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Dueling viewpoints on Malibu Lagoon reflected in dueling events for environmental groups

A view of the Malibu Lagoon.
A view of the Malibu Lagoon.
cydog66/Flickr (cc by-nc-nd)

It could be coincidence. But tonight on the West Side, two environmental groups dueling over Malibu Lagoon are having dueling parties, too.

Heal the Bay has been backing restoration at Malibu Lagoon for years, and the group’s (long-planned) Bring Back the Beach gala honors actors Amy Smart, Julia Roberts & Danny Moder, and Hilton Hotels’ Matthew Hart. Up the PCH, at Duke’s, a group called the Surfers Coalition holds its own party, a ”fundraiser and awareness event” that includes tacos, a silent auction, celebrity guests and a documentary about surfing.

That's happening as a protracted debate over Malibu Lagoon picks up steam. Who knew something that's being called a restoration project would split Malibu's community of environmentalists (not to mention surfers) down the middle? 

Backers of a major restoration project say the Malibu lagoon estuary is unhealthy and needs to be reshaped so that it functions as it should. They point to high nutrient levels and nuisance algae blooms. State authorities have allocated $7 million to drain, grade and reshape the lagoon. The Coastal Commission approved the plan more than 18 months ago. The plan has withstood most scientific and all legal scrutiny, and while restoration was delayed last summer, a district court judge ruled it could continue this year.

People who hate the restoration project say it “will bulldoze 14 acres and 90,000 cubic yards of Malibu lagoon and wetland.” They include the Wetlands Defense Fund (based in Playa del Rey), CLEAN, and Access for All. Marcia Hanscom is chief among the critics. As she says:

"For some reason, there's a body of scientists who think that the way to restore a wetland is to dredge it out and start over ... I don't think the people who are opposing me on this are evil ... I don't think they have bad intentions. I think they are misguided."

Check out this segment from KPCC's Air Talk, where, last fall, Hanscom appeared with a State Parks scientist, Suzanne Goode, to talk about the issue .

In a recent wrinkle, the City of Malibu has recorded its opposition to the restoration plan, which has spurred politicians to get cautious (and involved). But a plea last month to the governor to stop the project yielded only a spokesman’s response from the Natural Resources Agency, which the Malibu Times reported read in part:

"Without significant intervention, the Malibu Lagoon will continue in decline and is doomed to become a stagnant waterway, devoid of the kind life that historically thrived here. The science behind the restoration has lead us to an unbiased conclusion on what is happening in the lagoon and what is the best way to remedy the issues ... We are confident in the science, its application, and the host of permits granted from multiple environmental and land use entities to continue with the restoration."

Wetlands Defense Fund, CLEAN, and Access for All say they’re planning an appeal to the First District Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The city of Malibu says it’s filing an amicus brief to support them. We're down to the wire for the planned restoration start date of June 1. 

What’s really fascinating is the debate over who's the voice of the environment and who's the voice of the surfing community in the Malibu Lagoon. I imagine that won't get quieter tonight, or this weekend when, according to a website called the Real Malibu 411, a public meeting happens at the Pt. Dume Clubhouse "to clear up some of the distortions of the truth that have been shared with the public by greedy real estate agents and professional fundraisers, with only their personal gains in mind."