Eleventh Hour Protests Continue as Lagoon Project Moves Forward
• Los Angeles Chapter of the Audubon Society Pulls Its Support for Controversial Construction Plan
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
Lagoon project opponents packed Malibu City Hall on Monday night to ask the city council once again to take action on the controversial State Parks plan to drain, dredge and reconstruct the western portion of the lagoon.
More than 40 speakers—not one in favor of the lagoon project—spoke for more than two hours, expressing their concerns and frustrations over the project.
Although State Parks still does not have its dewatering permit, fences went up this week at the park, limiting pubic access to the dirt road at the west side of the wetlands, and crews began trapping and removing animals.
In the early hours of Sunday, between midnight and 5 a.m., the sand berm at the lagoon breached at Second Point, releasing the water from the lagoon. There was reportedly no evidence and no witnesses to link the breach with the project, but that didn't prevent a groundswell of rumors linking the illegal breach to the project contractors.
The swift installation of sandbags and plastic within the channels on Monday, despite assurances from State Parks that no work would begin in the channels until the dewatering permit was issued, fanned the flames of numerous conspiracy theories.
"The illegal breaching that happened yesterday was a crime," 10-year-old lagoon activist Daniel Jones told the council. "Now the contractors can do what they want. I am tired and I feel defeated. I don't know if all of you have done everything you could do." Jones added that he can no longer surf at Surfrider. "My mom won't let me."
"[This is the] first time I felt like getting back to activism that was part of my youth," west Malibu resident Joanna Burke said. "I felt compelled to come here today to say that the confusion, this boondoggle, needs to be cleared up. It's a tragedy. Please do something."
Julianne Weir, an artist visiting from the UK, described the lagoon as paradise. "I cannot believe [this project is] permitted during nesting season," she said, describing the great blue heron, night crowned heron, great egret and common egret she saw that day feeding in the lagoon's main channel. "Where nearby will they go when the lagoon is dewatered?" she asked. "I believe there are laws protecting nesting birds. Why can these laws be bypassed?"
"The lagoon is being dug up because of manufactured science," activist Wendi Werner said. "[There is a] flawed dewatering plan. I am ashamed of the science. This plan is flawed."
Malcolm Jenkins stated that he had only just joined the opposition effort. "To allow this project to begin during nesting season is an indictment of the lack of sincerity. Relocate these baby birds? Like their mothers are going to be able to find them. I question [State Parks] sincerity and most important, integrity."
"We would really like to know who breached the lagoon," surfer Sean Kehoe said. "We are very concerned about what's going on. [It's] chaos for animals down there. We've been telling people not to go in the water. The rangers don't tell them it's hazardous to go in. If the bacteria level [after breaching] isn't that high why are we so concerned about restoring it? We want to live. We want to go surfing. We want to let the wildlife live. There has got to be a better solution than bringing in the lights, the bulldozers. We need you to stick with what you believe in."
"This is a place I've painted for 15 years," said Malibu resident Cathey Cadieux. "When I saw the cages I was very concerned. 'Which of my friends are you going to put in cages?' I asked. 'We can't tell you that,' [State Parks officials replied]. 'Where are you going to take them?' 'We can't tell you,' they said. This has got to be against the law. I am asking you to acquire the revocation."
"This is the nesting season," said Georginne Bradley, speaking for the Sea Save Foundation. "You don't have to be a scientist to know that. There have been no core samples from Malibu Lagoon. There is a lack of due diligence if we don't know what we are digging up."
Bradley also criticized the State Parks plan to remove Rindge Dam.
"Rindge Dam removed after this project? Tons of sedimentation downstream making it imperative to redo [the] project?
"This does not make sense," Bradley said. "I would criticize the dewatering plan, but we don't know what it is. They are removing animals, damaging habitat past the point of being able to save it. I'd like to know when we are going to get this plan. I see doors closing. I don't know how many open doors are left."
"Are you ready to act?" asked former councilmember Missy Zeitsoff. "We are at a crisis in this community you are supposed to protect."
Zeitsoff made four requests.
"John [Sibert] and Laura [Rosenthal] resign from water commission," Zeitsoff said. "Keep the lagoon on every agenda until the issues resolved; Tomorrow file for revocation; and the big one, sue. Everyone sues us, we can do it, too. And if you don't we will get three new council members and you can guess who they will be."
Marcia Hanscom, executive director of the Wetlands Defense Fund, one of three organizations involved in legal action against the project, read a letter from the Los Angeles Audubon Society to State Parks that stated that the board of the conservation organization had voted unanimously to withdraw support from the project. The San Fernando Valley and Pasadena chapters had previously voted to oppose the project.
"Look into and support revocation," Hanscom said to the council.
"There are numerous things, misrepresentations made to the Coastal Commission, things the Commission never allows an applicant to do. We would like you to come [to the CCC meeting in Huntington Beach] Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. "
"I'm a scientist, not a surfer," said Wetlands Defense Fund's Robert Roy Van De Hoek, "but I stand with surfers, and there are scientists coming on board each day."
Van De Hoek asked the council to request a revocation. "If you appeal to them and ask them to appeal for revocation and you go to [CCC Executive Director] Charles Lester. Lester has a requirement by law if there is new science, new facts, some things that were false, he is required to put the project on hold. It's temporary until a hearing can be held . It's all about buying time. We will get a revocation on Wednesday if you come down there."
"I am a nine-year-old surfer that loves Malibu," said William Parma. "It's habitat not only for birds, but lizards who come out at night, and the mice that hide in the reeds, and the goby who is endangered. Take back Malibu Lagoon for the wildlife," he said.
"We elected you to represent us," said Surfers Coalition to Save Malibu Lagoon representative Nece Mills. "If you do not, there is not a city official who isn't subject to impeachment or recall. The paperwork will be filed by the end of week."
"Sampling should be done twice a day," said activist Ryan Embree. "Absence could be a three-day delay of likely biohazard," he said.
"I'm concerned that this has been acknowledged as an experimental project," Embree added. "It's a make work project."
Craig Sap, State Parks district superintendent for the Angeles District was at the meeting at the request of Mayor Laura Rosenthal, to answer the council's questions. He stated that State Parks had "no idea, none whatsoever, what happened with the breach.
Rosenthal asked why the project was taking place during nesting season.
"We have a permit," Sap replied. "That's the way the project was laid out. Within the timeframe the birds will be gone. It's also the permit is only during this season, they won't be able to be there in November. It works out best. [We are] taking every precaution for bird eggs, nests."
"Why can't you tell where you are taking the animals?" asked Rosenthal.
"We aren't allowed to divulge," Sap replied. "It's within the permit [that] we aren't allowed to divulge."
Sap reiterated that the city would not receive a copy of the dewatering permit before it received final Coastal Commission approval. He added that he hopes to have the finalized permit by Wednesday or Friday.
When Rosenthal again asked if the city would be able to provide input, Sap replied, "Before approvals? No. It's been my intent that the second it is approved the city can see it. It will be some days before dewatering begins."
"What's the point of showing it once its approved?" asked Rosenthal.
"I can't speak to that. I am not the one writing the permit," said Sap.
City Manager Jim Thorsen said that the city met with a State Parks representative 10 days ago. The discussion included the dewatering plan. "On June 6, we learned that is was submitted to the California Coastal Commission, and not the city," Thorsen said.
Thorsen said that the city is working on an indemnification clause. "State Parks is reviewing it," he said.
Thorsen added State Parks "did not agree with us on water monitoring requests and are sticking with their plan."
Councilmember Joan House asked the City Attorney Christi Hogin about revocation. "Do we meet the standards?" she asked. "What are our options?"
Hogin relied that she didn't have all of the facts but that the revocation request must show "intentional misrepresentation. There may be other triggers, conditions not properly implemented. I haven't seen evidence yet."
All of the council members said that they planned to attend at least one day of the three-day CCC meeting in Huntington Beach this week.
"What I'm trying to explain to State Parks and the Coastal Commission is it has split the town, it is a boondoggle," said Rosenthal, in closing. "I plan to get there Wednesday morning. I will talk to everyone. You are all asking of us, but you are all as powerful and strong and you need to do what you are asking us to do.
"If you are passionate go to the Coastal Commission, call them, call the people on the water control board, too."