The $7 million Malibu Lagoon Restoration project by State Parks that will drain the three channels in a 12-acre section of the wetland and scoop out sediment and replant its banks with native plants in order to improve water circulation and ecological health, is set to proceed on June 1. Opposition forces, led by Marcia Hanscom of the Wetlands Defense Fund, who lost her appeal, say that the dredging would destroy the habitat of endangered fish and many species of birds.
The decision by the Court marks the second major loss for project opponents, whose case was rejected by a San Francisco trial court judge on all grounds last year.
The action clears the way for a project that has gone through almost 17 years of planning and is supported by key federal and state agencies and numerous environmental groups.
California State Parks and its supporting partners believe that significant intervention is needed to fully restore the lagoon and prevent it from remaining a stagnant waterway devoid of levels of bird and aquatic life.
In a statement, State Parks says it will carry out its work in strict compliance with all of the permits issued for the project, which will include special protections for the endangered species located within the lagoon.
History of Malibu Lagoon
At issue is the plan for State Parks to begin dredging out the lagoon's canals and continue through October to allow a more natural flow of water in and out of the wetland that lies at the mouth of Malibu Creek.
Suzanne Goode, (center) a Senior Environmental Scientist for California State Parks, led a tour of the Malibu Lagoon for County officials and the Las Virgenes Homeowner’s Federation in March to see what the project involves.
They cite significant "dead zones" due to a lack of oxygen in the marshland water.
"Developers filled it in the 1930s, mainly with dirt from the construction of PCH," said Mark Abramson, Senior Watershed Advisor for Santa Monica Heal the Bay Restoration Foundation. "It was a natural water shed in the 1800s, but Cal Trans filled in the wetlands and built Little League fields, otherwise it was a dump for Cal Trans fill dirt."
According to Suzanne Goode, a Senior Environmental Scientist for California State Parks, the $7 million project would temporarily drain the three channels in a 12-acre section of the wetland and scoop out sediment and replant its banks with native plants in order to improve water circulation and ecological health.
Goode said her conclusions were drawn after more than a decade of study and State Parks has determined the Malibu Lagoon State Beach would be better off if its three man-made channels were more naturally aligned with the natural waterway formed by the mouth of Malibu Creek.
Prominent environmental groups, including Santa Monica Baykeeper, Heal the Bay, the Surfrider Foundation, the California Coastal Commission and the Department of Fish and Game support the restoration project.
"Some of the best scientific experts on the West Coast are in agreement, [that the lagoon] was a dumping ground and waste grounds, and not like a virgin wetlands that was undisturbed," said Matthew Horns, an aquatic habitat consultant who has been leading Saturday trips to the lagoon during the month of May. "It needs to be resorted and fixed."
Wetlands Defense Fund
Speaking for the opposition, Marcia Hanscom, Executive Director of the Wetlands Defense Fund in Playa del Rey, says she seeks a far less extreme, non-invasive and balanced solution to the habitat, one that would preserve water quality, the endangered Tidewater Goby fish and retain public access over its three bridges that currently run through the middle of the lagoon and provide access to the historic Surfrider beach.
If Hanscom had her way, the work scheduled to start de-watering and re-grading the lagoon on June 1 would have been stopped, permanently.
In early May, former CA Senator Tom Hayden, who had represented the area, released a statement expressing strong concern about the lagoon demolition project.
At the same time, the Los Angeles County Democratic Party also released a statement asking CA Secretary of Resources John Laird for a project halt and a new EIR.
Additionally, Hanscom's group took out a full-page ad in the May 17 issue of the Malibu Surfside News declaring in an open letter to Governor Brown that the "Malibu Massacre" would destroy the fertile lagoon bed and kill local birds, including the egrets.
"Rare and endangered wildlife and nests will be crushed," the Defense Fund's letter said. "Survivors will flee the fumes and deafening clatter, never to return."
Ted Vaill, a Malibu attorney and filmmaker, feels that the grading could expose more problems than those admitted to by State Parks.
"The dredging of the lagoon will cause several nearby septic tank systems to be uncovered, which could pollute the lagoon," Vaill wrote in an e-mail. "The lagoon destruction will involve moving and carting away over 88,000 cubic yards of mud and landfill, some to an unspecified temporary disposal site nearby and the remainder will be carted away in dump trucks to a yet undesignated landfill somewhere."
The Legal Fight
In October 2011, Superior Court Judge Ernest H. Goldsmith ruled against the Wetlands Defense Fund, Access for All and the Coastal Law Enforcement Action Network, who filed a lawsuit against the Coastal Commission"s October 2010 approval of the State Parks-led Malibu Lagoon restoration project.
According to a State Parks attorney, the judge rejected all the arguments by the three environmental groups and ruled against granting an injunction that would have stopped the project.
The three groups then sued to stop the project, saying the plan approved by the Coastal Commission was too heavy handed; failed to protect sensitive habitat, including aquatic vegetation and fish; and would remove a pathway to popular Surfrider Beach.
After they lost in October, the three groups appealed to the California State Court of Appeal in San Francisco.
The Real Malibu 411
In the meantime, many local groups had formed to support the lagoon project.
One of them, The Real Malibu 411 (www.therealmalibu411.com) with support from Matt Horns and the Surfrider Foundation, seeks to become a reliable source of information for the project.
"The heart of Malibu's eco-system is dysfunctional and a major source of pollution," the site declares on its Facebook page. "The eco-system includes the Malibu Creek floodplain, wetland, lagoon and surf zone, and is one of the most studied areas in the world. Major scientific investigations and numerous video documentaries explain in detail how ill-placed shopping centers, office buildings and parking lots that invite excessive traffic create pollution in a sensitive wildlife habitat area, making world famous Malibu Surfrider Beach one of the most polluted coastal tourist destinations in the Santa Monica Bay."
Horns agrees with the Real Malibu 411 group and doesn"t understand why anyone would oppose improving the wetlands, except to drive more donations to their defense fund.
"The end result will be a healthy, vibrant lagoon; the opposition flies in the face of good science and good judgment," Horns said. "We just need to put it back into a condition where Mother Nature can repair it."