Civic Center plan bogged down in wetlands controversy

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Proposed environmental analysis and designation of wetlands, designed to limit development in the Civic Center, came under fire Monday, with the City Council divided over who should do the review and at what price.

The council had previously budgeted $33,000 for environmental review of the Civic Center Specific Plan. During budget deliberations, Councilwoman Carolyn Van Horn asked to have an additional $25,000 set aside for wetlands delineation. At that time, the council did not commit the money but agreed to set it aside and asked for more information about the project.

At Monday’s council meeting, the project was presented to the council in the form of a proposal to do business with Environmental Services Associates, the firm that was awarded the Specific Plan Environmental Review in 1995, and the Wetlands Action Network, a local nonprofit organization, run by environmental activist Marcia Hanscomb.

“My concern is that the process is not open to all qualified consultants,” said Councilman Harry Barovsky, who said opening the job up to bidders is the traditional way of conducting this type of business. “We have a fiduciary responsibility to handle public funds in a forthright manner.”

“Put this proposal out to real bidding process, not the one that appears we are trying to tailor the end results,” said former Planning Commissioner Barbara Cameron.

Mayor Joan House questioned Van Horn about her involvement with Hanscomb and her position, if any, on the land trust that would purchase property in the Civic Center. “I know you traveled with Marcia to Washington (D.C.), and I think it would be very important for you to clear the air about it,” said House.

“Well, now that you’ve clouded the air, I will clear it,” replied Van Horn. “No. I am not on a land trust. I am in no decision-making position.” Van Horn said she went to Washington D.C. to get “information about where there are grant monies from the Corps of Engineers, from EPA and Boxer, etc.”

House said Van Horn and Hanscomb were “hand in hand” while making a presentation to the Malibu Township Council. “You were part and parcel of that in that presentation and you were connected at that point.”

“I have been talking land trust probably for five or six years,” replied Van Horn. “And that was long before I met Marcia Hanscomb.”

Barovsky made a motion to have the city’s Environmental Review Board prepare a scope of work, rather than pay $25,000 to the Wetlands Action Network. “I don’t see why we need a middle person when we’ve been told by our staff that we have the capability here to be able to direct that kind of a program,” said Barovsky. “I would sure like to see what in the world we’re getting for $25,000.”

The motion failed in a tie vote, with Barovsky and House in favor and Van Horn and Councilman Tom Hasse against.

Hasse moved to send the matter back to the Land Use Subcommittee, made up of Van Horn and Councilman Walt Keller, who was absent from the meeting. Barovsky said sending the matter back to the subcommittee would be “marching in time,” but said he would support the motion if it would bring forth more information.

Hasse’s motion passed unanimously. After review by the Land Use Subcommittee, the matter will return to the council for debate.