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Judge's order stalls contested Malibu Lagoon restoration project


A state judge in San Francisco has temporarily halted a contested project intended to restore pollution-choked Malibu Lagoon.

Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith on Tuesday issued a stay delaying the project until a lawsuit challenging it can be heard, calling the harm that would result from the project going forward "severe."

The order means the $7-million plan to reshape and improve water quality in the wetland at the outlet of Malibu Creek will be at a standstill until next summer or beyond.

"The project would damage various types and species of flora and fauna, several of which are endangered," Goldsmith wrote in the order. "Birds in the area, some of which are endangered, would be deprived of food sources found in the lagoon. Petitioners have shown to the satisfaction of the Court that many species and their habitat would not recover."

Document: Read the judge's stay

Starting June 1, crews were to temporarily drain part of the lagoon and use bulldozers to scoop out sediment and improve water circulation in the degraded wetland under a project overseen by the state Department of Parks and Recreation.

The Wetlands Defense Fund, Access for All and the Coastal Law Enforcement Action Network sued the state Coastal Commission to block the project on the grounds that it is too damaging to existing habitat, including aquatic vegetation and fish, and would remove a pathway to the popular Surfrider Beach.

State officials were disappointed by the unexpected ruling, which means the project that has been decades in the making will not be able to proceed until at least next summer.

"This is a project that has widespread support from environmentalists and scientists and government agencies," said Suzanne Goode, a senior environmental scientist for California State Parks. "We really had hoped we could get started this year."

Most environmental groups, including Santa Monica Baykeeper and Heal the Bay, support the restoration plan, saying it would remedy the lagoon's polluted, stagnant waters and poor ecological health.

The Coastal Commission unanimously approved the project in October. Legal proceedings are taking place in San Francisco because that's where the agency is headquartered.

A battle has erupted over the last few months as opponents to the project, surfers and Malibu residents among them, have rallied against the plan at city hall chambers and roadside protests, asserting it would destroy habitat and hurt wave action at Surfrider Beach, a one of the world's most famous surf spots.

The Surfrider Foundation, which supports the project, commissioned a coastal engineering firm to review that claim. The firm concluded that it is unlikely the project will have an adverse effect on surfing.


Coastal panel weighs restoration of Malibu lagoon

Malibu lagoon restoration project receives final OK

Report card on California's dirtiest--and cleanest--beaches

-- Tony Barboza

Photo: An egret lands in Malibu lagoon. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (13)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Also, what happened with our small group is that people cared so much that they did extensive studying, reading, seeking.... we talked to countless Ph.D.s in each field an university academicians at many fine universities. We talked to thousands of local residents. Of course the so-called restoration work will be an enormous make-work project that isn't necessary, and it will be extraordinarily inconvenient, but if it were something of value that WAS necessary, I doubt people would mind. The point is, it is totally unnecessary and will cost money the state needs to put elsewhere, and it will KILL THOUSANDS OF BEAUTIFUL AND INNOCENT ANIMALS and destroy acres and acres of habitat and have a really bad effect on the environment and ecology of the area. We want to save this area and keep the birds alive and healthy. Many live here part time, but migrate to South America, or eventually return to the Arctic Circle. Everything is interconnected. If this goes, then something else in the world, equally important, will go to...

That is a lie Get Planted and you know it. We worked so hard to save this ecosystem from careless destruction, it was a true labor of love and much hard work. I hope this sends a message to people everywhere: stand up for what you believe no matter how big the battle. A small group of very committed people with very limited resources made a very big difference. People will try to say otherwise.

Marcia Hanscom and Ron Van de Hoek's fake environmental non-profit Wetland Defense Fund is in reality funded by local residents who care nothing about the lagoon, they just don't want to be inconvenienced by the restotration work.

Just to be clear... The Firm that Surfrider hired that said there wouldn't be any harm to the wave NEVER visited the lagoon , but just read the EIR and wrote a report from their office in Santa Cruz. They contacted me and I spoke with them extensively and gave them many historical and current photos which showed the changes to the wave after the 1983 project along with my explanation of how it actually did damage to the wave . I also explained to them how this project is just a repeat of that project only bigger.

They have no business making a statement that this project won't harm the wave, let alone all the animals that call that area home.

Thanks to Judge Goldsmith the animals and the Lagoon will be safe for now and no further damage to the wave will be done.

This is an important victory not only for the flora and fauna of Malibu Lagoon but for the people of California as well.

The harm that would've resulted from the project would've extended from impacts to endangered species to misspent millions of taxpayer dollars -- money that is supposed to protect and enhance our natural resources, not destroy them.

The courts delivered a wise and timely decision.

The proponents and scientists for this proposed project have all failed to tell the public what the real truth behind this project was really about. It was a PILOT PROJECT that was to be studied for 5.5 years. An experiment at the cost of endangered species and our bond $$$. If after the monitoring failed and it most likely would have according to the EIR report. "Due to upstream contaminants that are beyond the scope of the project, the total maximum daily loads may not be met." The proponents would have the right to dig the habitat out all over again. Thank you so very much for the Community outcry and the Superior Court Judge, Honorable Goldsmith for understanding that we need to leave that habitat alone. Fix the problem upstream first.

Having seen Pamela Fincke's comment, I would like to mention that historic aerial shots and topographical drawings of Malibu Lagoon, showing it's shape since the late 19th century, are available at if you go to the Menu Bar and click on "Life at the Lagoon," and then scroll down to the heading "Historic Photos" and click on it. You will see that the western section was not ever an original part of the lagoon, and, therefore, does not need to be dredged so that it will become even deeper. . . . Plans call for it to be 9 feet deep!!!
And for water to spill back into the area between the homes along the beach and the highway, once the private golf course there is ceded to the state. How this can be called "restoration" is beyond me. I call it "unnecessary development." Just let things alone, and let nature heal itself. Nature is its own best restorer. The state needs to keep the money it would have spent on this project. I am sure there are many other REAL projects funded by drinking water bonds (this does nothing for drinking water) that deserve the money and need it much, much more than a little lagoon in Malibu, of all places!!@#$%#!!

I agree with Ann Doneen - an investigative report in these so called 'restoration projects' smell fishy. It seems that Heal the Bay, Santa Monica Bay Keepers, State Parks and the Coastal Commission have much to gain if they can justify so-called projects where State Bond $$ to the tune of $7 million can be utilized. Thank you Judge Goldsmith and I hope that the hearing in the fall will shed more light on this apparent shadiness from big government agencies and powerful environmental groups.

YAY Judge Goldsmith! Kudos for recognizing that this Coastal Commission project would bring severe harm to Malibu Lagoon's wildlife.

And thank you, LA Times, for including the official document in your article. The stay order specifically reads "The Court finds the project would damage various types and species of flora and fauna, several of which are endangered."

Honestly, if the current plan was a true "restoration," the proponents would actually be "restoring" the lagoon to the way it used to be. Just look at the historical photos of the area--and you will see that there was never an enlarged body of water where they are trying to make one now!

Let's follow nature's own design--and we will have a perfect water flow & wave... along with healthy wildlife habitat!

What a beautiful photograph! It truly reflects the peace, tranquility, and beauty at Malibu Lagoon, home of thousands of amazing and beautiful birds and animals most people rarely see, such as the long-tailed weasel. If you are quiet and pause long enough on the wooden bridge that is in the back section, and not on the way to the sea, you might see such a darling little creature, which eats rodents and lizards and lives in the Tule Reeds.

It's great that the Times is interested in this wetlands area. In many ways what is happening in Malibu is reflective of what is happening statewide -- Malibu's plight symbolizes the "restoration by bulldozer" concept of the "wetlands redux" that seems to be going on along the coastline in many areas. It is a great tragedy, and one that is much in need of investigative reporting as many of these wetlands overhauls are unnecessary and just ways for engineering companies and associated "environmental" entities to make money. Thanks for shedding some light on this issue.

The problem can be solved- Have a hearing and show the court where the "public interest" lies. Prepare reports of the analysis performed, the potential or probable problems, short and long term, and the remediation efforts and reviews that have been performed to proceed with the restoration of Malibu Lagoon.

"The petitioners have shown, and the Court finds, that a stay would not be against the public interest. The harm that would result from the project approved by the Coastal Commission would be severe. The Court finds the project would damage various types and species of flora and fauna, several of which are endangered. Birds in the area, some of which are endangered, would be deprived of food sources found in the lagoon. Petitioners have shown to satisfaction of the court that many species and their habitat would not recover."
~ Ernest Goldsmith

Mark Gold of Heal The Bay said recently in an interview that the stay was not based on merits but it was a technical snafu. Perhaps Mr. Goldsmith had a sense that proponents would try to skew the truth. Thank you Judge Goldsmith for recognizing the value of a wetland.

The beautiful egret in the photo looks like an angel as it is landing, and the Judge is clearly an angel too! How wonderful that there are people speaking up for the flora and fauna. How did State Parks get involved with a project that would harm wildlife?


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