In what appears to be the first strategic move of the 2012 campaign, incumbent candidate John Sibert on Monday proposed the city hire a consultant to analyze the . Opponents of the plan, including fellow council candidate , have devoted much of their anger toward Sibert when criticizing the council for not taking a stand against the state project.
Sibert proposed the council spend up to $25,000 to hire "a well-recognized institution that has no dog in this fight," possibly from outside California, to review the project's environmental impact report as well as documents and additional information from proponents, opponents and others. The analysis from the consultant would be used to guide the council in taking an official position on the project.
The other council members supported the proposal, although they could not do it formally since the issue was not on the agenda. The proposal is expected to be placed on the agenda for an upcoming meeting, at which the council could formalize the plan.
"There has been so much heat and so little light around the whole lagoon project that I think the city does need to take a position on this and I think the city needs to take a well-considered position," Sibert said.
He continued, "[The analysis] ought to be done quickly and it ought to be done thoroughly, because then we'll have information that we can make a decision based on, and it won't be based simply on emotion or misinformation. We owe Malibu a timely answer to this question because it has become such a big deal."
Sibert said Jim Thorsen should select the consultant, and recommendations on who to choose should be accepted from anybody who has an opinion to offer.
Sibert appeared to be reading from a pre-written speech when he made the proposal, but his comments could also be seen as part of a direct response to Lyon, who addressed the council about the lagoon project earlier in the meeting. He asked that the council vote to take a position.
The council tried to take a position in April, but at the well-attended meeting, it deadlocked on various 2-2 votes (Mayor Laura Zahn Rosenthal was on a pre-planned vacation with her son). No council member voiced support for the project, but they had varying views on how to respond to the state about it, with one concern being that formally opposing the project could lead to there being no project at all to heal what they consider to be an unhealthy lagoon.
Council member Pamela Conley Ulich was the only one who wanted to write an opposition letter to Gov. Jerry Brown, and did write one as an individual. She said on Monday that she was "grateful" Sibert proposed the idea for the consultant, but also took a shot regarding the timing.
"It looks like everybody nine months later has come back to this issue—magically, and I'm glad we're here, but I hope it's not too little too late," Conley Ulich said. "Unfortunately, this project is going forward in June, and to hire somebody to do this now … hopefully it's enough time."
Project opponents have focused most of their anger toward Sibert perhaps because he is on the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, which is involved in the project, or because he was mayor during the April meeting when the plan was on the agenda. During the meeting, he got into .
The opponents have said Sibert supports the project, but his public comments tell a different story. Malibu Patch has been unable to find any public statement made by Sibert in favor of this specific plan. He has criticized the opponents verbally and in interviews with various media for what he considers to be their spreading of misinformation, but those statements have not been paired with comments in favor of the state project. He has said something should be done to heal what he and many others consider to be an unhealthy body of water.
"This is a big project that I am not comfortable with," Sibert said at the April council meeting. "But on the other hand, we've got to do something about this lagoon. And it is sick … so as flawed as it is, I think we need to support some version of this."
City Manager Thorsen sent two letters to the California Coastal Commission that included statements in favor of the project (as well as criticisms) prior to the commission's unanimous decision to approve the plan in October 2010 (the documents are attached). The letters were sent with the support of the council.
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, including all the major local environmental groups, say the project will improve oxygen circulation and the general health of the lagoon. Opponents, including at least two council candidates (Lyon and Missy Zeitsoff) say it will harm the lagoon and many species will die. They object to the use of bulldozers, the removal of bridges and other features.
A San Francisco Superior Court judge rejected a lawsuit against the project in October. Environmental activist Marcia Hanscom, who heads two of the three nonprofits that filed the suit, told Malibu Patch an appeal is being considered. They are also seeking administrative remedies.