Coastal Commission picks on bigger fish

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Malibu has been in constant battle with the California Coastal Commission, an agency that takes on single homeowners and the federal government.

By Mark Bassett/Special to The Malibu Times

While the battle over the Local Coastal Plan for Malibu rages between the city and the California Costal Commission, the Commission recently engaged a far more powerful foe—Secretary Tom Ridge and the Department of Homeland Security. The Commission stopped short of filing a lawsuit against the DHS two weeks ago, after publicly objecting to a $58 million fence construction project on the U.S.-Mexican border.

Conflict over the Commission’s Malibu LCP has led to lawsuits and petitions from governing bodies and local citizens alike. Now the Commission has its sights on two parallel fences and accompanying roads, which are currently under construction in the Tijuana River Valley, or Smuggler’s Gulch as it’s known by border patrol agents. The Commission said that new fences and roads in the ecologically fragile area violate the state’s coastal protection laws.

Specifically, the Commission opposes the removal of vegetation between the two fences and the 442,000 dump truck loads of dirt, at approximately 20,000 pounds per load, used to fill canyons and wetlands, to create a highway and a maintenance road for border patrol agents. The first nine miles of construction have been completed, but the final three miles of the project would run through an ecological reserve in the coastal habitat of the Tijuana River Valley. The 14-mile fence project was approved in 1996 to repel drug traffickers and illegal immigrants, but has evolved into a barrier against foreign terrorists.

As told to Los Angeles Times reporters, Coastal Commissioner Scott Peters, a San Diego city councilman, said, “National security is important, but it’s not relevant to this discussion. My concern is the amount of grading and filling that would be going on.”

While the conflict over the U.S.-Mexican fence could lead to another court battle between California and the federal government, like previous lawsuits over offshore drilling in federal waters and dumping munitions-tainted sand on beaches, there is the possibility that the Bush Administration’s war on terrorism will result in a presidential override. The override is part of the 1990 Coastal Zone Management Act, but has never been used.

Meanwhile, the City of Malibu is in court with the California Coastal Commission in an effort to give citizens the authority to determine the future of the community by majority vote. The draft of the LCP spurred more than 2,400 citizens to sign a petition for the right to vote on the document.

Most recently, the California League of Cities has filed a brief with the California Court of Appeals in support of Malibu’s case against the Commission. The brief states that self-determination rights of Malibu citizens are not honored if the city populous cannot exercise its right to vote on the state-mandated LCP.

Comprised of all 476 California cities, the League believes Malibu’s case will affect the constitutional relationship between California cities and the state Legislature. The League is founded on the principle of local control and is regarded as the voice of California cities.

Created 30 years ago by a citizens’ initiative, the Coastal Commission makes land use decisions along the California coast, including the approval of development permits.

Members are appointed by the governor of California, the speaker of the Assembly and the president pro tem of the Senate. A total of 12 individuals serve at the pleasure of their appointing authority, and as a result can be replaced anytime, with or without cause.