What to do with the Topanga Ranch Motel an important concern at meeting
The Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains hosted a public information meeting on June 17 in Agoura Hills that featured the organizations behind the restoration of Topanga Lagoon. The meeting also provided background, the current status of the project’s future and answered participants’ questions.
The Topanga Lagoon Restoration Project seeks to restore ecological values by expanding Topanga Lagoon from 1 acre to 7-10 acres and reconstructing an existing PCH bridge to accommodate the wider lagoon. The project also seeks to improve visitor services and coastal access.
Topanga Lagoon is located at the mouth of Topanga Creek, which drains from a watershed within the Santa Monica Mountains. The lagoon is currently approximately 1 acre in size and is crossed by the Pacific Coast Highway. The historic lagoon area has been filled and developed over the years with buildings and hard-scape infrastructure. The beach adjacent to the lagoon hosts millions of visitors per year and is an important regional coastal access and recreation location. Though reduced from its historical size, Topanga Lagoon still hosts important natural resources, including the federally endangered tidewater goby and federally endangered Southern California steelhead trout.
The Topanga Lagoon Restoration area is managed by three public agencies: California State Parks (Topanga State Park), Caltrans, and the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches & Harbors.
Caltrans did not have a representative in the meeting.
LA Beaches & Harbors Planning Division Chief Warren Ontiveros attended the meeting and shared what the department does for the community.
California State Parks Senior Environmental Scientist Danielle LeFer dived into the organization’s needs, goals, and alternatives.
One of the main concerns from the meeting was the historic Topanga Ranch Motel.
“We need to figure out what we can do with this particular structure because, as you know, it’s been dilapidating, and we need to find some way of restoring it or changing it,” LeFer said.
LeFer said The Topanga Ranch Motel is eligible to be registered as a historic place.
The Topanga Ranch Motel was built in the 1930s and was one of the first local motels in Malibu. It closed for good in 2004 and has sat vacant on state land since then.
LeFer also addressed the recreation and coastal access needs, such as parking and the impacts of sea level rise.
“We want to increase the visitor experience, find potential access points to the state park itself, and create better trails into the park system,” LeFer said.
State Parks Environmental Scientist John Ota presented the four alternative projects that have been considered.
One of the alternatives suggested was to expand the lagoon by using a road along the Topanga Ranch Motel.
“Because the slope that they’re [the motel] on is just unstable, and the slope is falling away, it can’t really be restored,” Ota said. “So we would use that row, but all of the remaining cabins would be preserved and restored either as overnight accommodations or an opportunity as staff offices.”
Ota listed the benefits of the project and said it would provide a bigger and healthier ecosystem, expand the lagoon’s footprint, improve fish passage and refugia and restore natural topography.
The project’s status is in the formal sequence depot process and RCDSMM Conservation Biologist Jamie King said they expect to have the draft sequence document available for public review by early next year (2024).
The next phase is the design phase, which is estimated to be from 2024 to 2026, with construction to begin in 2027 to 2030 and the post-construction monitoring to be from 2030 to 2035.
Participants were given two minutes to ask questions and receive a response. Participants asked about the geology of the project, bike access on PCH, if there are impacts to the residents and how the California steelhead trout will benefit from the project.
State Parks rangers were in attendance and responded to the concerns about animals on the beach and animal waste and said they know the issue is a concern but weren’t able to provide a solution.
One participant was upset the meeting was held in Agoura Hills rather than in Topanga Canyon.
Senior Conversation Biologist Rosie Dagit responded to the comment and said the project is bigger than the Topanga Canyon area but will consider hosting a meeting near Topanga Canyon.
“State Parks, Beaches & Harbors, and Caltrans see this as a much bigger community than just the Watershed of Topanga,” Dagit said. “And so by having these locations, we’re just trying to make access available for other people.”
Dagit also said they also made an effort for residents to attend the meeting virtually.
“We are listening; we haven’t closed the door,” Dagit said.
The meeting can be viewed on the RCDSMM YouTube channel.
The Environmental Impact Report will be out for public review in 2024.