22 Aug 2014
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Judge Rejects Malibu Lagoon Lawsuit

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ernest H. Goldsmith sides with the state on the controversial project.

Judge Rejects Malibu Lagoon Lawsuit Judge Rejects Malibu Lagoon Lawsuit Judge Rejects Malibu Lagoon Lawsuit Judge Rejects Malibu Lagoon Lawsuit Judge Rejects Malibu Lagoon Lawsuit Judge Rejects Malibu Lagoon Lawsuit Judge Rejects Malibu Lagoon Lawsuit

SAN FRANCISCO—A lawsuit attempting to block the California Coastal Commission's October 2010 approval of the State Parks-led overhaul project was rejected here Thursday by a Superior Court judge.

Judge Ernest H. Goldsmith ruled against the three environmental groups that filed the suit—the Wetlands Defense Fund, Access for All and the Coastal Law Enforcement Action Network—except on one technical issue. Goldsmith said the Coastal Commission properly "analyzed all feasible alternatives to the project" and chose the one that was "least damaging to achieve the goals." He also said he was satisfied with the mitigation measures that would be taken to protect the lagoon's endangered species.

The judge rejected the argument that removal of the lagoon's wooden bridges would be harmful to public access because there would still be a trail.

Suzanne Goode, a senior environmental scientist with California State Parks, said she was pleased with the ruling, but not surprised.

"After going over all the documents for many, many months, it appeared to me that those who filed the suit didn't have much of a case," Goode said. 

She added, "We feel quite vindicated with this decision and are glad that all the federal and state agencies as well as the major environmental groups stood by us during the whole process."

The project was supposed to start last June, but was called off when Goldsmith in May approved a stay on the project due to the pending suit. Goode said at the time that the delay put in jeopardy a $2.5 million grant for the project that needed to be used this year. However, she said on Thursday that an extension was placed on the grant pending the outcome of the suit.

Goode said the project will begin next June. It can only be done in the summer, according to the permit approved by the Coastal Commission.

Marcia Hanscom, who heads two of the environmental groups that filed the suit said she was "very disappointed."

"I think that [Goldsmith] did not grasp the issues of this project. ... He seemed very confused by a lot of the issues," Hanscom said. "And it is beyond me how he could read that record and say the Coastal Commission complied with the law. They did not."

Her partner Roy van de Hoek added, "It's distressing to know that birds, the fish, the tidewater goby and other endangered species, dragonflies, the many species that are relying on Malibu Lagoon for food, shelter and breeding in this habitat are now again placed at risk of losing their habitat because of this judge's ruling."

Hanscom and van de Hoek said they have grounds for an appeal. They said it is a matter of whether others in Malibu and elsewhere are interested in filing an appeal because they will need to raise money to fund it. Van de Hoek also said he is working on trying to get the environmental groups that support the project to reverse their position.

Goode said she was not surprised to hear that an appeal was planned. She said this would require another stay on the project, and Goode said it could be more difficult to get one approved a second time.

Called the Malibu Lagoon Restoration and Enhancement Plan, the project includes the replacement of nonnative vegetation with native vegetation and adjustments to slopes and channels in a 12-acre portion of the lagoon. Existing access bridges will be removed.

Proponents say the project will improve oxygen circulation and the general health of the lagoon. Opponents say it will harm the lagoon and that species will die. They object to the use of bulldozers, the removal of the bridges and other features.

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