Council Takes Stand against Lagoon Construction Project
• Rest of Members Join Conley Ulich in Effort to Convince Governor to Kill State Plan
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
The Malibu City Hall Council Chambers could not contain the standing-room-only crowd on Tuesday night, as residents, surfers and activists of all types and ages packed City Hall to protest State Parks' Malibu Lagoon construction project.
Outgoing councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich's agenda item on the issue called for the council to write a letter to the Governor of California opposing the project; recommended the formation of an ad hoc committee to meet with proponents and opponents; suggested that the city file an amicus brief in the current lagoon project legal appeal filed by the Wetlands Defense Fund and Access for All, and advocated for the city to implement the previously approved $25,000 independent scientific review and allocate $50,000 to pursue legal action.
Protesters lined the walls and sat in the aisles. Those who could not fit in the council chambers sat on the floor in the hallway, or gathered in the foyer.
A number of project proponents were also in attendance, including many project consultants, and representatives from organizations and agencies that have been actively involved in developing the lagoon project.
A rough count indicated that there were approximately two-dozen proponents and almost 300 project opponents.
Malibu Mayor Laura Rosenthal requested that speakers be limited to two minutes.
"There are 95 speaker slips. I'd like to ask our council whether we want to take it down to two minutes. At 190 minutes that's three hours," she said.
"I'm going to give you a word picture of what will happen on June 1 if the project isn't stopped," Malibu resident Ted Vaill said. "Beach access closed for an indefinite period. Fences. The three access bridges torn down. A huge dike constructed. A water storage tank [constructed] that could potentially create carcinogens. Water pumped into the ocean or into the lagoon over the dike. They're going to attempt to relocate 5000 tidewater gobies. I ask what will happen if the project doesn't conclude before deadline time. Will the park be closed [from October] until June 1, 2013?"
"The lagoon is a highly modified environment. Now you have to do large engineering to fix it," said project proponent Randy Young, showing a photo of a flooded lagoon. "You have to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. This project has been swung at, and swung at, and swung at. I want you to turn down this proposal."
"This is a Band Aid over a much larger problem," one of the numerous surfers present at the meeting said. "The lagoon used to dry out in the 1960s and '70s when I first surfed there. That lagoon hasn't dried out in decades. The photo Randy Young showed was a snapshot in time, most likely taken in the winter."
"That's 1924," outspoken lagoon project opponent and council candidate Andy Lyon said, showing a photo of the creek delta. "There is no lagoon here. 1972, 1979, no lagoon behind the [Malibu] Colony. 1976, two little league fields, no lagoon. I have dozens of photos.
"This project is based on a breach point. And if you tell me this is going to work any better you're crazy.
"You have all of these people here tonight who have been ignoring you, why are they here now if it's out of your hands?" Lyon asked. "They could be home watching "Dancing with the Stars."
"You need to fight this, not just turn around some fake position. I don't buy [that it is going to be a better lagoon]. I hope I never make a decision that is based on whether I get votes. Choose wisely," Lyon said.
"Every now and then my kitchen floor gets dirty and I could call a bulldozer in but I find that a mop and broom work very well and I still have the rest of my house intact," said attorney and longtime surfer Alan Martin.
"I'm disappointed about the tenor and the hysteria," project ornithologist Kimball Garret said. "I don't surf. The project is branded a wildlife killer, I don't think that's a fair assessment. It seems to me a lot of the opposition stems from knee-jerk reaction to bulldozers." Garret added, "The birds you see [at the lagoon] can be seen in any urban park."
"Please step out of the political box and become community members again," Malibu resident Carla Roland said. "Change is needed. I really think that most people in this room agree that change is needed.
"We need to reevaluate this plan there are plenty of notions in this plan that show it is faulty. We need to remind ourselves that we are on the same team. We love this town. We want to preserve it."
"There's a shift happening," resident Michael Moss said. "We're sick of the development happening around here. Malibu Lagoon is such a jewel it needs to be considered that way. We're not saying it doesn't need to be changes, but we need you to be our voice. There are a lot of issues that haven't been addressed. The science is bogus. There are no peer-reviewed journals. Notice that the ornithologists and everyone is from out of town."
"A lot of the people in favor of the project have a vested interest," activist Athena Shlien said. "The same people who were paid to design and put in the bridges will be paid to take them out."
California State Parks has not indemnified us," council candidate Hamish Patterson said. "We need to know as a city that State Parks can handle it. We as the community are not going to let State Parks do this. We are not going to let this happen. You are going to have to physically remove [us]. Until we address the watershed as a whole we are just spitting in the wind."
"It's our lagoon too, and we, the Sierra Club, support the restoration," said Mary Ann Webster, chair of the Santa Monica Mountains chapter of the Sierra Club.
"The letter [from State Parks] didn't address our most critical concern, the ninth testing spot," said longtime Malibu Colony resident and activist Carol Moss. "They won't test for mrsa [methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus], and most importantly won't indemnify the city, kicking the can upstairs to another agency. It makes the city extremely vulnerable. It's important to withdraw support for project as it now stands and to do something proactive. File the amicus brief."
"[The project will make it] look more like it did in 1900, before it was filled in," Shelley Luce, executive director of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, said. "We at the Bay Restoration commission have been your partners. Now we have the opportunity to undo the decades, even centuries, of damage. It will cost about eight million dollars. Estimates are coming in lower. Now is the time to do this."
"Normally I would be joining the opposition on this but this time is not the case," said David Brown, a member of Santa Monica Mountains Task Force of Sierra Club.
"It's not a pristine lagoon, it was filled in by Caltrans," Brown said. "If it's not dredged it will gradually fill in. It's the lagoon itself we are worried about not the surfers. If we don't do what the state is doing, the lagoon will gradually fill in and become a weed patch. I don't see what good it will do. If we pull off this restoration we will restore this lagoon, which is gradually filling in."
State Parks spokesperson Suzanne Goode provided a PowerPoint presentation that featured a 1903 USGS coastal survey. That "clearly shows very large wetlands," she said. "This project is result of very long period of study."
"[There is] a need for restoration poor circulation and channel configuration," Goode said. "This is not old science we collected data this evening. This has not changed."
Goode dismissed recently released research performed by USGS biologist John Izbicki, which indicates that the bacteria found in the lagoon is not generated from human sources.
"The Izbicki study has nothing to do with our project," she said. "We do not need to incorporate that science. It is irrelevant to this project."
The study conducted by USGS biologist John Izbicki indicates that the bacteria found in the lagoon is not generated from human sources.
"I understand there are a lot of people who are very emotional," activist Wendi Warner said. "The scientists say they have a plethora of data. My [concern] is that this project is an open-ended project, that if it doesn't work in five years they have permission to go back in and dig it out. This method of disinfection is untested, the sampling doesn't reflect the level of risk. [This was] ignored in a letter that was finally written back to the City of Malibu.
"There is no baseline science for the project," Warner said. "They don't know what is going to happen, that's why it's a pilot project. The western channels are filling in because they are not supposed to be there."
Warner said that, according to the project report, the drainage in the redesigned Malibu Lagoon parking lot "is not operating as designed. The parking lot is not even working, how do we know that the project will work? They're going to dig it out over and over and over again after they monitor it and that is unacceptable."
"I've been living and surfing in Malibu for over 45 years, said attorney Howard Hornburg. "I'm a lawyer. I've handled toxic cases. My opinion is there is much to be desired in this project and its premature at best. The science is outdated. Having recent studies is missing from this particular project. It does not provide protection for the city and this is a lawsuit waiting to happen."
Former Malibu resident Don Michaels, a geologist who maintains a website called "Malibu, Then and Now," blasted the entire concept of a "lagoon restoration."
"You can't restore something that never existed," he said. "Malibu Lagoon is not a lagoon in the sense of being the kind of lagoon that is worthy of preservation. To grade in a bunch of channels in the west side doesn't make it a lagoon. Malibu creek is Malibu Creek. The way it behaves now is the way it always behaves. It floods every 10-15 years."
Michaels stated that the project "Violates established law. It violates the California Environmental Act and the Coastal Act.
"It is contrary to public policy," Michaels said, "because it is a significant waste of funds. The flooding will take out any of the improvement."
Georginne Bradley, a biologist who opposes the project, said, "I would agree with declines in bird and animal life, but we are seeing that all over the world. Many of us think it's overdevelopment. What we see in the lagoon is that birdlife is flourishing. Although the lagoon has low levels of oxygen, we see many species of birds and animals.
"We see that the tidewater goby finds it a home," Bradley said. "Something is going right if it is one of the ecosystems that can support a federally threatened species. I've spent many, many, hours watching gobies. They are shy animals. The idea of rounding them up? Scientists make mistakes. I think we can handle it with shovels, not bulldozers."
"I've surfed here for 40 years, lived here for 30 years," said Billy Wilson. "It's not a lagoon, it's a river mouth intermittent estuary. The creek comes down during the course of a year. It has different looks. If anything, manage it differently. Dredge at west end. Protect Adamson House and the pier. It seems like [the project is] a monitoring grab, people want the monitoring projects. It's somebody's idea of a Disneyland water park."
"There are several well intentioned people on both sides of the issue and I respect the passion that they bring, but the lagoon is sick," said Sarah Sikich, coastal resources director of Heal the Bay, one of the organizations providing monitoring services for the project. "In a healthy lagoon, tides wash out to sea. The best way is to use heavy machinery. We understand that there may be short-term impacts but we have to keep our eye on the long-term effects."
"I want to thank everyone here on both sides of the aisle," said Conley Ulich at the end of more than three hours of public comment. "[We may be] diametrically opposed but still sit next to each other."
"In 2011 Suzanne Goode testified [at Malibu City Council]," Conley Ulich said. "We had [USGS biologist John Izbicki [at the same meeting]. What we heard was that Izbecki said it was a natural cycle and it would happen again. What I hear from State Parks is we should trust State Parks. I'm sorry, I trust Mother Nature. The most green thing about this project is the tax payer money. Guess what, we'll probably be asked to spend more money."
"This is not a true restoration," said Conley Ulich. "If it was a true restoration it would be a creek. It's based on old science. It's not been transparent," she said.
"Andy's idea of where to breach the lagoon seemed to make a lot of sense," said Councilmember Lou La Monte. "I do know that they do that [on the east coast]. I don't know what this lagoon looked like in the first place. One thing I do know is that it didn't have steel umbrellas and viewing platforms. Like I said before, [the project proposes] a theme park of a lagoon. One thing I do know is that lagoon is dirty."
"We sent a letter with a lot of concerns to state parks and none of those concerns were addressed," La Monte added. "One of the things that is important is to protect the people who come here. Not just the water is dirty, the sand is dirty. If we can't guarantee that the water and sand aren't clean enough for the safety of people, we shouldn't be supporting this."
"This is not a restoration, it's creating something else," Councilmember John Sibert said.
"We got stonewalled [on technical analysis]. I trust the process of science, but I don't necessarily trust scientists. We have a lot of claims that have been made that are contradictory. Just to reiterate, the CCC specifically kept this out of our jurisdiction. The response that we have gotten from our letters from State Parks?
"We don't know what is in that sediment. We don't know what kind of bacteria is growing. That's one of the reasons we asked for human-specific bacteriodes. I am not happy with the response we got from State Parks not being willing to address that issue. We don't have baseline data that we were going to do 60 days earlier.
"You're trusting the City of Los Angeles to do the testing? One of the issues I've always had with Heal the Bay's [water quality] report card is it didn't look at tidal cycles. One of the things Izbicki's study shows is that its very much a tidal cycle."
"This is the largest crowd that ever stayed this late," Rosenthal said. "I agree with the rest of my colleagues. I am concerned with the project management, concerned that there is so much disagreement. I've seen pictures that show it was a lagoon and pictures where it wasn't. I'm confused."
Council agreed unanimously to direct Mayor Rosenthal to write a letter opposing the project in its current form and outlining the city's concerns and to form a new ad hoc committee consisting of two council members, to meet with the various groups and organizations on both sides of the issue.
They also agreed to authorize the filing of an amicus brief with the court in the lagoon project appeal and to proceed with the independent $25,000 study.
Conley Ulich's proposal to allocate $50,000 to pursue legal action at the federal level was voted down by all members of the council except Conley Ulich, although the other council members agreed that future legal action could still be investigated.