From the Publisher: Out, out damned Dam

Senator Fran Pavley has just been appointed to the State Parks and Recreation Commission. No sitting senator has ever been appointed to the commission before, and Pavley was appointed for a good reason.

If ever there was a state agency that was totally out of control and in need of some supervision from outside its own bureaucracy, it’s the State Department of Parks and Recreation. 

There are two characteristics of Parks and Rec that stand out above all. First, they have a policy of secrecy. They operate as if the public has no right to know what’s going on. In fact, they are offended when you ask, sort of like you don’t trust them. The truth is that I don’t trust them. Secondly, they have a long history of bad judgments, which they invariably try to hide or routinely blame on someone else. 


Let me give you two recent examples. On the state level, the department secretly stashed away $54 million in undisclosed accounts, sort of their own private little rainy day fund. Aside from the fact that it’s against the law, when word got out, the public and the legislature were righteously upset; particularly considering the department had been insisting that some recession-caused budget cuts were going to force them to close some of the state parks. The upshot of that incident is that the director, Ruth Coleman, and the deputy director resigned, I’m sure to spend more time with their families. 

Lest you think it’s just on a state level, let me point out a number of little department actions on a local level. 

First, there is currently a project underway to remove the Rindge Dam, which is in Malibu Creek, a few miles up from the PCH. It’s been there since 1900, or even before. Whatever the original reason for building the dam, no one is quite sure what function it serves now, and clearly the Department of Parks and Recreation wants to get rid of the dam. Now, if you ask them, they’ll certainly respond and tell you they haven’t decided and they’re still studying the question. But the reality is that in the world of green (that is the environmental world), dam is now definitely a dirty word. No matter that without the Boulder Dam, all of Los Angeles would probably look like the Imperial Valley and none of us would be living here, but that’s history. 

Recently, there was a meeting of a group related to Rindge Dam and a local citizen, who lives in Serra Retreat, was told the meeting of governmental muckity-mucks was private, and could not be attended by common folk. The cost of the project to remove the Rindge Dam is conservatively estimated at $50 million, and perhaps as high as $80 million. If that isn’t of major public concern, I don’t know what is. Additionally, no one knows yet what the impact would be on the creek itself or the possible pollution that might come from the silt behind the dam. The impact to the homes in Serra Retreat, and perhaps to the bridge across PCH and to the surf zone in the ocean, is also unknown; not to mention the impact on the septic systems in and around the Civic Center. There couldn’t be an issue of greater public concern, particularly if you factor in the Civic Center prohibition by the Regional Water Quality Control Board. 

To put together some of the local mistakes by the Department of Parks and Rec, there’s the Malibu Pier that’s priced at a rent level that no restaurant seems able to sustain, and therefore is periodically devoid of tenants; or the money spent to get rid of the old lagoon; or the very expensive trout ladder that State Parks and Caltrans used to pretty much destroy the Forges, who owned the Beaurivage Restaurant; or the Topanga Beach area, where they spent a small fortune to get all the commercial businesses, including the market, the motel and the Japanese restaurant, out and then turned around and rented it to the Rosenthal Winery for a tasting room on PCH. 

The list is even longer, but that’s for future columns. In the meantime, I’m hopeful our Senator Fran Pavley will impress upon our public servants that their business is the public’s business, and it has to be open and transparent. 

If I hear of any other attempts to exclude the public, I won’t just talk in generalities, but I’ll identify certain individuals and demand that the appropriate state employees be disciplined. 

I think it’s incumbent upon the Department of Parks and Rec to be very clear about their policy relating to meetings and information regarding the Rindge Dam removal project. That policy should also be put into writing, so none of their employees gets confused again and start hiding things under the rocks. 

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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