Getting all the facts

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I’d like to comment on the article about Malibu Lagoon in your last edition. While those of us who are concerned about the lagoon are grateful to have the issue be followed by your paper, there are at lease three inaccuracies (some of which were first reported elsewhere) that must be corrected.

1. Our expert is not our lawyer. James Birkelund is a fabulous public interest lawyer. He formerly worked for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and he helped successfully defeat a Toll Road going through San Onofre State Park. He clearly knows his craft, as he also led our legal team in convincing the court to temporarily stop an industrial habitat alteration that would have destroyed Malibu Lagoon. As a result, the lagoon, its visitors and its residents, enjoyed a peaceful, wonderful summer.

2. Numerous experts have backed up our science. Mark Osokow, a biologist on the Board of Directors of San Fernando Valley Audubon; Dr. Hartmut Walter, professor emeritus, geographer and bird expert from UCLA; Roy van de Hoek, a wetlands biologist who has been rated “qualified” by the U.S. Dept. of Interior as a wildlife biologist, and by the CA Dept. of Fish & Game as a botanist and a wildlife biologist; and Wayne Ferren, one of the top wetlands restoration scientists in southern California for many years, retired from UC Santa Barbara, are just some of the experts who have stated that the proponents of the plan do not understand the type of habitat at Malibu Lagoon nor do they appreciate the rarity of some of the lagoon’s features. They also all advocate for projects that can be considered genuine restoration-projects that respect and protect the rare habitat and species present in the lagoon and simply improve and enhance things with community-based restoration-like the Coastal Commission’s “Digging In” program supports.

3. The project is going to/has cost more than $7 million. The total is somewhere between $12 million and $30 million, according to our estimates. A review of official public documents shows that each time a bond money package was sought and awarded for the Malibu Lagoon project, a unique and different budget was submitted as part of the approval package. “How can this be?” we wondered, and we began to track these approvals on a spread sheet. What we found is a puzzle that is still not solved. While a big city newspaper first printed the $7 million figure, there are clearly more funds than that which have gone and will be going to this project. Why will the proponents not release an accurate and complete budget? A good question that maybe a small, local paper could get to the bottom of!

Marcia Hanscom

Director, Wetlands Defense Fund