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Malibu Lagoon Bulldozers Halted by San Francisco Superior Court: Small Environmental Group Beats California Coastal Commission

Big victory for Wetlands Defense Fund, Access for All and attorneys James Birkelund and Rose M. Zoia, who convinced a San Francisco judge today to issue a preliminary injunction halting plans approved by the California Coastal Commission to essentially destroy much of Malibu Lagoon in order to rebuild it.

The controversy has split environmental advocates. Some insist that biologists and other scientists are capable of dredging and reshaping the beautiful lagoon to make it more natural and life-sustaining. Others say scientists are more likely to bungle things, ruining an oceanside treasure now teeming with life. Here's how the little guys beat the big guys:

According to an announcement by the Wetlands Defense Fund:

"In recognition of Malibu Lagoonʼs unique wildlife and irreplaceable public trails, the San Francisco Superior Court indicated this afternoon that a dredging plan to remake the lagoon will be subject to a stay order pending further review. The stay effectively halts the construction project, scheduled to begin June 1, 2011."

The lawsuit to halt dredging and heavy retooling of the lagoon was filed by the Wetlands Defense Fund, Access for All and Coastal Legal Enforcement Action Network (CLEAN.)

The injunction remains in effect probably until the court makes a final ruling on the merits of the group's lawsuit, which won't happen until later this year, the victorious environmentalists said on Friday.

Attorneys Birkelund and Zoia argued to the Judge Ernest H. Goldsmith in San Francisco that bulldozing the wetland area, filled with rich fauna and flora, "presents clear violations of Coastal Act and California Environmental Quality Act mandates to protect fragile wildlife and historic public trails."

The California Coastal Commission unanimously backed what it termed a restoration plan last October. The plan, created by the California State Parks and Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, was intended to provide water circulation and increase the size of the salt marsh by a few acres.

The government plan was backed by Heal the Bay and Santa Monica Baykeeper, two of the region's most influential environmental groups.

But they were unable to convince many Malibu residents and the Wetlands Defense Fund -- which is made up of several top environmental activists who successfully fought to save the Ballona Wetlands -- that the government's plan would not cause more harm than good.


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