shopping center proposed Whole Foods in the Park, this hotel. The Ioki plans of the Malibu Bay Company and the Pepperdine sports facility for 5000 people,” Silna said.
The consultant responded by saying they would all be studied as cumulative impacts.
Former Councilmember Jefferson Wagner said he noticed there are plans by the developers of the La Paz shopping center to store a million gallons of water. “There are no storage plans for the hotel. There should be the potential of three million gallons planned,” he said.
 Gira said there is 500,000 gallons planned for storage. “Why is the storage smaller than La Paz?” Wagner responded.
Malibu Knolls resident Steve Uhring said, “The traffic study used by current report is from 2007. The Pepperdine study was in 2008. How can you use a 2007 study? When there is a fire, how are you guys going to get the [hotel guests] out?”
Parker said a new traffic count is being required by the city.
“There are five or six properties coming down the pike. Is there someone to look at all the properties instead of piece meal. Why no story poles?” Uhring asked.
 Chumash leader Mati Waiya said he could not trust any developers. He noted the excavation of soil for a four-story underground parking structure would “go down deep.”
The property contains archeological evidence of a significant Chumash site.
 “At Soka they discovered a 14,000-year-old village,” Waiya said. “We have seen it time after time, the people come here and ignore our cultural heritage. It is also your cultural heritage. We have one shot on this. The project is way too big. Our dead are under your home. We have to stand together,” he said.
Activist Ted Vaill said he remembered when the project was originally approved by the city, it was described as much like the Bel Air Hotel. “It is not like what was developed as the Bel Air Hotel. It is much too large,” he said.
Former council candidate Andy Lyon said the entrance and exit to the hotel is planned on Malibu Canyon Road and would be problematic.
“You are not looking at the big picture. If everything gets built out, we will end up with over 800,000 square feet of development. Forget it,” he said.
Malibu West activist Brian Eamer agreed the project is too big for the site. “It has to have sidewalks [to connect to the beach and the Civic Center]. It is a quagmire. You have to look at the conflict between pedestrians and traffic. What about public transportation and economic analysis, sewage, stormwater runoff?”
Laetz said the hotel does not complement Bluffs Park. “It is walled off. This hotel is a fortress,” he said.
Planning Commissioner John Mazza said, “The real elephant in the room is dispersing wastewater. How to get rid of the water,” he said.
The consultant was asked about the sale of rooms for extended stays. He said there would be a detailed discussion about air space subdivisions to allow for individual ownership under the Malibu code.
At this point, the developer Richard Weintraub introduced himself and began discussing the proposal. Weintraub stressed that he lives in Malibu and, from personal experience, is well aware of fire—having  had to evacuate during the 1993 fire.
“I am really concerned about fire. I know it will be well addressed in the report,” he said.
With regard to traffic concerns, Weintraub said, “I remember in the ’60s, traffic in the summer has always been gridlocked, even in the ’50s. The hotel is not the problem. Malibu gets visited by millions.”
Weintraub said he has “fought like hell to hold on to the property. I’ve fought it becoming a shopping center. I bought it from the Adamson Companies. I am available to meet with anybody.”
Weintraub described the airspace subdivisions as a way to create an opportunity to make the hotel “much less transient because it allows somebody to come and spend a significant amount of time for a stay up to 30 days at a much lower price than spending $3.4 million for a Malibu house. It will be much less than that,” he said. “I don’t know the price. It is not a time share.”
“This is the single largest economic generator in the city’s history,” he added.
Some folks kept asking about the price and why Weintraub did not know a price.
Laetz said the Coastal Act would require Weintraub to provide low cost housing.
Lyon wanted to know if the developer was going to turnaround and sell the project once entitlements are secured.
The proposal calls for construction of a 146-room luxury hotel on a 27.8-acre vacant parcel located on the northeast corner of Malibu Canyon Road and Pacific Coast Highway.
Plans consist of about 274,936 square feet of development (gross square footage)  both for the main hotel building and the 21 detached two-story casitas, which house the majority of hotel rooms. About another 150,000 square feet is underground and is not counted by the city as developed space.
According to the latest project description, the hotel will include such facilities as retail shops, hotel restaurant, sundries store, lobby bar, library, ballroom, meeting rooms, fitness center and spa, pool, pool cabanas and function lawns.
The plans call for drafting a tract map to create an “airspace subdivision” to allow each hotel room, as well as two retail spaces, to be sold individually as commercial condominiums.
The owner of each unit will be limited to staying in the unit no more than 180 days per calendar year with consecutive stays limited to no more than 30 days.
When the unit owner is not staying at the hotel, the unit will be placed into the normal pool of rooms to be rented out to the public.
Regardless of whether the owner or hotel guest is staying in the room, applicable transient occupancy taxes will be charged per night, according to the city.
The project includes the installation of an on site wastewater treatment system facility to serve the project. The Regional Water Quality Control Board has exempted the proposed project from the Civic Center septic prohibition and has indicated it will allow it to move forward with an individual OWTS facility.
The plans include a 82,036-square-foot basement, with a spa and fitness center; and a first and second floor with lobby, retail, restaurant, banquet and meeting facilities, according to planning officials.
The guest rooms and suites are located within casita-type buildings totaling 133,873 square feet. Two swimming pools and 543 parking spaces are planned. A 165,259-square-foot parking structure will house the majority of the parking. The total planned building space is 440,560 square feet.
There is a 10-page synopsis, prepared by a city planner, of the history of the project as it has wended its way through the approval process since 1984.
The staff has determined that the Conditional Use Permit is still valid, but the site plan review has expired and a new SPR would be required to move forward on the project.
“Since the project was never evaluated against the Local Coastal Program (which was certified in 2002) a new Coastal Development Permit from the city would also be required,” stated an in-house planning department memo.
In 1984, a large hotel previously referred to as the Adamson Hotel was proposed and received Los Angeles County approval for 300 rooms in hillside villas, a separate restaurant and a separate community use facility. The Adamson Companies, which owned the land and interests in the plans is no longer involved in the project. The California Coastal Commission approved the permit with 47 conditions, according to municipal officials.
In 1991, the city placed a moratorium on all new development.
By 1995, the property owner submitted a Conditional Use Permit package for a somewhat smaller 250-room hotel complex.
A hotel with 146 rooms was approved by the city. The project, according to city officials, was kept active until 2006 through annual time extensions. Upon adoption of the Local Coastal Program, the applicant was required to apply for a coastal permit.
In  2007, the property owner submitted a coastal permit application for a 146-room hotel.
The city contracted with an environmental firm to start work on an EIR. However, the applicant submitted a letter requesting to withdraw the application and the coastal permit and associated requests was officially withdrawn on June 2009.
In June 2011, the property owner submitted a coastal permit application to the city for the same scope of work purposed as part of the 2007 coastal permit.

Lagoon Opponents File for Stay


• Organizers Say Grassroots Movement Continues to Grow

BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN


The Wetlands Defense Fund, the Coastal Law Enforcement Action Network, and Access for All have filed an emergency stay petition in an effort to postpone the June 1 start date of State Parks’ Malibu Lagoon Restoration and Enhancement Project until the project opponents’ appeal can be heard.
The appeal filed by the three environmental groups opposing the project will be heard by Presiding Justice J. Anthony Kline, California Appellate Court, First Appellate District Division Two, in San Francisco.
“A stay is necessary to protect the court’s ability to order effective relief in this case,” the document states. “The agencies (respondent and real party in interest) have not persuasively refuted the severe and definite harm this project would inflict if construction commences prior to a decision on the merits. Existing wildlife would literally be dredged over and a popular public trail to the sea permanently removed by construction. If Environmental Groups (appellants) prevail on the merits, the destruction from project construction will have already occurred and will be irreparable.”
“The agencies have not effectively refuted that there are substantial questions for this Court to decide,” the document continues. “What is striking in their opposition is the agencies’ mischaracterization of the administrative proceedings with post hoc findings and rationalizations. Neither these post hoc findings, nor the arguments the agencies construct thereon, can erase the failures to comply with the law at the time of the Commission’s decision.
“Equally striking is the agencies’ heavy reliance on approvals by other government agencies. The protections of the Coastal Act are not discounted, however, merely because a project may have approvals from other government bodies. Petitioners are challenging only the Coastal Commission’s actions, not decisions from other agencies.”
The project opponents have added the argument that the bridge trail path scheduled to be removed appears to predate the 1983 lagoon restoration, when the bridges were installed.
“There is evidence that land portions of the wooden-bridges trail have been in existence and used by the public long before the 1983 restoration,” the opponents state. “The agencies’ assertion that the trail and path to the sea came into existence when DPR first built the bridges in 1983 is not entirely accurate.” “The writing by our lawyers in their document submitted yesterday, along with the case law they have cited, simply and clearly shows how the Coastal Commission has violated the law by approving this project,” Wetlands Defense Fund executive director Marcia Hanscom told the Malibu Surfside News.
In a response to the City of Malibu’s amicus brief, Christina Tiedemann, supervising deputy attorney general for the State of California, has requested that the court “disregard the city’s brief.”
“The city’s brief contains nothing of relevance to these appellate proceedings, and nothing of relevance to whether the appellants have met the standard for issuance of a writ of supersedeas or other stay order in this case.”
Hanscom described the DA’s procedural arguments as “incorrect, but the usual ones that are argued against amicus briefs.”
A decision on the stay is anticipated by Friday, after The News goes to press. Opponents of the lagoon construction project say they will continue to protest the project regardless of the outcome.
The Surfers Coalition is holding a Memorial Day BBQ at Surfrider Beach at noon on Monday, May 28, followed by a second “Hands Across the Lagoon” protest at 1 p.m. Coalition spokesperson Monique Kehoe told The News that the group is gathering letters to deliver to Malibu City Hall on Tuesday. Members have also been gathering petition signatures at surfing events throughout Southern California. The group continues to encourage project opponents to write to the governor.
A silent prayer vigil is planned for Sunday at 2 p.m. at the corner of PCH and Cross Creek. Participants are encouraged to wear white as a symbol of  solidarity, event organizers said.
Representatives from State Parks reportedly met last week with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to discuss crowd control options if the project begins as scheduled on June 1.

Whole Foods EIR Scoping Raises Questions


• Critics Say Current Plan Requires Too Many Variances

BY BILL KOENEKER

Just days after attending a scoping  meeting for a Environmental Impact Report for the Rancho Malibu Hotel, many of the same people trudged back to City Hall for another scoping meeting for the EIR underway for a proposed Civic Center shopping center known as Whole Foods in the Park.
The proposed project, located on the northwest corner of Civic Center Way and Cross Creek Road, is planned for two vacant parcels totaling 5.88 acres with four other buildings proposed ranging in size from 3015 square feet to 4183 square feet.
The plan consists of five buildings totaling 38,425 square feet with the shopping center anchor Whole Foods Market taking up 24,549 square feet of a stand-alone building.
The project, which would need several variances one of them because the proposal consists of only about 37.8 percent of open space and landscaping—the city’s zoning laws require 65 percent—would include a play area named Shane’s Park, water features, outdoor dining areas and landscaping, plus surface parking.
Eight sycamore trees would be removed and replaced onsite by 80 new sycamore trees, according to municipal documents.
Serra Retreat residents expressed concern about a shopping center driveway that ingresses and egresses via Cross Creek Road, which they said would impact the roadway and further tie up the intersection at Cross Creek Road and Civic Center Way.
A comment was also made about the glare of night lights with some neighbors saying that with Whole Foods and the nearby La Paz shopping center the night sky would light up like West Los Angeles.
Much like the hotel, many folks talked about the cumulative impacts of so many projects either approved or coming down the pipeline.
PC Greens owner Michael Osterman pointed out how the Pepperdine University expansion plans are already approved, which will result in more traffic. Two new restaurants will be opening up shortly. Plus other plans such as La Paz are already approved and others are in the pipeline. He said the traffic study needed to include all cumulative impacts and needs a summer beach count as well.
Planning Commissioner John Mazza wanted the EIR to study if there is adequate parking, if the outdoor seating is included in the numbers and what are the building aesthetics, which the General Plan requires to be rural/rustic.
Attorney Frank Angel said there should be an economic impact analysis and disagreed with the EIR consultant who insisted that is not part of an EIR.
Activist Andy Lyon wanted to know if the EIR would study how the city’s plan for wastewater treatment would disperse wastewater.
Activist Cindy Vandor said there should be proof other than a letter of intent that Waterworks District 29 could provide water to the commercial project. “Not a will serve letter. I want proof. District 29 is broken. None of these projects should be built,” she said.
Activist Ryan Embree said the traffic circulation within the project should be studied. He said there should be a way to increase the open space and landscaping requirements even if it included eliminating one of the small buildings.
Serra Retreat resident Ozzie Silna said if just some of the parking spaces are added up from some of the proposed projects there are 2000 parking spaces in which all of the vehicles will come out onto Civic Center Way.
Colony resident Carol Moss said she is not sure the EIR asks the right questions, She said, “How  do you measure the personal service of PC Greens to that of Whole Foods? If we get Whole Foods, we lose PC Greens. Imagine trying to get that personal attention from Whole Foods.”
Julie Carmen Hoffman asked,“Is there a measure for other components?” She pointed out the applicant Steve Soboroff sold Cross Creek Plaza for a huge profit causing the current owners to raise the rents and prices driving out the mom and pop businesses. “Is there a measure of the health of the community and our stores?” she asked.
Brian Eamer said when the EIR comes out, there will be a statement if the impacts that are found might be unmitigatible and then the deciding body can adopt a statement of overriding consideration. The planning commission will rubber stamp it or approve it,” he added.
Activist Patt Healy expressed concern about the applicant not meeting the landscaping requirements and also suggested that maybe a building would have to be eliminated instead of the project being granted a variance.
“There is just too much development, the city has to say no at some point,” concluded Janet Flora Katz.

AMPS Outlines Mission to Create Separate Malibu Unified School District


• Group Plans to Meet Every Third Wednesday of the Month at City Hall to Report on Progress

BY KRISTINA KELL

The group AMPS, Advocates for Malibu Public Schools, met with members of the public at its regularly scheduled meeting (the third Wednesday of every month, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Malibu City Hall), to discuss its plans regarding separating the Malibu area from the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District.
AMPS board members outlined their mission for the upcoming months, which include detailed plans to compile and distribute information addressing the concerns and benefits of any separation—information that the community would need in evaluating an upcoming decision to create a Malibu Unified School District. 
Currently the AMPS board of directors includes Craig Foster, president; Seth Jacobson, vice president; Melanie Goudzwaard, treasurer; and board members Patricia Manney, Karen Farrer, Laureen Sills; as well as two city council liaison, Laura Rosenthal and Lou LaMonte.
AMPS board members discussed their plans to print, distribute and make available to the Malibu community, informational material including financial information, information on the district formation process, effects of a separation on the Malibu community and how Malibu could envision the new district to function successfully and efficiently. 
Dialogue during the meeting included talks to cultivate a comprehensive AMPS membership, increasing inclusive community representation and commencing with an official and organized fundraising campaign.
AMPS board members assert they are dedicated to transparency in this process and discussed providing public access to all information concerning the AMPS mission, financial statements and fund expenditures—wanting to set a precedent for a financially transparent MUSD  at this early stage. 
Plans to poll the Malibu public, including the unincorporated areas of Malibu, which would be included in an MUSD, are underway and AMPS members state they are eager to hear more from the community. 
AMPS representatives and representatives from SMMUSD have scheduled sit-down talks to begin mid-June, to discuss among other things, the hiring of a seasoned independent and objective evaluator/consultant to work with both parties on the separation of the districts, including all aspects of the negotiations and financial details concerning the separation. 
Preliminary financial reports supplied by the SMMUSD have indicated that separating the districts is financially viable.  According to the SMMUSD financial report, separation would mean Santa Monica schools could reap an additional $600,000 toward its budget deficit, while Malibu, if current parcel taxes remain in place, would have an approximate $650,000 school-budget surplus.
Members of the Malibu community have expressed interest in ascertaining how the overall quality of education and special education would be tackled in an independent Malibu school district,  AMPS expects to address these and other issues in the upcoming months, including the MUSD school board election process, the bond measure, existing parcel taxes, the location of an administrative office, environmental and financial impacts, if any, on the citizens of Malibu. 
Many complicated questions regarding the separation have yet to be publically addressed, and AMPS members have positioned themselves as a community representative body and Malibu’s go-to information source for separation negotiations.  
However, AMPS claims that the entirety of current financial data relied upon in any separation negotiations will be watertight data supplied by proficient experts hired by both the communities of Malibu and Santa Monica.
AMPS further asserted, that it will proceed with a movement to separate districts only as long as it is financially practical for both communities and the quality of education and special education is maintained or exceeds current standards.

Council Airs Sewer Plan


BY BILL KOENEKER

Malibu municipal officials are taking a first big step when they ask the Malibu City Council at next week’s meeting to approve agreements with a bond counsel, legal specialists and banking and underwriting officers for financing a Community Facilities District for the proposed Civic Center wastewater treatment system.
Council members will be told another $6 million is needed to complete preliminary work on the design phase of the project including an Environmental Impact Report.
In a staff report prepared by Assistant City Manager Reva Feldman, she notes the agreements do not authorize the issuance of any type of indebtedness.
“Final approval of a CFD will require additional city council action and a vote by properties within the proposed district and will be brought forward to council at a later date,” Feldman wrote in her memo.
In 2009, a previous council approved $2.6 million for an agreement with RMC Water and Environment to provide engineering and design services for what is called the Malibu Civic Center Integrated Water Quality Management Plan.
Of the total approved $102,800 was used toward stormwater design and engineering services for Legacy Park leaving over $2.5 million for the design and engineering of a wastewater treatment facility.
However, according to city officials, the costs have ballooned because of the apparent dispersal process being considered, lower aquifer injection.
“All of the design and engineering work that has been completed to date indicates that the city will be able to proceed with a lower aquifer injection process. Exploratory test well drilling and groundwater extraction was successfully completed. It is anticipated that this assessment will be successful and allow the city to continue the project by constructing and testing a full-size well, the installation of six adjacent monitoring wells, and the completion of a final model,” Feldman wrote, in her memo to council members.
The total of funds needed is $6 million including final design and engineering of a deep-well injection system for $1.5 million and additional $1.9 million will be needed for the development of the EIR, final construction drawings, bid documents and all permits bringing the total to $6 million, according to Feldman. The funds provided by the city are expected to be reimbursed by the CFD. 
The council is being asked to approve a bond counsel agreement with Stradling, Yocca, Carlson & Rauth for bond counsel services to establish the Communities Facilities.
The council is also being asked to approve an agreement with Stone &Youngberg, which is now a division of Stifel Nicolaus for investment banking and underwriting services to help in establishing the CFD and in financing the project and issuing CFD debt.
“Due to the complex nature of the CFD and the potential subsequent benefit assessment district, a special tax consultant is necessary. David Tausig and Associates, Inc. has worked with the city on other assessment related projects and has provided public finance consulting services to over 2000 public and private sector clients,” Feldman added.

Publisher’s Notebook

• Open Season on Hunters •

BY ANNE SOBLE

Legislative action to prevent “man’s best friend” from being used as one of wildlife’s worst enemies passed the state Senate this week. The California legislators voted to ban the use of dogs to hunt bears and bobcats, a practice that the bill’s author says should be “likened to shooting a bear at a zoo.”
SB 1221 was introduced after the president of the state Fish and Game Commission generated a media firestorm when he proudly posed for a photograph with the remains of a magnificent mountain lion he had killed during a legal hound hunt in Idaho.
The brouhaha erupted because the killing of mountain lions is prohibited in California—a law the commission is charged with upholding—and the panel head has a track record of trying to subvert state popular opinion that the agency should protect wildlife, not regard it as target practice.
It also turned out that the commissioner got into hot water with the state Fair Political Practices Commission for accepting much of the four-figure hunt tab as a gift but he rapidly paid back the money and was let off the legal hook lightly.
The use of hounds involves bait training of dogs that are incited to chase target animals until the prey is exhausted and is either cornered or climbs a tree, making it an easy shot for the hunter who often does not even have to break a sweat.
Dogs used for this purpose can be unpredictable and pose a hazard to themselves and others, much like animals brutally trained for dogfighting.
 The dogs often damage target animals—especially any young that may be present—when pack frenzy takes over. The dogs also can be killed or injured, and it is not uncommon to have to put down dogs during a particularly close and intense encounter.
SB 1221 passed with a 22-15 vote, largely along political party lines. It was opposed by a number of legislators who serve as proponents for the ever-dwindling ranks of hunters in the state. 
The bill now goes to the Assembly.
Hunting fees, often used as a rationale to continue state support for the practice, are also dramatically declining as the people of California recognize the importance of the role of wildlife in a healthy and well-balanced ecosystem.
Nearly two-thirds of states in the nation now ban the use of hounds to hunt bears, including a number of states where sport hunting is much more prevalent. In those states, hunting still is regarded as fair competition between man and nature.
Malibuites who support sport or trophy hunting curbs and even the ultimate reduction of the general practice are invited to let Sacramento know that it is now open season on hunters.

New Details in Katie Wilkins Case Add to Growing List of Questions


BY ANNE SOBLE

According to the county coroner’s office, an official cause of death for Katherine Jessie Wilkins is still deferred; and family members await completion of forensic testing they hope will offer some insight into what happened before April 28 when the 25-year-old’s lifeless body was discovered on the garage floor of the family home.
In an interview with the Malibu Surfside News this week, Rob and Diane Wilkins, the parents of the young woman everyone called Katie, reflected on the difficulty of coping with her death and the frustration over how long the official forensic analysis process takes. It is this process, however, that may provide the means to shed light on the circumstances surrounding Katie Wilkins’ last hours.
The attractive graphic designer’s missing silver BMW has been returned to the family, minus its unaccounted for keys, but results of fingerprint dusting and an examination of the vehicle have not been disclosed.
Rob Wilkins said the contents of his daughter’s purse appeared to “be strewn on the floor of the driver’s side of the car,” as if someone was looking for something, but Diane Wilkins noted that the purse itself and her daughter’s billfold were found in the house. Her husband said, “I doubt the police would have done that,” but the scattered belongings are one more piece in a complex puzzle.
Adding a disturbing new dimension to the case, family members told The News that Wilkins’ clothing appeared to be in a state of partial removal, which had not been made public until now.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Bureau detective Tim O’Quinn corroborated the clothing specifics disclosed by the family and said DNA analysis and other testing has been requested to determine whether this is related to what transpired before Wilkins’ death.
However, the lead homicide detective on the case has indicated there are a number of explanations for how her clothing could have been pulled loose or down, and as O’Quinn has steadfastly done in every interview, he discouraged speculation until completion of all of the lab work.
One hypothesis he proffered was clothing might have been snagged and pulled if Wilkins’ body was dragged from another location to the garage. If so, this raises other new questions, such as was Wilkins alive when she was moved; whether she was alive or dead, why would someone want to move her body; if she was moved, where was she moved from; and who moved her?
The Wilkins family continues to focus attention on the person they think has answers to at least some of the growing list of questions about Katie Wilkins’ death, 27-year-old Christopher Benton, the son of the president of Pepperdine University, whose drug troubled past intersected with Wilkins when she turned to drugs in a state of depression that her family believes she had begun to get under control as far back as 2009.
Ostensibly assuring Wilkins that he too was now off drugs, Benton set up a meeting with her. Family and law enforcement believe he was at the family home, but anything beyond that cannot be corroborated because Benton has been sequestered and refuses to speak with anyone on the advice of legal counsel, even though he faces no criminal charges and none are anticipated at this time.
Family members allege Benton fled the Wilkins home in her car when the young woman had a major heroin reaction or died. As to whether drugs were self-administered, O’Quinn reiterated that any conjecture at this point is “speculation,” even as he confirmed needle marks were found on Wilkins’ right arm and the young woman was right-handed.
O’Quinn told The News a case can only be taken to the DA with “what we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt.” He said, “Reasonable suspicion is not enough…cold, hard evidence is required.”
The detective explained, “Without a witness, or an admission, it would take something like the presence of a date-rape drug in her system to try to make a case for involuntary manslaughter.”
The dead woman’s brother, Steve Wilkins, has become an outspoken advocate for Chris Benton to come forward and tell what he knows. He also expresses the family’s concern that Katie Wilkins’ former drug use could result in misplaced prejudgment of her behavior.
O’Quinn acknowledged, “Any drug history raises issues…we have a girl who used heroin,” and he said that cannot be ignored. He noted, “Former heroin addicts who take the same dose they used [prior to going clean] could have a fatal reaction...because they have lost all tolerance to heroin.”
Steve Wilkins counters, “Katie was a wonderful person who had drug issues in her past, Chris [Benton] at this time has revealed a lot about the kind of person he is in the moment. Chris’s recent actions are much more suspicious relating to Katie’s death than Katie’s past drug issues are.”
As her brother has previously stated in this context, “Katie did not like and was discomforted with the thought of people who may judge her on her past issues with heroin and cocaine.”
Steve Wilkins has stressed, “Overcoming difficulties in life was a part of [Katie’s] story, [but] not her [whole] story. She was able to come out from the other side of these difficulties with a sculpted life view that enabled her to help and understand others through a willingness to become vulnerable with those who were having difficulties themselves. This beautiful gift she shared with others, her willingness to become vulnerable for the benefit of another, in my belief led to her death.”
The members of the Wilkins family are adamant their focus will not waver from determining whether criminal behavior led to the death of a young woman who appeared to be on the threshold of newfound self-awareness and excitement about her future.
Diane Wilkins said, “I am praying for some answers…the death of my daughter has challenged everything I believed and thought.” She said, “We are going to do everything we can do to keep another family from going through this.”