Two property owners fined for illegal work in Bolsa Chica Wetlands

Reddish Egret

Chuck Almdale

The California Coastal Commission ordered two property owners to pay fines for disturbing land within the Bolsa Chica Wetlands without a permit. (Photo: The elegantly plumed Reddish Egret, photographed at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, is noted for its dancing maneuvers when searching for food.)

The California Coastal Commission Wednesday fined the owners of two parcels within the Bolsa Chica Wetlands for digging on lands without a permit. Part of the order to restore the parcels includes the creation of a Native American cultural center.

The Commission ruled the Ridge and Goodell properties within the wetlands were excavated without permits. A Commission staff report said the un-permitted work on the Ridge site destroyed buried Native American artifacts. 

The Goodell Family and Signal Landmark, which own the Ridge parcel, were ordered to pay  fines.

The action came as the California State Assembly killed a bill that would have given the Coastal Commission the power to levy fines on violators without having to go court to impose penalties as they do now.

Along with a $600,000 fine which goes to the Coastal Conservancy for use in coastal Orange County, the Commission ordered Signal Landmark to spend at least $200,000 to construct a Native American cultural center, including trails and signage.  

Coastal Commission Chair Mary Shallenberger said  the agency responded within its current enforcement powers regarding the Bolsa Chica wetlands.   

"It's too bad it wasn't just actually just saved as a Native American historical and sacred site," said Shallenberger prior to the vote. "There we have it, it hasn't been and I think the way that this has been dealt with is as good as we can do given the condition we're in."  

The Bolsa Chica Land Trust has been working to restore and preserve the entire 1,700 acres of the mesa, lowlands and wetlands.About 500 include housing developments, oil fields and vacant properties, like the Goodell and Ridge sites.

Bolsa Chica Land Trust Executive Director Kim Kolpin said the Commission's action was welcome but not nearly enough.      

"It's just kind of a like a smack in the face to the Native American community and for all the people around here that care about this site," said Kolpin. "The monetary value is not going to replace what they've done."   

She said the archaeology of the area area dates back 9,000 years - before the Egyptian Pyramids were built. Kolpin said there may not be the same types of treasures found with other ancient sites, but the area is no less significant. 

Kolpin said the Land Trust will track the permit process for the Native American cultural site, to make sure it will not disturb existing artifacts or the habitat. 

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