Tainted Legacy


Good guys can wear black hats too…

Last night I joined my colleagues from Santa Monica Baykeeper, Surfrider Foundation and the Malibu Surfing Assn. in an appeal to the Malibu City Council on the Legacy Park project EIR.  If I had wanted that kind of abuse, I could have gone to Canter’s and ordered a corned beef on Wonder Bread with extra mayo.

Because we raised valid concerns about the wisdom of moving forward on the water treatment project as planned, Malibu officials accused the environmental community of being anti-environment and anti-park. They accused us of being anti-science. (I guess a UCLA doctorate isn’t worth as much as used to be.)  We were called a roadblock to fundraising to clean up Malibu’s water quality mess. (In fact, Heal the Bay has successfully helped advocate for over $10 million in state funds to go to Legacy Park acquisition, Paradise Cove runoff treatment, and Malibu civic center stormwater quality treatment).

To hear Councilmembers  Sharon Barovsky, John Sibert and Mayor Andy Stern go after the enviros, you would have thought we were mega-developers or big oil, not environmental groups with a long, successful history of coastal protection.

Here is the background.  The 15-acre Legacy Park parcel (currently the site of the annual chili cookoff) was sold to Malibu with the promise of solving the city’s enormous wastewater and stormwater pollution problems at Malibu Lagoon and Surfrider Beach.  Both of these natural wonders are extremely polluted and in gross violation of their Total Maximum Daily Loads.

As the EIR and environmental studies moved forward, it became abundantly clear that the site was not appropriate for a large volume of subsurface wastewater disposal because the soils don’t percolate well.  By the time the engineering consultants figured this out, the EIR was near completion and had to be amended.  In Malibu’s rush to move forward with the new Legacy Park project, a stormwater detention basin and a native habitat botanical garden, the draft EIR came out and contained all types of inaccuracies and confusing statements about the project at Legacy Park.

The final EIR was a little better, but it still contained enormous flaws, including:

  • Legacy Park receives wastewater from the new Malibu Lumber development, yet the EIR doesn’t address the issue.
  • A wastewater mounding study for the civic center area is not completed yet. This study was critical to assess the cumulative impacts of the project.
  • The cumulative impact section doesn’t include an assessment of all of the wastewater disposal in the area, and how the use of treated stormwater will impact future wastewater recycling in the area.
  • The lack of a lined treatment wetland as one of the alternatives to the proposed detention basin.

The Malibu City Council’s Karl Rove-like approach to policy spin carried the day last night.  The City Council voted 3-2 to approve a severely flawed EIR with Councilmembers Zuma Jay and Pamela Conley Ulich supporting the environmental and surfing communities’ effort to fix the EIR and move forward on a comprehensive solution to the epic problems at Surfrider and the Lagoon.  Stormwater and wastewater treatment and recycling must be part of an overall strategy to protect aquatic life and human health, but the city continues to piecemeal these efforts.

This time, the city council may have gone too far in labeling the environmental community the bad guys.

In Mayor Stern’s closing remarks, he pulled out two hats as props.  One was blue — he asked us to imagine that it was “green.” (Talk about greenwashing.) The other was black.  Normally the environmental community wears the “green” hat, Stern intoned, and the council wears the black hat. But on this night, the roles were reversed.  He then proceeded to take off the black hat and put on the “green” one.  Even my 9-year-old daughter who used to believe in unicorns and the tooth fairy doesn’t have an imagination vivid enough to believe that the environmental and surfing community is against clean water and open space.

A majority of the council continues to live in a Fantasyland where Malibu’s poop doesn’t smell or pollute local waters (Barovsky and former Mayor Kearsley stated as fact that 80-90% of the pollution problems in the Lagoon and at Surfrider was caused by local runoff, not septic systems.  It is unclear whether the scientific source for the factoid was Andersen or the Brothers Grimm.)

By willfully burying their heads in the sand, the council majority has now alienated some of the city’s biggest advocates.  Even the State Water Board, the biggest funder of Malibu’s water pollution cleanup projects, wrote a scathing letter on the inadequacies of the Legacy Park EIR that may jeopardize future state water board funding.

Don’t look for Heal the Bay to go to bat for Malibu funding any time soon until elected officials have a firm, legally binding commitment for construction of a civic center water recycling facility with timelines and milestones.

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3 Responses

  1. Mark, thank you for this post. How utterly disappointing, to be blamed as anti-environment when in fact all the organizations appealing the EIR simply want the City to do the RIGHT thing for the environment. I personally found it appalling that the City would move forward with this project with only 2 pieces of the puzzle, knowing full well they have every intention to build the 3rd piece – wastewater treatment facility – in the future. An ecosystem cannot be cut into 3 pieces without considering how each piece affects the other. There must be a comprehensive study on how the various discharges into the creek will not only affect the animals that depend on brackish conditions in the Lagoon, but also how it will affect the level of the water in the lagoon. We surfers already know full well that when the water table rises in the Lagoon, septic systems back up in the Colony and shopping areas and the sandberm breaches more often… ultimately exposing surfers and swimmers to whatever pollutants are in the water.

  2. Ugh, awful. What’s the public’s next step? I mean, aside from writing critical letters (I’m another science-type), what’s the approach?

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