Opponents of the Malibu Lagoon project are questioning why two contractors were digging with shovels in the main body of the lagoon late last week. The concerns are among many they have raised about the project in December.
"I think they need to fess up to the fact that it’s not going the way they said it was going to go," said Andy Lyon, who captured two separate videos of the work, which he uploaded to YouTube.
Lyon, who is one of several people who oppose the Malibu Lagoon Restoration Project, said that he was disturbed by the work and the presence of a woman weeding on one of the bird islands on Friday.
Craig Sap of California State Parks said the recent work is part of planned maintenance.
"They are pulling out sand bags—it’s not a redoing," Sap said. "When they’re out there and it rains, they saw the burlap and there are six sand bags," he said, pointing out that the work took place in the middle of the day.
The sandbags were originally used to hold a turbidity curtain in place that protected an earthen berm that separated the main body of the lagoon from the channels while bulldozing and other work took place during the project. The berm was removed in late October, releasing water into the channels.
Malibu Lagoon Drainage
Another berm separating the Malibu Lagoon from the Pacific Ocean opened in late November, flushing most of the water out of the lagoon.
Officials from the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation and California State Parks have both said the project has been built as it was designed.
However, Lyon and others believe the lagoon is not draining properly, and that State Parks needs to apply for an emergency permit to breach the lagoon "in the right place."
"There was still an hour-and-a-half of the tide going out, and you could see no water moving in the creek. The sand is so built up in there," Lyon said.
Others have criticized the design of the lagoon, calling it a "mud pit" because most of the plants are too small to see from a distance.
According to State Parks, more than 80,000 native plants are in the process of being reintroduced to the Malibu Lagoon. Most are small cuttings that are being watered through a temporary sprinkler system, which has cost State Parks up to $10,000 over the past three months.
Sap said some maintenance was being done at the lagoon, including the removal of non-native plants that have sprouted up. He said there were estimates of a 10 to 15 percent mortality rate for the native plants.
"Non-native plants tend to grow faster and can crowd out native plants," he said.
Wendi Werner, who has raised concerns about water quality at the project, called it a "disaster."
"Those plants are dead," Werner said. "The sediment is going into the channels. You can see it. The channels aren't functioning. It's not done properly. You can clearly hear the contractors talking to Mark Abramson about it while we're standing on the other side of the fence."
She encouraged Malibu city leaders to tour the lagoon to see for themselves.
Lyon also expressed concern about the state of the plants.
"The water is worse than it was before," Lyon said. "These guys have destroyed the lagoon. There are no plants there. Everything has been ripped out."
Hamish Patterson, a former Malibu City Council candidate, said he is also concerned about the "mud pit," which he called a black eye on the community.
"We all agreed that something needed to be done. All we were asking for was that the plans go under further examination," Patterson said.
Regional Water Quality Control Board
Late last week, a representative from the Regional Water Quality Control Board visited the site, and pointed out a few concerns with the project, according to Sap.
"He found some sand bags in the wrong location," Sap said, adding that the sandbags were not the ones dug up in the main body of the lagoon.
He said they were being used to secure coverings over dirt piles during the recent rain storms and that they have been removed.
"I don’t think there is anything that we’re going to be cited for violations, but there are things that we can correct," Sap said.
State Parks Emails
At a recent Malibu City Council meeting, John Davis read aloud quotes from a series of emails he unearthed from a public records request that showed correspondence before the project got underway. (The emails are attached in PDF document to the right.)
"One represents a disingenuous outreach to Councilman [Skylar] Peak," Davis said.
In the email sent to former Heal the Bay President Mark Gold and former State Parks Director Ruth Coleman, Sap wrote, "When I spoke to Suzanne [Goode] earlier today about this, we both agreed that Skylar would probably ask to be accompanied by other opponents and thus make the meeting more likely. Our objective is to appear open, but knowing that he will not want to meet on our terms. In the end, we can say that we reached out to him."
The emails show that Gold responded that Peak would be leaving for a surfing trip in Indonesia shortly, and the meeting would have symbolism.
At the council meeting, Sap said there is more to the emails.
"You can take an email and you can paraphrase and you can take portions of it and in that particular case it is fully explainable. In that particular case, it was prior to the start of the Malibu Lagoon project and Skylar was the one who reached out to us," Sap said. He said there was a longer offline conversation that fills in the context.
Construction on the observation deck, amphitheater and other features are near completion, according to State Parks.
The project is on schedule to wrap up by January.