Lagoon restoration supporters blast opponents’ ‘misinformation’ propagation

More than 100 people showed up in support of the Save Malibu Lagoon effort at Coogie’s restaurant Saturday evening. Scientists and environmentalists spoke about the unnecessity of the restoration project. Dave Lichten / TMT

A lawsuit filed against the Coastal Commission’s approval of the Malibu Lagoon Restoration Project won’t be heard until after the June commencement of the project. Opponents hope Gov. Jerry Brown can help stop it.

By Paul Sisolak / Special to The Malibu Times

A well-attended party last weekend themed with halting the Malibu Lagoon Restoration Project was driven by misinformation and propaganda, according to supporters of the project.

The gathering of people carrying “Stop the Bulldozers” signs at Coogie’s cafe Saturday evening has prompted several local residents to come forth and speak out against the project’s opponents who believe that a lagoon recovery slated to begin in June is destructive and that the wetlands preserve can repair itself over time.

Project supporters say this thinking betrays science and that the marshland must be rehabilitated before the lagoon becomes irreparable, choked by water flow blockage and years of upstream pollution and depletion of oxygen.

“I have a feeling a lot of them [restoration opponents] really don’t know the nitty gritty of what’s going on there,” said Malibu resident Steve Woods. “It kind of bothers me that they’re not knowledgeable enough to see how dirty it is under the surface.”

Saturday’s event drew at least 100 people and was sponsored primarily by the Wetlands Defense Fund (WDF). The group remains vocal in maintaining that the restoration is merely a spin from the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission and other organizations with intentions to bulldoze away the lagoon’s habitat and its native plants and animals. Most recently the WDF has become legally entangled with the California Coastal Commission, filing a lawsuit against the state body following its unanimous approval of the project in November.

The case, which included co-plaintiffs Access for All and CLEAN, the Coastal Law Enforcement Action Network, is still pending.

The restoration project has backing from groups such as Heal the Bay and the state Wildlife Conservation Board, which gave $4 million in grant funding to the cause. Local advocates such as Woods, Randy Olson and Bob Purvey have written letters to the editor in support of the project.

Purvey was involved in the early days of the Malibu Lagoon Task Force, formed in 1995 with the intent of restoring the lagoon. Previous restoration efforts 12 years prior-the creation of three new channels-backfired. Still, UCLA biologists confirmed during that time the lagoon needed enhancing, and a host of environmental groups backed the proposal.

Purvey said transparency is in the timeline of events. He’s called the WDF and most of the project’s opposition “a vociferous group of individuals who won’t listen and won’t read the facts.

“They were led to believe that there’s no pollution. We all know full well it’s polluted,” he said. “If they don’t fix it, nothing else is going to get fixed. We’re the gatekeepers of the entire watershed. Everything culminates and terminates in Malibu. That’s why we need to take responsibility-the pollution will just continue everywhere else.”

Olson, a filmmaker and science communications consultant, said he believes that lagoon project critics might be fooled by notions that the wetlands appear functional on the surface. He said that while environmentalists and biologists have not always communicated this effectively to the public, their research into the lagoon’s health shouldn’t be ignored.

“A lot of scientific expertise has been put into the project already. There are big problems with sedimentation and oxygen depletion,” he said. “That’s why they’ve made these plans, which are carefully crafted. It’s sad to see a well thought out plan objected to.”

He added, “The dead zone is going to get larger.”

Shelley Luce, executive director of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, concurred.

“The lagoon is sick,” she said.

Luce said the manner in which opponents have describe the project-bulldozing away the wetlands as the sole mitigator-is exaggerated.

“I disagree with a lot of claims that are being made, and I’m disappointed in the way misinformation is being propagated,” she said.

Local resident Steve Uhring said he feels the issue has become less about the lagoon than it has a mudslinging war between the preserve versus restore camps.

“My perspective has been that the opposition has engaged in a nasty name calling campaign,” he said. “Nobody’s talking about the oxygen depletion in the lagoon. We’re calling each other names. I don’t know how you move a conversation forward or make anybody smarter if that’s all you do.”

By all accounts, Saturday’s rally was free of such harsh words, though, with video presentations and guest speakers, project opponents were prepared to refute the science.

Andy Lyon, a surfer and lifelong Malibu resident, said the research put into the restoration plans is “so wrong on so many levels,” and that the lagoon is slowly healing by itself.

“The lagoon is not getting worse. It’s getting better,” he said. “The proof is going down there and seeing it.”

In addition to the WDF, led by its director, Marcia Hanscom, members from groups such as the Sierra Club and Councilmember Jefferson Wagner appeared at the event. A statement by actress and Malibu resident Pamela Anderson was also read, voicing her dissatisfaction with the project.

Despite support for quashing the restoration, Hanscom said that time is running out for the group lawsuit to make a difference.

“We had hoped to have some kind of briefing schedule by now,” she said.

Hanscom was told the soonest an administrative record for the case would be available is April, just two months before work at the lagoon commences.

“We’re really worried about that because a hearing before a judge won’t happen until after the bulldozers start rolling,” Hanscom said.

Hanscom said she hopes WDF and others can appeal to Gov. Jerry Brown for his help because Brown was an important part in preserving the Malibu state park during his previous turn as governor.

“It’s a coincidence that now he could save it again,” she said.