Lagoon project clears final hurdle

About 25 people walk across wooden bridges in the Malibu Lagoon Sunday that would be removed as part of the California State Parks restoration project, set to begin Friday or Monday. The protesters held signs and marched in the silent protest. Julie Ellerton / TMT

A California State Parks official says bulldozers are not likely to start work in the Malibu Lagoon until Monday, as law enforcement agencies prepare for possible protests.

By Knowles Adkisson / Associate Editor

The controversial project to reshape the Malibu Lagoon cleared perhaps its final hurdle last week when the California 1st District Court of Appeal denied a last-minute injunction filed by opponents to halt the project.

The project, which has been designed and sponsored by California State Parks, will drain the water from the lagoon in order to remove tons of sediment from the bottom, take away several pedestrian bridges and replace non-native plants with native vegetation. Bulldozers will be used to remove and replace sediment.

Justices at the 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco on Thursday last week refused to grant a stay requested by three environmental groups opposed to the project. The appeal was also supported by the City of Malibu, which filed an amicus brief with the Court of Appeal on the basis that the project could pose a threat to public safety by migrating bacteria from Surfrider Beach to the ocean.

Marcia Hanscom, whose environmental group Wetlands Defense Fund requested the stay, said Tuesday she was disappointed by the decision and that “we’re huddling with our lawyers and biologists right now, frankly.”

When the Coastal Commission approved the project in Oct. 2010, Hanscom said there was a list of conditions that needed to be met. On Friday last week, Coastal Commission staff issued the final permit for the project, but both Hanscom and Malibu city officials say the conditions of the original approval had not been met.

“We were surprised and disappointed,” Mayor Laura Rosenthal said Tuesday. Rosenthal and City Manager Jim Thorsen both sent letters to the Coastal Commission expressing particular concern with State Parks’ plan to empty the lagoon of water, a process called “de-watering.”

“We had asked them to address certain issues in Jim’s last letter, and my letter, and they had not addressed them but went ahead and issued the permit…We have heard back from the project proponents, and they said they were looking into doing some more and everything should be fine,” Rosenthal said, but there were no assurances.

While the project has a permit to begin Friday morning at seven a.m., Craig Sap, Angeles District Superintendent for State Parks, said it would likely not begin in earnest until Monday. Ford E.C. Inc. of Los Angeles is the general contractor selected by State Parks to handle the earthmoving. Repeated telephone calls by The Malibu Times to Ford inquiring about the schedule of work went unreturned on Tuesday and Friday last week.

Sap said it would take time to move in heavy equipment such as bulldozers. The 12th Annual Pat Nota ro Day surfing gathering to benefit autistic children is also set to take place Saturday, and Sap said State Parks did not want to interfere with that program.

“It doesn’t make sense for [the contractor] to start on the first, because they can’t work on weekends,” Sap said.

Moreover, several opponents of the project are also involved with the surfing event.

“Their energy can be devoted for that event, and we understand that,” Sap said.

State Parks officials met with local law enforcement agencies May 16 to discuss how to maintain the peace once the project begins.

The agencies included the Los Angeles County sheriff’s and fire departments, lifeguards, California Highway Patrol and the supervisor’s office.

Sap said he had spoken with opponents of the project, who assured him any protests would be peaceful.

“Our goal is to have the contractor get in without being impeded. And our hope is that’s not going to be an issue,” Sap said.

Former City Council candidate Andy Lyon, an outspoken opponent of the project, reiterated his opposition last week in an email to The Malibu Times, but confirmed any protests he knew of would be peaceful.

“PEACEFUL !! That’s all I will say,” Lyon wrote in an interview to The Malibu Times last week.

The agencies have discussed contingency plans should protesters chain or handcuff themselves to bulldozers, or if any attempts are made to block traffic at nearby Pacific Coast Highway to register their opposition, Sap said.

Since the project will take place on California State Parks-owned land, State Parks rangers will be responsible for keeping the peace in the lagoon and the adjacent Malibu State Beach parking lot, Sap said. While he hoped only one ranger would be needed for monitoring, Sap said rangers who would normally be stationed at State Parks locations Point Mugu, Leo Carrillo and Malibu Creek State Park would be available. Officials from the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority will cover for those State Parks rangers.