The Fight for Malibu Beach


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Surfrider Beach in better days. Photo: Bill Parr

Malibu’s Surfrider Beach should be a busy place tomorrow. A long-delayed restoration of the polluted Malibu Lagoon—the estuary that feeds the famed surf break—is finally scheduled to begin after a year of conflicts and court battles that have pitted scientists who favor the cleanup against residents and celebrities who don’t. The restoration, backed by the California Coastal Commission and the state parks department, is intended to clear water that’s long been stagnant and polluted due in part to filled-in land that has prevented the estuary from cleaning itself naturally. But many local surfers and residents think the lagoon is just fine, and that the cleanup will wreck the famed wave at Surfrider Beach.

I wrote about the feud last year; since then, it’s only escalated, with the anti-restoration crowd winning an initial court injunction to delay the project and dominating the local battle for hearts and minds. Malibu’s city council recently voted unanimously to oppose the restoration, mayor Laura Rosenthal wrote a letter to governor Jerry Brown asking him to pull the plug, and Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis made this video. “It’s amazing that the opposition keeps ginning up new reasons to stop [the restoration], and they’re based on nothing,” says Chad Nelsen, environmental director of the non-profit Surfrider Foundation, which was founded to protect Malibu’s wave, and which supports the cleanup. “It sort of reminds me of Swift Boat.” (Marcia Hanscom, an activist who has led the opposition, didn’t respond to a request for comment.)

But the anti-cleanup crowd, which calls itself Save Malibu Lagoon, has lost one important battle: the legal one. In October, a California judge ruled that the restoration could go forward, and a last-ditch attempt to force a stay of the project was denied on Friday. So the bulldozers are coming. And it seems likely they’ll be met by protesters.

—Abe Streep