Coastal approves lagoon project, opponent says ‘we are not finished’

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The California Coastal Commission voted 10-0 Wednesday in Oceanside to approve State Parks’ Malibu Lagoon makeover plan. It is a project supported by most environmental organizations, but opposed by some people who are usually in line with the project supporters. The head of the leading opponent, the Wetlands Defense Fund (WDF), said she and others will continue the battle, possibly through litigation.

Lagoon restoration began in 1983 at the site where Malibu Little League once played. Project proponents say that initial restoration was not done well and this plan will improve the lagoon.

“After all of these years, the restoration can finally proceed,” wrote Heal the Bay President Mark Gold in his blog “Spouting Off” following the meeting. “The end result will be a larger salt marsh, improved water circulation and water quality and a functioning brackish lagoon ecosystem.”

The $7 million project involves the removal of nonnative plant species with bulldozers and the placement of native vegetation, including wetlands, in a 12-acre portion of the lagoon. Also, existing access bridges will be removed and replaced by a public access trail around the lagoon, and new public information and education signs will be inserted.

Opponents say this is not the way to do restoration because it will harm the lagoon and existing species. They oppose the use of bulldozers, and say the restoration should be done with the hands of community members. Also, they say there was not enough public involvement in developing the project. Proponents say this is not true, and that the nearly two decades of planning involved a great deal of public participation.

Proponents did not challenge the argument that the project would negatively affect the lagoon and existing species.

“Are you going to have some disruption in the short term? Of course you are,” said Commissioner Sara Wan, a Malibu resident. “But the long-term benefits far outweigh that. You’re going to have tremendous long-term benefits.”

She added that the goals of the project cannot be achieved “by simply pulling plants or using hand tools.”

Commissioner Steve Blank said he “was persuaded by the [proponents] that normally I find on the other side of moving a single grain of sand on the beach.”

The more than four-hour hearing included numerous public speakers on both sides of the issue. Malibu Park resident Marshall Thompson showed a video he made featuring a bulldozer digging an unidentified Malibu Lagoon-like area to a heavy metal soundtrack. The music then changed to an easy-listening sound when it showed project opponent Robert “Roy” van de Hoek, a former Malibu City Council candidate, talking about alternative approaches to restoration.

Marcia Hanscom, a fiancee of Van de Hoek and head of the WDF as well as various other environmental organizations, said after the meeting that most people who support the project, including the commissioners, had not studied the project thoroughly. She said they are basing their support on the fact it is a Heal the Bay-backed plan. She also said there was a great deal of anti-Malibu sentiment during the commission’s deliberations.

“It is really clear how much hatred and prejudice the Coastal Commission has toward the people of Malibu,” she said. “I didn’t understand it even when I lived in Malibu, the depth of it. But that was really clear in this whole decision and debate.”

Malibu Colony residents had requested the installation of gates they would pay for in the wall that is proposed to separate their homes from the restored lagoon. They said this was necessary in case of an emergency, such as a fire. The Coastal Commission voted 7-3 to reject this because, the majority said, it allowed an unnecessary private coastal access. Also, they said during a threat of fire this would not be the exit point. When Wan said this, several Malibu Colony residents shouted at her. Commission Vice Chair Mary Shallenberger threatened to remove them.

“We have a bunch of armed and uniformed men in the back who will escort you out,” she said.

Hanscom said she and other opponents are “analyzing our legal options at this point” because “we think the commission did a number of things that were not in compliance with the law.”

“We are not finished,” Hanscom said. “We are fighting for protection of the Malibu Lagoon and the beautiful bridges and walk paths.”

-Jonathan Friedman