The summertime appearance of a lagoon at Zuma Beach, which holds an endangered fish, tidewater gobies, could spell the end of the Malibu Triathlon.
Malibu’s Planning Commission deadlocked Monday over a necessary permit and without a successful appeal, the event could be canceled.
“It’s all over,” said Super League Triathlon spokesman Scott Nelson in an email Tuesday afternoon, after race officials had huddled to consider their options.
The bicycle segment of the run-swim-ride triathlon has used the paved underpass at Zuma Creek to pass under Pacific Coast Highway for 37 years but that roadway has been covered by seasonal water and rocks from the creek deposited as the lagoon forms nearby. While the lagoon forms every year, it traditionally happens later in the year.
Federal officials say the lagoon holds tidewater gobies, a threatened species whose habitat cannot be disturbed. That would apparently include removing rocks and water from the underpass.
Super League Triathlon, the Singapore-based company that owns the Malibu Triathlon, shifted the bike race course to the Zuma Beach parking lots last month. However, they got approval from various law enforcement agencies too late to properly notify Malibu residents, as required by the city’s Temporary Use Permit rules.
On Monday night, two Malibu planning commissioners stuck to a strict interpretation of the rules, which they said require a 32-day notice to the public before a Temporary Use Permit can be issued. Two other commissioners supported the race saying the city’s rules were vague and could be interpreted to require only a five-day notice. Those in support said the event was not on a new course, just a shortened one.
Commissioner Kraig Hill sympathized with the plight of the race organizers but wasn’t supportive of their request to move the race. “I support the (Triathlon’s) aims and goals here wholeheartedly,” he said “The problem that we have here is that this is not just about bureaucracy, we are being asked to break the law.”
Commissioner Jeff Jennings, the lone lawyer on the commission, said the city code language cited by Hill and John Mazza to derail the marathon was fuzzy at best.
“It’s confusing,” Jennings said Monday. “If the 32 day notice is definitively and absolutely black letter law and we can’t do anything about it … what’s that five day notice doing in there?
Jennings said that particular legal point was weak.
“I’m looking for a reason to allow an event that’s been going on for 38 years to continue. It is an event that is valuable, it is an event that a large number of residents are evidently deranged enough to want to participate in,” he said.
“It’s a huge event for our community.”
But Mazza was unmoved. “My only power is to follow what the City Council has passed. And our municipal code says we cannot do this, it says we may not do this, it says you must mail a notice.”
Favoring the event were Jennings and Skylar Peak. The fifth and deciding vote, Dennis Smith, was not at City Hall due to a family emergency. He reportedly had computer problems, and could not connect to the meeting.
A spokesman for Super League Triathlon told the commission that rescheduling the event for later this year is impossible due to the worldwide calendar for triathlons like this.
Malibu officials said they expected the decision to be appealed at the Sept. 25 City Council meeting. They said the race organizer had proposed a safe alternate route that could bypass the now flooded area.
If the appeal is filed, the staff report, and viewing and commenting instructions for that item will be posted in advance of the meeting at: www.malibucity.org/agendacenter.
This story first appeared on KBUU Radio Malibu.
Hans Laetz, Special to the Daily Press