Clear Victory for Malibu Lagoon

The Coastal Commission voted 11-0 to support Lagoon plan.

The California Coastal Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to support the State Parks and Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission plan to restore Malibu Lagoon. The 11-0 vote provided the last needed permit approval before the rehabilitation of the brackish wetland can proceed next summer. The restoration will increase salt marsh acreage by four acres and will provide long-needed water circulation to the often stagnant marsh, but there was still vocal opposition against the project. The challengers even brought in a high-priced attorney and an East Coast wetland restoration consultant to bolster their case, which argued against the use of heavy machinery to repair the wetland.

Despite these efforts, the recommendations of the Bay Commission, Coastal Conservancy and State Parks prevailed. Heal the Bay helped put together the plan back in 2004. Key testimony from renowned UCLA coastal ecologist Rich Ambrose and wetland nutrient scientist Marth Sutula was very persuasive.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state Fish and Game, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Regional Water Board all had previously signed off on the project. Environmental group support from Santa Monica Baykeeper, the local Audubon, Surfrider and Sierra Club chapters, Malibu Surfing Assn. and Friends of Ballona didn’t hurt either.

Evidently, successful wetland restorations at Bolsa Chica, Carpinteria and San Diego County that used earth moving equipment helped sway the commission that the Malibu plan is prudent.

Other supporting factors included the fact that the EIR for the restoration went legally unchallenged and that no kind of development has been tied to the wetland restoration and expansion project.

After all of these years, the restoration can finally proceed. The end result will be a larger salt marsh, improved water circulation and water quality, and a functioning brackish lagoon ecosystem.

One of the Bay Restoration Commission’s and California Wetland Recovery Project’s top priorities can finally move forward after years of planning, studies and debate.

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7 Responses

  1. The most significant result of this decision, I believe, is not the approval of the lagoon restoration project itself (though a great triumph, nonetheless). More significant were the clear statements of several Commissioners recognizing that wetland restoration projects are not worthwhile unless they are truly comprehensive efforts to restore and maximize lost wetland functions and habitat values at the degraded site. They also affirmed that mechanized excavation and grading using heavy equipment are necessary means to achieving these ends, that temporary habitat impact is acceptable given the permanent result, and that such has been the case for many restorations previously approved by the Commission and since proven successful, from Tijuana Estuary to Arcata. This reaffirmation of wise policy and common sense bodes well for the coming restoration of Ballona.

    • Wise policy and common sense? Wise policy is using the precautionary principle as stated here:

      “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. The process of applying the precautionary principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action.” – Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle, Jan. 1998

      We should be working on cutting edge ways to repair the fragile environment without damaging it first. If the intent were to be productive but spare our wetlands of being totally ripped apart then that would be a wise decision. And the wisest decision of all would be to address the pollution at it’s source. The waters will remain polluted so long as the pollution keeps coming from up-stream. Let us not waste time and resources with doctoring up something; let us focus on preventative and precautionary approaches that in the long run will be sustainable for our future.

  2. The most striking aspect of this blog post, Gold’s previous post on this matter, and his comments at the hearing is that on every occasion he has neglected to disclose the fact that Heal the Bay has taken money for this project.

    (, 10/13: “Heal the Bay’s design work was funded by the California Coastal Conservancy.”)

    Instead, Gold — and, to be fair, representatives of many other organizations getting a piece of the action — traded on their reputations while working hard to keep the public in the dark about the money they get from the project.

    Commissioner Richard Bloom took the high road yesterday by recusing himself from the debate and decision because of a conflict of interest. Too bad that Gold and so many others think such candor is not their concern.

    • Questioning Heal the Bay’s environmental integrity is insulting, but here is a response to the previous comment. Heal the Bay was paid approximately $100K over a 30 month period between 2002 and 2004 to lead the effort to develop a Malibu Lagoon restoration Plan. Heal the Bay staff worked hundreds of hours leading public meetings, and working with state Parks, the Coastal Conservancy, leading wetland scientists, Moffat and Nichol Engineering and other consultants to develop the plan.

      We were paid for our hourly work. We were not given a flat fee. Since 2004, Heal the Bay did not work on the environmental review or subsequent permitting.


  4. “a high priced attorney”???

    “an east coast wetland restoration consultant”???

    the characterizations are as easily misleading as the rationales put forward for the reasons for this project, Mark.

    Once you told me to “forget about Santa Monica Canyon, Marcia – it’s not a real wetland, like Malibu Lagoon or Ballona. Just keep your focus there.”

    And it is clear your team plans on doing more industrial nature alteration at the Ballona Wetlands too.

    hmmm….I see why you advised I need to keep my focus on these important places.

  5. unless a Judge overturns this highly political decision which many believe neither complies with the Coastal Act nor with the laws of Mother Nature.

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