MALIBU — As the June 1 start date to the Malibu Lagoon Restoration Project gets closer, several new groups have spoken out in opposition to the plan to use bulldozers to reshape the stagnant lagoon’s channels in order to stimulate better water flow.

Several of the groups say that new studies done after the project was designed call into question the impact it would have on the local environment, and have asked for it to be temporarily halted and further study done.

One day after the Malibu City Council voted unanimously on April 9 to write a letter opposing the project to Gov. Jerry Brown, the Los Angeles Democratic Party followed suit. The party requested that John Laird, the California Secretary of Resources, place the project on hold and to require a new environmental impact report in light of scientific studies performed after the plan was designed.

On Monday, former State Senator Tom Hayden issued a statement expressing concern over the project.

“I remain concerned that a ‘rush to judgment’ is in the works in which general obligation [public] bond money is being spent on a project that may be unnecessary, in which transparency is lacking, and worthy environmental monitoring organizations are beneficiaries,” Hayden said in a press release. “What is clear is that the Malibu City Council has voted unanimously against the project, which means the state bulldozers will pre-empt the will of local government and the sentiment of many coastal residents.”

The Malibu City Council voted to oppose the project after receiving what councilmembers said were unsatisfactory responses given by California State Parks, which is overseeing the project, to concerns expressed by City Hall.

City Hall had requested an expansion of water quality requirements; advance notice of project scheduling to avoid serious traffic impacts on Pacific Coast Highway during the busy summer tourism season; and to include city staff in any studies conducted in the project area.

Mayor Laura Rosenthal wrote a letter to Gov. Brown dated April 23 expressing the council’s opposition to the project because “numerous project management concerns of the Malibu community have been ignored by the lead agencies, leading to mistrust and anger over this project.”

The Malibu Times contacted the governor’s office last week seeking comment on Rosenthal’s letter. The Times received a reply on Monday from Richard Stapler, deputy secretary of communications for the California Natural Resources Agency, which is the umbrella organization for California State Parks. Stapler said Gov. Brown’s office had received the letter and requested he respond on its behalf.

“Without significant intervention, the Malibu Lagoon will continue in decline and is doomed to become a stagnant waterway, devoid of the kind life that historically thrived here. The science behind the restoration has lead us to an unbiased conclusion on what is happening in the lagoon and what is the best way to remedy the issues,” Stapler wrote. “We are confident in the science, its application, and the host of permits granted from multiple environmental and land use entities to continue with the restoration.”

Asked to comment on the state’s response on Tuesday, Mayor Laura Rosenthal said she was “disappointed.”

“They obviously did not respond to our issues about the program management as well as other issues,” Rosenthal said. “But I’m glad that the governor is taking an interest in this, and we’re very willing to work with his office and we’ll be in touch.”

Meanwhile, the city plans to file an amicus brief to add its support to a lawsuit filed by the environmental group Wetlands Defense Fund to halt the project.

City Attorney Christi Hogin said the brief would be filed by May 14 with the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco.

From a legal perspective, Hogin said it was important city officials be involved in making sure the project would not harm the local water quality further, opening up City Hall to potential litigation. Hogin said one of the problems was that the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, when designing the project, faced a deadline to secure funding for it and rushed the planning. Time was needed, Hogin said, to review the project and make sure it is done right.

“No one’s saying walk away and do nothing,” Hogin said. “They’re saying that in the haste to meet the deadline, corners were cut and certain problems were ignored. And from the city’s perspective, we’re concerned there’s going to be a pretty severe water quality impact.”

City Hall has also pressed ahead with plans to spend $25,000 on a firm to review the various scientific evidence cited by supporters and opponents of the lagoon project.

Rosenthal announced Friday last week that City Hall had chosen the U.S. Geological Survey to review the science. John Izbicki, a USGS hydrologist who led a study on the lagoon in 2009-10 that blamed fecal matter from birds for much of the lagoon’s pollution, is currently lining up three USGS scientists to perform the work.

City Manager Jim Thorsen said on Friday last week that Izbicki was not involved with the study himself, but he had identified an expert on sediment transport and an expert on hydraulics and water quality to review the science. He was still looking for a biology expert as of last week.

Thorsen said the USGS scientists would review as much of the science as possible by the June 1 starting date, but could not guarantee they would finish their study by then.

news@www.smdp.com

Adkisson is the associate editor of the Malibu Times. This article first appeared in that publication.

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