All wet over wetlands


    I went down to City Hall to pick up the just-released copy of the Environmental Impact Report for the Civic Center land known as the 20-acre Chili Cook-off site and also the Ioki parcel, a 9-acre parcel next to City Hall, which until just recently served as a grazing meadow for three concrete sheep. I expected a document. Instead, they handed me a tome, the kind of thing the receptionist passes to you with both hands.

    I took it back to the office, set it down on my desk and stared at it for a while to try and figure out how to get a handle on this thing. So here it is.

    First I measured it, and I can report with a reasonable degree of certainty it is 1-1/2 inches thick, which is probably about normal for a first draft on an EIR. EIRs are sort of like Gresham novels. They always want you to feel you got your money’s worth so they take what is essentially a short story and blow it up into 900 pages.

    Then I called in my staff to conduct the second part of our analysis; we weighed it. It weighs around 21 ounces. I made a call to find out how much it cost, which was $91,960, or $4,379 per ounce or 15 times the price of an ounce of gold on today’s market, which will give you an idea as to both its cost and probably its value. To make sure the results don’t get skewed, the developer pays for the EIR, but the city gets to pick the contractor to do it.

    Understand, the EIR is widely distributed, which means there are dozens and dozens of copies that go to every concerned governmental entity, every interest group, the press and a legion of concerned citizens. Unquestionably, a small forest in Canada was decimated to create the paper that goes into this EIR, which, interestingly enough, is not printed on recycled paper, and, now that I’m thinking about it, I can’t remember any of them being printed on recycled paper.

    Bottom line is, there was nothing surprising, nothing that in the jargon of the environmentalists couldn’t be mitigated — that is, fixed with a little engineering or a lot of money. That conclusion apparently didn’t really surprise anyone nor, I suspect,change anyone’s mind.

    So you might well wonder, if there is no wetlands on the Chili Cook-off site or the Ioki site, what was the protest about Saturday with a group of people standing at the corner holding protest signs about “Saving our Wetlands?”

    To understand, you have to go back a step. When the question first came up about wetlands, the Army Corps of Engineers came in to do a study, which is standard procedure. There is a federal statute, or several federal statutes, that controls the answer to that question, and there is some real science that goes into the calculation. The corps examined reports and subsurface surveys, looked at old historical aerial photographs, and made a couple of site visits. They came to the conclusion that neither site was a wetland, although they did find approximately 1.24 acres of waters, primarily below the condos west of Stuart Ranch Road. Even that didn’t constitute a wetland. They also said neither the Chili Cook-off site nor the Ioki site were subject to the ebb and flow of tide upon or since the passing of the Rivers and Harbors Act in 1899. However, they did conclude that at some time in the past, Malibu Lagoon was in fact larger and there had been a series of fill activities such as the construction of levies.

    What the protesters are apparently talking about is a historical wetland, something that may have existed at some point in the past but is long since gone, which they want to restore. It really isn’t science, it’s really political science, which means politics.

    Perhaps that may be why the protest Saturday seemed to draw such a small crowd, probably less than a dozen from Malibu. If there is such a thing as an unsanctioned protest, this apparently was it. None of the usual names appear on the literature being handed out as sponsors — not the Wetlands Action Network, not the Surfrider Foundation, not the Malibu Coastal Land Conservancy, only that of Bob Purvey, a well-know surfer/activist. Whether that means those organizations didn’t agree with the protest or were just holding their fire until after the City Council elections in April, I don’t know, but I suspect it’s going to be quite a while before anything happens in the Civic Center