LA Weekly - Malibu Lagoon Plan OK'd

Malibu Lagoon Plan OK'd
Redo of fragile ecosystem is on after much acrimony
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By Hillel Aron Thursday, Nov 10 2011
Athena Shlien had been hitting "refresh" on her computer all morning, her eyes fixed on the Malibu Patch home page, which promised up-to-the-minute news about the Malibu Lagoon hearing in San Francisco. Finally, she couldn't take it anymore and went for a surf. It was a beautiful day, the water shimmering in the midday sun. When she got back and saw the news, her heart sank.
"There was always this possibility," she says.
Judge Ernest H. Goldsmith of the State Supreme Court last month rejected a lawsuit to stop the dredging, resculpting and restoration of Malibu Lagoon. In May, Goldsmith had issued a temporary injunction against the bulldozers, deciding that "harm that would result from the project approved by the Coastal Commission would be severe" and that it would "damage various types and species of flora and fauna, several of which are endangered."
But after weighing more than 1,000 pages of evidence, he ruled that the Coastal Commission had indeed examined the alternatives, and a restoration plan previously approved by the commission would be "the least damaging."
In June 2012, work finally will begin on a $7 million restoration — under discussion for 20 years — that aims to completely overhaul the western third of the prized lagoon.
For the last couple of years, the debate has raged (see
L.A. Weekly's "The Battle for Malibu Lagoon," Sept. 1) between the environmental establishment — which wants to try to remake the lagoon — and a small group of environmental guerrillas who believe the human redesigners will make the lagoon worse.
Well-funded nonprofits such as Heal the Bay and the
Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, as well as government agencies like the California Department of Parks and Recreation, say the lagoon is dying and must be redesigned.
The opposition, headed by
Marcia Hanscom of the Wetlands Defense Fund, says the lagoon is fairly healthy and that the restoration itself will do more harm to the rich ecosystem and its wildlife.
Both sides accuse each other of being driven by greed and profit. Both claim science is on their side. Judge Goldsmith chose the winner.
James Birkelund, the attorney for the Wetlands Defense Fund, which sued the Coastal Commission after it approved the project, complains that in Goldsmith's ruling, the judge "took the path of agreeing with the large environmental groups and agencies because the Coastal Commission trusted and liked them. He ... did not give equal weight to the petitioners."
But after much research, Goldsmith sounded skeptical of many of the opponents' legal arguments. His decision had been predicted by some supporters of the restoration plan, many of whom are expressing relief.
"We're happy about the decision. We're excited that the project is moving forward," says
Mark Abramson, a senior watershed adviser at the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission. " I was pretty sure that we were gonna be OK.
"I'm happy that Judge Goldsmith vindicated me from being an eco-terrorist," he jokes, referring to a slam on the proponents made by blogger Shlien in the
Weekly in September.
"We're pleased that it's going to get done," says
Clark Stevens of the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains. "It's gonna be nice to stop being defensive about it .... We didn't want it to be about controversy."
But the ruling stunned environmental activists who had fought it, and the controversy shows few signs of dying down.
"Why is it that in May it'll cause severe harm, but in June of 2012 it won't?" Hanscom asks.
"I felt like we were doing a good thing and that the truth would prevail," Shlien says. "I guess I had romantic notions."
Andy Lyon, a surfer and vocal opponent of the project, says, "I didn't really think it was gonna be such a blowout, but why wouldn't it be? The money, the Coastal Commission, the players involved...," he trails off.
After the ruling, the comments section of the Malibu Patch blog post quickly devolved into a war of words between dredging opponent Lyon and
Jack Topel, an environmental scientist and project manager at the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission.
"Today is a great day for Malibu Lagoon and all the wildlife that calls it home," Topel wrote. "The people that are implementing the project are some of the most passionate conservationists I've ever known."
Lyon responded: "I ask that everyone go to the lagoon and look at it ... don't take the word of these scumbags that are milking Millions of Dollars, your tax dollars, to do this project .
... May the Chumash spirits curse him for what he has done !!!" (The Chumash Indians once lived near Malibu Lagoon.)
After some back-and-forth, Topel lashed out: "Andy, you are nothing but a spoiled, foul-mouthed, rich little Malibu brat. Incapable of controlling your mouth."
Things got so heated that the site's editor,
Jonathan Friedman, felt compelled to delete the angriest comments and appeal for calm. After some hemming and hawing, Topel apologized: "I guess I've been as caught up as anyone in the moment. I apologize to Andy and anyone else that I may have offended. I should have taken the high road and not let my emotions get the best of me. Am I forgiven? Please don't ban me from Patch :)" Topel declined to comment for this article.
ays later, Andy Lyon was involved in an argument over the restoration plan with a writer named
Ben Marcus. The two actually became involved in an oceanic brawl, as Marcus was paddle-boarding and Lyon was surfing.
The mayor of Malibu,
John Sibert, is taking the still-simmering dispute in stride. He believes the acrimony grew so intense because of asymmetric warfare being fought by the anti-dredging activists: "A good scientist can't speak in absolutes," Sibert says, "but activists can — and people were getting scared."
But not all scientists agree with the plan backed by the big environmental groups, which will necessarily destroy some fish and wildlife before it attempts to bring back the ecosystem and the wildlife. There's been a lack of consensus on just about everything relating to Malibu Lagoon, from its natural history to its current water quality.
Sibert, a former professor of chemistry at
Yale University, admits the current plan isn't perfect but argues, "You don't want the perfect to get in the way of good enough."
According to the project's proponents, the new version of the lagoon will benefit from improved oxygen flow and will be able to support a more diverse underwater habitat.
Above water, things will change, too: Visitors and surfers will walk along the periphery of the lagoon, which will see the addition of a shade canopy, a picnic area, a bird blind and educational signs.
A much-used pathway and three bridges that currently cut through the marshland and connect the parking lot to
Surfrider Beach, one of the most popular surf spots in L.A. County, will be removed. The plaintiffs had argued that this would impede beach access, but Goldsmith seemed to dismiss this argument out of hand.
Under the redesign, the current ability to explore parts of the wetland from a raised boardwalk will be far more restricted — a more curated experience, with visitors encouraged to walk in certain areas and look at certain things.
Or maybe not. Shlien and Hanscom aren't ready to quit just yet.
"If it comes to it, I will chain myself to a bulldozer," Shlien declares. "I don't want to go to jail, but I'm willing to."
Hanscom says, "We're looking at all the various legal options. We may appeal [the court's decision], or do some other legal action. We're certainly going to appeal to the governor."
And not just the governor. With 2012 State Assembly elections looming, Malibu Lagoon could become a small but thorny campaign issue for those running for seats representing the once-quiet beach community.

More info on our floating vortex of plastic in the ocean

Below is an article about the tragic plastic pollution in our oceans. What can we do to help:
1. Be informed. Know the issue.
2. Cut back on plastic in any way possible
3. As surfers, why not pick up a piece of trash every time you walk up the beach from a session? If we all do it, it will help...and maybe other people will be inspired (or feel guilty), when they see us picking up the trash?

On a sea of trash
Two men set sail to call attention to the 100 million tons of plastic flotsam fouling the world's oceans.
June 30, 2008|Margaux Wexberg Sanchez, Margaux Wexberg Sanchez, a writer, teaches journalism at UC Irvine.

On the first of June, two men and a rabbit set sail from the port of Long Beach, bound for Hawaii, on a raft made of junk. Their cabin is the cockpit of a Cessna 310, white with a blue racing stripe, salvaged from the desert. It floats on a system of handmade pontoons -- 15,000 plastic bottles held together with recycled nets -- propelled by currents and wind. If it sounds dangerous and makeshift, that's the point. The pilots of Junk, as the vessel is called, want to get your attention.
They are Dr. Marcus Eriksen, director of research and education at the Algalita Marine Research Foundation in Long Beach, and Joel Paschal, a former employee of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (The rabbit was abandoned early on -- to a safe home, not the depths -- after proving a less than seaworthy companion.) Their cause is alerting the world to the fouling of our oceans by plastic debris, and Junk is the poster child (
Plastic flotsam -- 100 million tons of it -- already litters the oceans of the world. Another 60 billion tons of plastics will be produced this year alone. A particularly dense accumulation of debris can be found in a holding pattern 1,000 miles off the California coast, in an area known as the central North Pacific gyre, the calm core of a convergence of four major ocean currents rotating clockwise under a large high-pressure zone. What gets in there can be trapped for decades.
The buildup of plastics in the gyre is estimated to span 5 million square miles. That's the equivalent of the area of the United States -- all 50 states -- plus India. Some of the debris at the surface floats, some is "neutrally buoyant," suspended just below the waves, and some hovers even deeper. Some is apparent and recognizable -- water bottles, balloons, degraded buoys -- but over time, these objects break down into smaller and smaller plastic pieces until they become particulate, invisible to the naked eye. (And small enough to be ingested by fish and filter feeders, as the larger pieces are by birds and turtles.) Also, the central gyre is so vast that even a devastating quantity of visible debris will appear relatively diffuse. There's no observable "plastic island," no obvious "garbage patch."
To study the plastics in the gyre is costly and time consuming. Sailing through the region, a journey that can only be undertaken at certain times of the year, takes a full month. Eriksen and Paschal made their first gyre voyage in January, captained by Algalita founder Charles Moore, who has studied the area for more than a decade. Moore's work has shown that, in parts of the central gyre, plastics outweigh surface zooplankton 6 to 1. Put bluntly: That's more trash than life. As Moore puts it, "The constituency of ocean water has been fundamentally altered."

More photos from the Ocean Awareness and Environmental Integrity Event

Yoga and surfing go hand-in-hand

I know, you hear it all the time, yoga and surfing are a match made in heaven. I was really getting sick of hearing this also until the winter of 2006 when I found myself so stiff and weak that I could barely surf. It felt like it was taking me 5 minutes to stand up! In January 2007 I started taking yoga from Joe Rivera of Focus Center Fitness.

Yep, you guessed it, now I'm the guy promoting yoga for surfing. I can honestly say that it has saved my life physically, as well as saved my surfing. I am stronger, more flexible and more agile than I have ever been, not to mention that I was able to loose several pounds which helps my surfing immensely.

People always ask me what the best workout is for surfing and now I can say without a doubt that it is yoga. Surfing and specifically paddling takes certain muscles in your back and upper body that are seldom used. Yoga builds these muscles, along with your core and legs while increasing your focus and balance.

In our boot camps we will incorporate a lot of yoga in our workouts. If you are looking for a private, "out-of-the-water" fitness I highly recommend Joe at Focus Center Fitness.

Let's get training and get out there!

All about healthy surfing and healthy living

Coming soon...