Speaking before the Malibu City Council on Monday evening, a State Parks official defended the state’s decision to keep a Malibu resident from attending a recent meeting regarding the controversial Rindge Dam removal project.
Craig Sap, Angeles District Superintendent for California State Parks and Recreation, said closed-door meetings held by the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) for the project are not subject to California’s Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act because they are “working meetings.” He also said no ultimate decision on the Rindge Dam is being made at the sessions.
“This does not mean there is a policy of secrecy,” Sap told the council. “The work done thus far is staff work…when their work is finalized it will go public and the public will have their say in what happens to Rindge Dam.”
A Serra Retreat resident was barred from attending a TAC meeting earlier this month by Suzanne Goode, a senior ecologist with the California State Parks and Recreation Department. Goode maintains that the resident had vilified and misrepresented the project in front of the Malibu City Council last year and in letters to local media after sitting in on a 2012 TAC meeting by the two agencies spearheading the project— State Parks and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Bagley-Keene Act, passed in 1967, declared that meetings of state boards and commissions should be open to the public. “When a body sits down to develop its consensus, there needs to be a seat at the table reserved for the public,” according to a Bagley-Keene Act guide published by the California Attorney General’s office.
At the heart of these meetings lies a plan to potentially dismantle the Rindge Dam, a state-owned 100-foot structure that local, state and federal agencies have wanted to take down for decades. Advocates for removal say the dam, which was built in 1926, is antiquated and blocking a key migration point for endangered steelhead trout species.
Sap said State Parks is working on creating a website to keep the public afoot of the project and that Malibu Public Works Director Bob Brager has had representative attend the meetings since last year.
“He could have transcribed these meetings word-for-word to the public if he had wanted to,” Sap said.
There are also plans to hold public meetings in the summer.
Councilwoman Laura Rosenthal stressed the importance of keeping things transparent when it comes to possibly removing the dam. She asked for assurance that State Parks does not become intent on the dam’s removal before exploring alternatives.
“I think the public’s concern is it feels like something that [State Parks] is going to remove and they just need to figure out how,” Rosenthal told Sap. “As opposed to a message of ‘It’s not a done deal… We’re tying to figure out if it can really be accomplished.’”
Mariah Garr, a representative with the Army Corps of Engineers, said a decision on the dam’s fate is far off.
“We’re looking at an array of alternatives … we have not come up with an ultimate decision on what we would do,” she said.
Andy Lyon, a local resident and activist, scoffed at the idea of the closed meetings and maintained that locals are deliberately being kept out.
“So, anybody can go to these except the people that live in Malibu?” Lyon asked the council.