On the Edge of Darkness

The Coastal Commission's rejection of the Edge's proposal to build mansions in Malibu may have gotten more press, but its failure to revoke the permit for Malibu Valley Farms is actually more compelling.

As many of you already know, the California Coastal Commission bravely voted 8-4 Thursday against the Edge’s proposal for a compound of mansions overlooking the Pacific in Malibu.  The highly controversial project from the U2 guitarist would have substantially damaged an environmentally sensitive habitat area (ESHA) and did not include plans to reduce polluted runoff or treat and dispose of sewage generated onsite.  Clearly, the developers’ offer of $1 million to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy for trail access and land conservation was not enough to sway the commission vote.

The Los Angeles Times quoted Peter Douglas, the commission’s iconic director, as saying:  “In 38 years of this commission’s existence, this is one of the three worst projects that I’ve seen in terms of environmental devastation. It’s a contradiction in terms — you can’t be serious about being an environmentalist and pick this location” given the effects on habitat, land formation, scenic views and water quality.

Although we raised concerns about the Edge’s proposed development, I disagree with Douglas’ statement on its scale relative to the projects considered by the commission through history. In fact, I consider it to be the second most environmentally-damaging project voted on by the commission Thursday — Malibu Valley Farms is far worse.

Yet, the commission vote on the Edge’s project demonstrated the power of Douglas’ recommendations. Douglas and staff were extremely strong in their opposition to the Edge’s project.  As a result, the commission correctly voted to deny the project. Don’t be surprised if there’s subsequent litigation over the decision or a modified proposal in attempt to address its environmental impacts.

By contrast, Douglas, staff, and Commission chair Shallenberger and Commissioner Burke opposed revocation of the Malibu Valley Farms project.  As noted in my previous blog post, there will never be a more clear-cut case for revocation considered by the commission.

There’s no question about whether or not the structures at Malibu Valley Farms located in Stokes Canyon Creek should be removed from the stream and associated sensitive riparian habitat. The real question is whether or not the developer, Brian Boudreau, should be prosecuted criminally and civilly for violating the Clean Water Act, the Coastal Act, and the Fish and Game code.

Boudreau proves the old adage, “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”  And his reward for lying to the commission about the scope and scale of his development, building without a coastal development permit, and degrading a creek that is a water of the United States? You got it — unanimous support by the Coastal Commission.

There is something horribly wrong with a system that rewards individuals or corporations that intentionally break the law.  The excuse given by commissioners and staff alike was that the Coastal Act’s definition of the three tests for revocation was so narrow, and so focused on the revised findings that justify the original project approval (over staff objections), that they had no choice but to deny revocation.

The fact that subsequent to the project’s 2007 approval, it became very clear just how much misinformation was provided at the initial hearing to sway the commission, and how much pollution and habitat degradation the project caused, was deemed inconsequential by staff and the commission.

So here is the choice: Either the commission severely erred in their denial of the revocation despite overwhelming evidence, or the Coastal Act’s revocation criteria are so severely flawed as to be rendered completely useless.  Either way, the loser is the Malibu Creek watershed and all other sensitive habitat along the coast that has been condemned to devastation by a previous bad commission decisions.

I can’t help but think that the vote may have gone differently if Douglas and Shallenberger supported revocation, given that they are so highly respected by commissioners. It may have ended up in court like the Edge decision probably will, but wouldn’t it be worth the risk to protect precious coastal natural resources?

I guess the best chance for redemption is swift and aggressive enforcement (hopefully in partnership with the Regional Water Board and California Department of Fish and Game) against Malibu Valley Farms for damages caused to Stokes Canyon Creek.

But  as we’ve seen in the lower Malibu Creek-Mariposa emergency rip-rap installation (adjacent to Malibu Creek Plaza) of 1998, enforcement efforts at the commission, and in particular for habitat destruction in the Malibu Creek Watershed, are backlogged and don’t appear to be moving anywhere fast.

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2 Responses

  1. Hi Mark:
    I cannot agree more with your concerns over Peter Douglas’ statements regarding Edge’s project. Not only is Edge’s project not one of the ‘3 worst’ ever, it isn’t even in the top 25. It isn’t even the worst, or even close to it, ever proposed in Malibu alone! Is Douglas really going to contend that LNG terminals, nuke plants, desalination facilities, once thru power plants, massive Irvine Company housing tracts and/or toll roads are environmentally worse than Edge’s houses?? They aren’t even in the same league! As for Malibu, are you kidding? Worse than SOKA university? Or even the recent expansions of Pepperdine? I agree with you- Edge’s project, in my opinion, pales in comparison to past, present and future impacts related to the farce otherwise known as Malibu Valley Farms.

    Thanks again for your postings.
    Mark Massara

  2. Another environmentally damaging project coming up for a vote this summer is the amendment to permit stadium lights on the athletic field at Malibu High School.
    In 2009, the commission unanimously voted against the lights. I wonder what they will vote this time, given that nothing has changed since the original permit prohibited lights.
    The athletic field borders on 23 acres of coastal scrubland home to all kinds of wildlife that the Glenn Lukoes biologiy report said were “not there”.
    The field is 2 blocks above Zuma beach and would light up the dark skies for miles and effect birds and wildlife. (Read Travis Longcore’s “Ecological Consequences of Artificial Night Lighting” Horse manure, bright lights — I hope the commission votes to protect precious coastal natural resources next time.

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