Updated at the bottom: State official says he thought it was up to city official to notify Malibu public of the delay.
A few dozen protesters reportedly showed up to the Malibu Lagoon this morning, hoping to dramatically block the bulldozers that were scheduled to begin a controversial "restoration" project after years of legal battle.
But the scene turned out to be pretty anticlimactic.
In a strategically casual announcement to the Los Angeles Times this morning, Craig Saps, local head of California State Parks, said the $7 million project probably wouldn't begin until Monday...
... because state officials "didn't want to detract" from a surf competition taking place nearby.
One of the competitors? Malibu City Councilman Skylar Peak, a longtime surfer who the Times says requested that the bulldozers hold off so the competition could have its day in the sun.
But Andy Lyon, a Malibu Lagoon rabble rouser (and somewhat of a storied local surfer himself), is convinced the state's postponement was actually to dodge the scheduled protest, which attracted tons of media attention, and to make last-minute changes to a flawed drainage plan.
"They've abandoned that plan now in the eleventh hour and ... are making a new plan," Lyon tells the Times.
The project is one of those ironic endeavors to save the environment by destroying and rebuilding it -- and has become a No. 1 target for Mother Nature's advocates in L.A., including Heal the Bay and the Democratic Party.
Malibu City Manager Jim Thorsen (who was highly involved in approving the project) confirms to LA Weekly that California State Parks "did not want to interrupt that contest," and will instead "begin in earnest sometime next week."
So protesters now have no idea what date or time to come throw themselves in front of the bulldozers. Clever clever!
But state and city officials could have come up with a little better excuse. The charity surf event -- called Pat Notaro Day, currently in its 12th year -- won't begin until tomorrow at 10 a.m.
It's perfectly understandable if event organizers didn't want any construction chaos going on at all during the surf contest, hosted in the killer waves right off the lagoon (see map above). But it's been planned for months. Why did public officials wait until this morning to announce that the super-contentious lagoon makeover wouldn't start until, oh, sometime next week?
[Update: According to the Times, the drainage plan has indeed been altered from the one that was originally approved by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board. It may need to be re-assessed before construction can go forward. Scandalous!]
We've contacted California State Parks and other protesters for their version of events. To get an idea of how much people care about this thing, here's a brief message from toe-headed surfer kids and hot chicks in bikinis:
Update: Craig Saps, the state parks head who spoke with the Times, calls us back to clarify that construction was only postponed so as not to interfere with the surf contest.
A couple weeks back, Saps explains, he met with Councilman Peak, who asked him if there was any way to hold off on the lagoon restoration. He thought it might "detract" from his event.
After getting the OK from the construction company, Saps agreed. But after the meeting, he says, Peak "took off for Indonesia," and never returned the state official's emails to confirm.
"It was on him to say, 'Hey, we've agreed," says Saps today. "I was kind of hoping he would make the announcement. I don't want to make an announcement on his account. The ball was kind of in his court."
Still, over the last week, Saps says he let the news "leak" to the Malibu Times and the Malibu Surfside News -- as well as giving it to the L.A. Times this morning.
Anyway, the parks official is more keen on clarifying that the delay has nothing to do with "any technical issues related to any permits."
Although the drainage plan has been tweaked to account for changing conditions in the lagoon, Saps is confident that the changes are "within the perameters of the permit" that was already issued.
"I've been told that there's nothing that would even raise an alarm with any regulatory agency," he says.
However, every sheet of paper that's ever had anything to do with this project has raised an alarm with protesters, so you can count on them to pick up the pitchforks again next week.
Saps warns that the first stages of construction will involve putting up fencing and making sure everyone within the giant zone is following Cal/OSHA rules like wearing hard hats and vests. "Anybody that enters in there needs to be authorized," he says.
What do you say, Malibu? Any brave souls still willing to block a bulldozer?