Enviro groups say Legacy Park EIR violates state environmental law

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Four groups have filed an appeal of the project’s environmental impact report, saying it does not address Malibu’s water quality issue of disposal and treatment of sewage from commercial developments in the Civic Center area.

By Olivia Damavandi / Staff Writer

Four environmental groups have joined together to appeal the Planning Commission’s January approval of the Legacy Park project’s environmental impact report because they say it violates the California Environmental Quality Act. The Malibu City Council will review the appeal at an undisclosed date.

Vic Peterson, the city’s community development director, said in an interview Tuesday the city’s response to the appeal will be set forth in a staff report available for public viewing on Feb. 26. Meantime, the park’s design phase is scheduled to begin early this year.

The appeal was spearheaded by Santa Monica Baykeeper, which partnered with Heal the Bay, Surfrider Foundation and the Malibu Surfing Association. All four environmental groups say Legacy Park, as designed, will not meet water quality standards and does not address Malibu’s water quality issue of disposal and treatment of sewage from commercial developments in the Civic Center area.

“Legacy Park was originally intended to provide a desperately needed comprehensive solution to the chronic water quality problems of Malibu Creek, Malibu Lagoon and Surfrider Beach,” said Tom Ford, executive director of Santa Monica Baykeeper. “During the 2008 summer dry weather season, Surfrider Beach exceeded water quality standards 74 times. The approved project will not fix even one of these water quality violations-violations that occur when the beach is most heavily used.”

But the city says it plans to offer both storm water and wastewater treatment facilities, and that it does not find the appeal to be meritorious.

“The city is confident that it will be a state-of-the-art storm water treatment facility,” Peterson said. “The city has ambitious plans for the centralized wastewater facility in the Civic Center. The city is on schedule with that project.

“Generally speaking, the city remains disappointed that the Baykeeper misunderstands the Legacy Park project,” Peterson continued. “The Baykeeper’s opposition is misplaced, not supported by the facts and defies logic.”

The revised final EIR states Legacy Park will improve the effectiveness of the current storm water facility on Civic Center Way by increasing bacterial TMDL (total maximum daily loads) compliance to 100 percent. The park’s other benefits, the EIR states, include the creation of important natural habitats and the recycling of nearly all effluent from the Lumber Yard mall.

The current storm water facility located at Civic Center Way and Cross Creek Road consists of a vessel that collects up to three cubic feet of storm water runoff per second, treats it and discharges it into Malibu Lagoon. Legacy Park’s future storm water operation system will be able to treat 10 times the current amount.

The storm water facility utilizes a box covert, about 6 feet wide and 9 feet deep located underneath Civic Center Way, owned and maintained by Los Angeles County Flood Control, that intercepts storm water runoff from more than 330 acres before it could drain into Malibu Creek. Currently, if a large amount of rain occurs, the facility would not be able to treat all the storm water runoff.

In the future, the storm water will be diverted to a pond on Legacy Park, which will be able to store up to 2.6 million gallons, and then be sent to the facility, which will be able to treat 1,400 gallons per minute. The treated water will either be discharged into Malibu Creek within TMDL limits or stowed in a storage pond to irrigate Legacy Park or to be reused in times of drought. The revised final EIR states that storm water will not impact groundwater at Legacy Park because the storage pond is lined to prevent percolation from its bottom.

Kirsten James, director of water quality at Heal the Bay, said last month Legacy Park’s EIR is inadequate for a number of reasons, mainly because environmental concerns have been left unaddressed.

“The EIR didn’t appropriately look at cumulative impacts of projects surrounding it,” James said, adding that impacts from upcoming projects such as La Paz need to be evaluated and included.

The park will be comprised of three types of natural habitats that are intended to fulfill the ecological goals of providing sustainability, increasing and supporting regional biodiversity and regionally rare and wetland habitats and reinstating original habitats and connecting to other habitats.

Ford, however, said the habitats would be ineffective in sufficiently treating pollutants.

“There aren’t enough plants or relative organisms in the project as described to process pollutants most effectively,” Ford said. “The biological structure and function of the treatment needs to mimic a natural system and needs to be enlarged to provide the maximum amount of surface area for the biological process to happen. This was the one opportunity the city had to make a big difference in what’s going on.

“We all signed on to make a wetland,” Ford continued. “Now it’s just a park. If Malibu was serious about solving water quality problems like they say, they’d be doing something different with this site.”