Planning Commission says Legacy Park EIR inadequate

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The document is sent back to city staff for a rewrite.

By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor

Those hoping for a smooth ride toward commencement of the construction of Legacy Park met disappointment at Tuesday evening’s Planning Commission hearing. The commission voted 4-0 (Joan House did not attend the meeting) to send the project’s draft environmental impact report back to city staff and consultants for a rewrite.

Despite the unanimous vote, the four commissioners had drastically different opinions on the DEIR and the project itself. Vice Chair Ed Gillespie said he was ready to support the document and the project, although he eventually voted with the commission. Jeff Jennings was concerned that some of the information was confusing or not in-depth enough, especially the responses from the city to questions and comments submitted by the public on the first version of the DEIR. Meanwhile, John Mazza and Regan Schaar wanted a full cumulative analysis on various water quality issues in the Civic Center area, an opinion shared by several environmental groups that attended the meeting.

No deadline was given for a revision of the DEIR to be completed. The project was expected to go before the City Council for approval within 60 days had the Planning Commission certified the document on Tuesday. A council review of the project, and thus the project itself, is now delayed indefinitely.

The speakers who attended the meeting raised two common concerns. One was that the document did not adequately discuss potential groundwater issues, including how the dispersal of wastewater from nearby existing and future projects might affect the area. Also, there was disappointment that this project only deals with storm water treatment and did not address wastewater.

“This is the most tremendous opportunity that there has been in the history of this city to deal with the [water quality] problem in the Civic Center, and it’s basically punting wastewater to a rainy day,” said Mark Gold, executive director of the environmental nonprofit organization Heal the Bay.

Gold is a member of the technical advisory committee assigned to make recommendations on the project. He said during the many hours of meetings the committee had, the discussions were always about wastewater and storm water. He said it was a shock to everybody when the project turned out to deal exclusively with storm water.

Although the city had originally proposed the project to deal with both major water pollutions, it was eventually determined last year that the wastewater issue would be more complicated and the Legacy Park project should only address storm water. Wastewater would be addressed beginning in 2009.

Thorsen spoke about the city’s change of plans at the meeting, comparing the original approach to being a child who wanted to eat an entire chocolate cake before realizing how large and complicated the endeavor was.

“We have a fantastic project that solves one of the major problems of the ocean, which is bacteria and pathogens [from storm water runoff],” Thorsen said. “Have we solved all the problems? No. But I’m confidant we will be getting the wastewater element together and solving that problem, too.”

Thorsen said a design and DEIR for the wastewater element could be completed by late 2010.

Commissioner Gillespie said he was pleased with what the city had come up with so far, and the city owed it to the many people who donated money to the project for it to move along.

“They want this to happen now,” Gillespie said. “They don’t want this to happen five or 10 years from now. They’ve given their money that they want this water cleaned up now. They want to take the first step. They want a Legacy Park … At this particular point in time, let’s move forward.”

Gold disagreed with the commissioner.

“It’s frankly a waste of those invested dollars from the fact that the public has put so much money in, the state has put so much money in … and you should get a lot more out of this … $45 million should go a lot further for such a small area.”

The approximate cost cited by Gold includes the $25 million the city paid to purchase the property from the Malibu Bay Co., the estimated $15 million it will cost to construct the park and the more than $5 million it cost to build the storm water treatment plant that went into operation in the Civic Center area last year.

The Legacy Park project did have one supporter among the public speakers, former City Councilmember Ken Kearsley who said those opposing the project had ulterior motives.

“It’s usual Malibu politics, and politics have been injected into a very, very good plan,” Kearsley said.

He continued, “We have to base this on science. And anybody who says this is not the best science, we have to very closely examine the political motives.”

Look for more on this meeting and the ramifications of the Planning Commission’s decision in next week’s issue of The Malibu Times.