The California Coastal Commission Friday gave a green light to a plan that would eventually see the removal of the Rindge Dam in Malibu Creek begin in 2025—despite a lack of data on increased flood risk, sediment flow, truck traffic procedures and other issues raised by residents.

The plan, put forth by the Army Corps of Engineers in partnership with California State Parks, will restore miles of habitat for Southern California Steelhead Trout, but could potentially put Malibu neighborhoods and infrastructure at risk. It is still a long way from commencement, which the army corps and coastal commission staff say means any potential problems can be solved long before construction begins.

“Construction of the project is not scheduled to start until 2025 at the earliest, leaving adequate time for the corps to complete the required future studies,” said Larry Simon, coastal program analyst for the California Coastal Commission, at the Friday, March 9 meeting in Port Hueneme. 

Throughout that time, the commission will continue to track the project as it develops, making sure the project remains legal under the Coastal Act.

“The commission will have the opportunity to review all the future studies and the public will likewise be able to review those studies and participate in the commission’s public hearing processes related to those studies,” Simon described.

The dam project green light is a victory for environmentalists, since it will result in habitat restoration in Malibu Creek. Spokespeople for several environmental nonprofits spoke in favor of the project, which in addition to habitat restoration, will provide tons of sediment to nourish area shorelines. However, residents were less enthusiastic.

Residents from the Serra Retreat neighborhood, which rests in the floodplain of Malibu Creek, are concerned about increased flood risks to their homes and roadways, including the Cross Creek Bridge—and they were hoping for solutions now, not several years down the line.

“We’re hopeful that this is not something that simply gets kicked down the road in terms of determining what mitigation measures will be taken,” said John Waller, legal counsel for several Serra Retreat homeowners. He added, “The real concern amongst my clients, and I think amongst the residents of Serra Retreat as a whole, is that their issues be addressed now, not at some unspecified point in the future. We want to find some means to protect everyone, including the steelhead trout, but we need to have that done before this vote is taken, not after.”

Ken Ehrlich, legal counsel for the Serra Canyon Property Owners Association, suggested that the commission would not look so favorably upon the project had it been presented by a private developer.

“We submit that if this were a private developer trying to do this project before you, there’s no doubt your staff would require all of these geotechnical and geological and landslide studies to be done now before this commission analyzes the project,” Ehrlich said.

“Consistency determination is different from a coastal development permit,” Simon explained, meaning this approval was not a blanket green light for the project. He also explained how the process was designed to move forward, beginning with approval from the commission.

“Once those processes [commission approval] are complete, the corps makes a pitch to Congress to get funding to do the types of technical design work that staff wants, that you want, that the speakers want—but those types of studies, along with the mitigation measures and the monitoring measures that are going to be required as part of this project—those studies cannot take place at this certain time,” Simon said.

One commissioner, San Diego Council Member Chris Ward, seemed to take up Malibu’s banner and asked for a guarantee that the commission would get to see final documents and plans before the project begins.

“To be clear—by approving this for purposes of a feasibility study, can you guarantee the commission will have an opportunity in the future to be able to fully evaluate and decide to go or no-go on the project itself?” Ward asked Simon.

The coastal program analyst gave the affirmative.

The commission endorsed the plan in a unanimous vote.

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