This story has been updated. See editor’s note below.
The never-ending war between proponents of new development, including the La Paz and Whole Foods in the Park projects, and “slow growth” activists in Malibu has moved back to a familiar battlefield — one that was last highlighted when the sign “The Tree that Saved Malibu” was placed on a sycamore in the Civic Center last June.
Back then, slow growth activists claimed that the tree, which is protected under the Malibu Municipal Code, could not be cut down, Pacific Coast Highway could in turn not be expanded and developments in the Civic Center that depend on highway widening for traffic mitigation could not be built.
The so-called “Tree that Saved Malibu,” a 41-inch diameter native sycamore that guards the entrance to the Malibu Lagoon, has been put to the test.
The much-anticipated addendum to the La Paz project environmental impact report (EIR) addressing the Pacific Coast Highway/Cross Creek Road intersection project was quietly published on the City of Malibu website on Friday, outlining plans for the expansion of PCH 15 feet to the south in order to create a right turn lane onto Cross Creek from Westbound PCH.
“The intersection improvements would occur within the existing Caltrans right-of-way and would generally include construction of a westbound right-turn lane along Pacific Coast Highway at the Cross Creek intersection, re-alignment of the PCH/Cross Creek intersection within the PCH right-of-way to the south towards Malibu Lagoon State Beach Park, construction of a retaining wall along the southern project boundary (two to four feet in height), and other minor intersection improvements,” reads the addendum, available on the City of Malibu’s website.
“These improvements would require the removal of one (1) existing 41” sycamore tree located southeast of the Pacific Coast Highway/Cross Creek intersection and five (5) existing eucalyptus trees located southwest of the Pacific Coast Highway/Cross Creek intersection,” the EIR continues. Fears were sparked again last Tuesday as Caltrans removed an adjacent tree to the ones slated for removal in the EIR. The City insists this was a Caltrans project and the removed eucalyptus tree was already dead.
The addendum to the EIR stirred up anger amongst stakeholders in Malibu’s slow-growth community, who in addition to their concerns over the native sycamore were outraged the City provided only a 15-day comment period, accepting comments on the EIR addendum until May 1 and placing the item for discussion in the May 4 Planning Commission agenda.
According to notices published on the City’s website and statements by City Manager Jim Thorsen, the City has taken concerns over the brief comment period into consideration.
“The meeting date has been moved from May to June,” Thorsen said at Monday’s City Council Meeting. “That will allow more time for the addendum to be reviewed. The reason for that is just to make sure the public has sufficient time.”
The City’s website now advertises that City staff is recommending Planning Commissioners continue the item to their June 1, 2015 meeting.
The EIR addendum addresses the tree removal, stating that the project will follow “A Native Tree Protection Plan” that involves the planting of 20 new sycamore trees: 10 within the La Paz parking lot landscaping area and 10 within Malibu Lagoon State Beach Park.
Because of this mitigation, the EIR states that “conflict with any local policies or ordinances protecting biological resources, such as tree preservation policy or ordinance” is “less than significant.”
The reason for the EIR addendum is to take a more thorough look at how to handle the estimated 46,000 vehicles per day that drive on PCH east of Cross Creek Road, a number which is predicted to increase with the addition of the La Paz and Whole Foods in the Park projects proposed for the Civic Center.
“The whole addendum was as a result of a mitigation that the City placed on that project due to traffic. It was to look at adding the right turn lane, that was part of the original traffic mitigation in the EIR that was certified several years ago,” Thorsen said.
The 2008 EIR’s mention of traffic mitigation methods is substantially less thorough than the 2015 addendum, dedicating three sentences to the PCH/Cross Creek intersection, which mention the addition of a right-turn lane by possibly narrowing all lanes to fit an additional lane.
“If Caltrans does not approve of a non-standard narrower lane widths, then roadway widening on the south side of PCH on the approach and departure legs would allow the standard width lanes for this mitigation measure,” the 2008 EIR states.
Stakeholders such as local activist Hans Laetz have already taken advantage of the comment period, sending a letter to the City requesting that they revise the entire EIR based on the impact of the changes proposed in the addendum.
“The City’s CEQA document represents a project that is several magnitudes above minor technical changes. It is a road widening into an ESHA buffer, with the loss of trees and construction of a four-foot retaining wall abutting a state park, topped by a 40-inch railing. The road widening would substantially alter regional travel conditions, with alternatives and capacity not studied,” Laetz’s letter reads.
Thorsen said at the Monday meeting that a redone EIR is not likely.
“It’s not to relook at the entire project … it’s not to look at additional traffic requirements, it’s just the look at that specific mitigation measure,” Thorsen said. “That’s what the addendum is focused on. It’s a very focused part of the EIR and it’s a process.”
Discussion over the La Paz EIR addendum is scheduled for the May 4 Planning Commission meeting, though staff recommends the commission hold off until June 1 to go over the proposed additions.
Editor’s note: a previous version of this story provided an incorrect description of the 2008 EIR’s mitigation suggestion for the PCH/Cross Creek intersection. The story has been updated with corrected information.