Monday, March 31, 2014

Fool's Paradise

A nuclear power plant in geologically unstable, fire-prone Corral Canyon? What could possibly go wrong? The caption for this 1965 Los Angeles Times photo reads: "Three members of the Atomic Energy Commission inspecting the site of proposed nuclear power plant in Malibu." I wish I could say the image is an April Fools joke, but it's not, it's taken unaltered from the UCLA Library Digital Collections
There's a certain kind of person who can't see a mountain or a canyon without wanting to flatten it or fill it and build Hilltop Luxury Homes or Canyon View County Clubs. Perhaps the thought of undeveloped land fills them with a sort of horror vacui. It certainly seems to kindle an overwhelming lust for profit in some people. But then there's another kind of project, the civil engineering programs that are vast in scale and have the power to entirely rearrange the landscape, rarely to the benefit of the environment.

Anyone who has lived in Malibu—or anywhere in California—for any length of time knows about both kinds of scourge. We're fortunate, because Malibu has also had passionate defenders willing to fight to preserve at least some of what makes this place special.

Many of the biggest—and craziest—Malibu terraforming development projects of the 20th century never happened, thanks in part to community opposition. From a 21st century perspective, most of those plans look completely lunatic, but somebody thought they were a good idea at the time. In honor of the Feast of Fools, we'll take a look at some of the more outré proposals.

Los Angeles County's nuclear power plant plant is part of local legend. In 1963, the Department of Water and Power proposed a San Onofre-type nuclear power plant on 305 acres at the heart of the Corral Canyon. Media reports from the time describe it as "the largest atomic plant ever [to be] built," and detail plans to pump seawater under Pacific Coast Highway to cool the reactors, and back out to sea half a mile offshore.

The proposed Corral Canyon nuclear power plant would have required massive amounts of seawater pumped from the ocean under PCH right here at Corral Beach and back out to sea. Photo © 2014 S. Guldimann
Unsurprisingly, the plan touched off a chain-reaction of opposition. In 1970, after a losing a savage fight with environmental activists and residents, and after a number of doom-filled geologic reports that warned of potential landslides and earthquake faults, the DWP quietly dropped the plan. Concrete foundations at the site reportedly belonged to an early, failed attempt to build a facility to breed and slaughter foxes for the fur trade, and have nothing to do with the DWP's nuclear experiment, despite persistent rumors.

Today, the photo shown at the start of the post is just about the only visual evidence, but the DWP plan left a lasting legacy in that it was a wake-up call.  A number of the activists who united to fight the nuclear plant would continue the battle to preserve the Santa Monica Mountains as a National Park.

The Corral Canyon nuclear power plant site would be at the center of another battle in the 1990s, when comedian and real estate tycoon Bob Hope sought to fill the canyon and build a private resort  with an 18-hole golf course, two restaurants, six tennis courts, and 69 "luxury" estates. The plan called for five million cubic yards of grading. At the same time, L.A. County was pushing hard for a country club at what is now Charmlee Wilderness Park. Today, the view from the top of Corral Canyon contains neither golf course nor nuclear reactor and still looks much the way it might have appeared to the Chumash who were the canyon's first residents. Photo © 2014 S. Guldimann
A Los Angeles Times article from December 9, 1990, states: "[Opponents] are especially upset by plans to move 5 million cubic yards of dirt on the property and fill in an entire canyon...But developer Sidney McClue Jr. of La Jolla-based Sun Pacific Properties last week told the supervisors at a public hearing that 'state-of-the-art' procedures would ensure that construction did not damage the ecologically delicate area." 
That was suppose to make it all magically OK.
"'Our desire was the best possible development, McClue said. 'Our concern was to address every issue. . . . We are not establishing any new procedures or cause for concern.'" 
He just said they had new "state-of-the-art" procedures, but he also isn't "establishing any new procedures." I'm reminded of the famous Sidney Harris cartoon:

Developers often seem to have a lot a faith in imaginary engineering.  The City of Malibu's current sewer plan for the Malibu Civic Center comes to mind. It also appears to operate on magical state-of-the-art technology that, like the action in superhero movies, isn't affected by the laws of physics.
The Santa Monica Causeway, another mad plan from the 1960s was another project that seemed oblivious to the laws of physics and the natural world. According to a 2008 Santa Monica City Landmark Report, "In May 1958, The Los Angeles Times reported on a bold proposal that Mr. John Drescher was preparing for the California Highway Commission. Mr. Drescher, a local engineer, had developed a plan to construct a causeway off the coast of Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades in order to relieve coastal traffic pressures. Mr. Drescher argued that his proposal, at an estimated cost of approximately $15 million, was more economical than purchasing land to expand the existing coastal highway. In addition, an offshore causeway would increase beachfront property values, serve as a breakwater for new harbor development, and create a beachfront on the causeway’s ocean side."

The Santa Monica Causeway, first proposed in 1958, would have stretched from Santa Monica to Malibu on a series of  islands made out of 100 million tons of rock and fill blasted out of the Santa Monica Mountains.

The causeway, including a 200-foot-wide freeway named the "Sunset Seaway," would have stretched from Santa Monica to Malibu along a series of manmade islands more than half a mile out to sea. Paula A. Scott, in her book Santa Monica: A History on the Edge, writes that the Army Corps of Engineers "declared the project 'technically feasible,'" in 1963. The same year the DWP came up with the Corral Canyon reactor plan.

Just what the Corps thought was "feasible" about Drescher's plan to blast large sections of the Santa Monica Mountains into rubble and ferry almost 100 million tons of stone and fill out to sea on a conveyor belt is hard to comprehend today. Everyone involved in the project seems to have been able to believe "six impossible things before breakfast," just like Lewis Carroll's White King.

Scott quotes Robert E. McClure, the man immortalized by the McClure tunnel, who reportedly described the project as "attractive and inoffensive."

Mark McCuigan researched and wrote a fascinating and in-depth account of the project for the Lookout News in 2003. It's available here. He writes, "For years the audacious scheme to create a chain of islands linked by a causeway lay dormant, hidden in a cardboard box in the vaults of City Hall. Before fading from memory, the ghost of this white elephant continued to stalk City Hall until the '70s, when a scale model of the project, sitting in the planning office, mysteriously disappeared."

The Causeway wasn't the first attempt to turn the Santa Monica Bay into a major harbor. Southern Pacific Railroad reportedly pressed for a seaport in Santa Monica Bay when the railroad arrived in Los Angeles. In 1893, the 4700-foot Long Wharf, billed as the "longest pier in the world," was constructed just north of Santa Monica. Freight trains traveled from downtown L.A. out to the end of the nearly mile-long pier to pick up cargo, but plans for a full-scale commercial harbor evaporated in 1897, when Congress chose San Pedro Bay to be the official deepwater port of Los Angeles. 

All that's left of the Port of Los Angeles Long Wharf is a sign near Temescal Canyon naming the site California historic landmark # 881 and some broken pylons that are a popular destination for divers.

The Long Wharf, also known as the Southern Pacific Mammoth Wharf and the Santa Monica Long Wharf (it was really in what is now Pacific Palisades), in 1916. That's Point Dume in the distance. has an incredible collection of Long Wharf photos online.

Closer to home, a developer named Edward B. Turner hatched a plan in 1946 to transform the Malibu Lagoon into a yacht harbor with berths for 500 yachts, a two-story concrete boat garage capable of storing 180 additional vessels, and a 60,000-square-foot clubhouse. the plan also called for 11 acres of dredging and a 4700-foot breakwater, which would have rendered the argument between State Parks and local surfers and conservation activists over lagoon restoration moot, since there would have been neither surf nor lagoon if the project had been constructed. 

State Parks' Malibu Lagoon Restoration's concrete and steel "amenities" are still a sore point for many Malibuites, but developer Edward Turner's 1946 plan to transform the lagoon into the Malibu Quarterdeck Club and Yacht Harbor—a smaller version of Marina Del Rey— would have radically altered the entire ecology of the area and eliminated the surf break at Surfrider. Here's an artist's rendering of the marina.
The overly optimistic Turner built a vast shed to house the heavy equipment he would need for the project and reportedly began work before receiving final approval. He met ferocious opposition. Project opponents included Rhoda Adamson, the daughter of Frederick Hastings Rindge and May Knight Rindge, and William Huber, who owned the Malibu Pier in the 1940s.

The fight continued for over a year. Turner won and began excavating the foundation for the clubhouse in September of 1947. He held a BBQ in the Malibu Colony in November, to celebrate the start of construction. Two weeks later he was found dead in the Colony home of friends. A heart attack was the official cause of death. Turner's stockholders were left to retrieve what they could of their uninvested capital.

Henry Gutman, president of the "Malibu Improvement Association," revived Turner's plan and enlarged upon it in 1966. Gutman, capitalizing on a concurrent plan to fill in Malibu Canyon and build a multi-lane freeway from the San Fernando Valley to the sea, planned a full-scale marina.

"The county has approved the idea of private financing for the harbor and the Federal Government has expressed interest in the project since being assured space within it for Coast Guard facilities," the 1966 Malibu Chamber of Commerce Guide enthused. "All that remains is the lease negotiations with the state, bilateral approval for the over-all project, and completion of the various stages of development leading up to the marina planned by the Improvement Corporation and the state."

The Chamber forgot that Mr Gutman also needed to convince Malibu's residents and self-appointed guardians that it was a good idea. He failed dismally. The fight over the marina and the proposed freeway that would have run an interstate through the middle of what is now the Malibu Civic Center and Legacy Park where two key parts of the chain of events that led to Malibu incorporation. 

The pre-restoration Malibu Lagoon, above, with an armada of birds, including a Brant's goose and several great egrets in the forground, and one of Larry Ellison's mega-yachts in the background—a reminder of what was once planned for this small patch of wetland habitat. Photo © 2014 S. Guldimann

The new lagoon, reconfigured and reconstructed by State Parks in their own terraforming project intended to "restore" the lagoon. Photo © 2014 S. Guldimann
It's clear in hindsight that the none of the proponents of the freeway, marina, causeway, or nuclear power plant ever bothered to look around and see what else was being planned. In the 1960s, the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission confidently estimated the population of Malibu would swell to almost 120,000 by 1980. In comparison, in 2010 Malibu had a population of 12,645. The planners and developers of the era envisioned a very different future from the one most people who actually lived in Malibu desired and what the terrain could accommodate without massive human reengineering projects.

It's easy to look back and proclaim the abandoned mega-projects of the past as barking mad, but we're still fighting some of the same battles. Some projects just won't die. They rise like tiresome and indestructible movie zombies, bent on devouring brains, no matter how illogical they seem. The City of Malibu has rolled over and given in at last to to the sewers that earlier Malibu activists fought so hard to keep out. The hotel project that was fiercely opposed by the proponents for Malibu cityhood is back again in a new form that is just as unwelcome to the majority of residents as the plan from the 1970s. 

I wonder what projects the next generation will be shaking their heads over in another 50 years. I hope that Malibu's future guardians will have the courage to stand up against tomorrow's half-baked projects. Maybe we will have learned our lessons by then about coexisting with nature. The problem is, we don't always realize the magnitude of the loss until it is too late. 

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the Eyes of others only a Green thing that stands in the way. Some see Nature all Ridicule and Deformity, and by these I shall not regulate my proportions; and some scarce see Nature at all. But to the Eyes of the Man of Imagination, Nature is Imagination itself. As a man is, So he Sees. As the Eye is formed, such are its Powers.

—William Blake

Suzanne Guldimann
1 April 2014

There's still an abundance of solitude and wildness in the Santa Monica Mountains. On the day I took this photo in Tuna Canyon, I watched a red-tailed hawk glide past just feet below me. I felt as if I too was soaring. It feels entirely removed from the world here, and from all the world's problems, but that's an illusion. This view is still here because activists had the vision and the determination to meet the challenges of preservation head-on. Developers planned to build 100 "estate homes" here. The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy acquired the 1256-acre property in 2002. There are more battles still to be fought and won. Photo © 2014 S. Guldimann 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Rodenticide Update

 Ground squirrels like this one are frequent targets of anti-coagulant rodenticide poison. Since coyotes and bob cats depend heavily on ground squirrels for food, the poison quickly spreads into the wildlife food chain. This squirrel has it good, it may end up one day as a snack for a coyote but it won't be poisoned and slowly bleed to death because it's a Malibu Bluffs Park squirrel and the city has agreed to use only non-toxic pest control measures. Photo © 2014 S. Guldimann

Last week, the California Department of Pesticide Control officially banned consumer use of all second generation anticoagulant rodent poison. Here's a link to the official announcement on the ban from Poison Free Malibu, a group of Malibu environmental activists who have led the charge in Malibu and our neighboring communities to get the most toxic rat poisons off the shelf and out of parks and public spaces:
California just banned consumer use of second generation anticoagulant rodent (SGARs) poisons, starting on July 1. 
These are the modern supertoxic rodent poisons that are spreading throughout the ecosystem causing massive exposure, disease, and death beyond the intended rodent targets. Scientific studies tell us that rodent poisons are a leading cause of death among carnivores, and also endanger our children and pets. The horrendous statistics are at the 90% level for the percentage of coyotes, bobcats, hawks, owls, mountain lions and others affected by the SGARs. You can see more details including newspaper articles and technical documents at

This is a major step by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation that many of us had been hoping for. It will accomplish a lot, but also leave a major gap remaining.
That gap includes potential over-use by commercial pesticide companies and the concern that pesticide manufacturers will fill shelves with other dangerous rat poisons, such as strychnine—a murder mystery staple in the era before it was replaced with slow-acting poisons like the anti-coagulants.

 Still, wildlife proponents are hopeful that the ban will begin to reduce the levels of rodenticide in the environment and help keep sensitive species like the mountain lion and bob cat from slipping into extinction. There is also the hope that the rest of the nation will follow California's lead, and that anti-coagulant rodenticides will eventually be banned everywhere.

There's a pattern here that mirrors the use of DDT in the 1940s and '50s. DDT was a highly effective pesticide—at least at first. Overzealous use led to resistant insects and then to the near extinction of numerous species of wildlife in the U.S., including the bald eagle and the California Brown Pelican.

The California brown pelican made a comeback after DDT was banned in the 1970s. But the bald eagle, while it recovered elsewhere, never returned to Malibu. We're at the tipping point in the Santa Monica Mountains with the survival of our apex predators—mountain lions, bob cats, coyotes, and even hawks, and owls. 
I remember a time before the pelican population rebounded. Seeing one was a rare treat. Today, it's a a thrill to watch a flight of pelicans soaring overhead. For me, it's always reminder of how close we came to losing them forever and how wonderful it is to have such a magnificent success story during a time when environmental news is so often dire.

Although it's been banned in the US since 1973, it's still a persistent organic pollutant. Numerous studies connect it to human health problems ranging from thyroid disfunction to liver cancer. Ironically, the chemical's inventor, Swiss chemist Paul Hermann Müller, received a Nobel Prize for his discovery.

DDT was manufactured by the ton right here in Southern California. The Montrose Chemical Corporation in Torrance discharged millions of gallons of DDT waste into the Santa Monica Bay at Palos Verdes from 1947-1983.

A vintage ad for the pesticide DDT, complete with singing cow. DDT was spread on everything from the family dog to immigrants arriving in this country. Chemical manufactures warned that the world would end and we would all be devoured by insects if the pesticide was banned. It hasn't happened yet. Scientists raised concerns as early as the 1940s, but it look 30 years to ban DDT in the US and there are still apologists who would like to bring it back, despite the documented ecological toll.

Malibu activist Kian Schulman, who worked to get anticoagulant rodenticides off the shelves of Malibu stores last year and ended up buying the remaining stock in at least two instances, told me about her experiences trying to safely dispose of the poison. It was too toxic for the quarterly hazardous household waste collection event, she said. They wouldn't have anything to do with it. In the end, she had to transport the pesticide to a specific toxic waste facility.

D-con is the major manufacturer of consumer-marketed anticoagulant rodenticide. The statement on the package" "first dead mice appearing 4-5 days after feeding begins" is a major part of the problem. Rodents ingest the poison and then wander away to bleed to death slowly. They become easy targets for wildlife like coyotes and bobcats—and for domestic cats and dogs, and cause lethal secondary poisoning.
An astonishing number of pesticides that are legal and still in use were developed as chemical weapons during WW I and II. It seems insane that in the 21st century we are still waging chemical war against wildlife. The ban on DDT took courage. The chemical manufacturer's lobby is one of the most powerful in the world—just look at Monsanto. I hope California's ban on consumer access to the most detrimental rat poisons is another step away from our chemical dependence.

The Malibu Post took a look at the impact of anticoagulant rodenticides on wildlife in the March 7 post. I also wrote about the issue for last week's Malibu Surfside News.

Suzanne Guldimann
26 March 2014
California will be a little safer for wildlife species that depend on rodents for food, like this white-tailed kite, a bird that already had a near brush with extinction in the early 20th century. © S. Guldimann

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Persephone's Return

The pomegranate's crimson flower is one of the first signs of spring in many Malibu gardens, which is appropriate, since it has a long and mystical connection with Persephone, the Greek goddess of spring, who in Greek mythology was bound eternally to the Underworld for the months of winter after eating a seed from the pomegranate offered to her by Hades. Photo © 2014 S. Guldimann

The vernal equinox officially occurred on Friday. Persephone, the flighty Greek goddess of spring, tarried in the Underworld this year. However, Spring, late even in Southern California where drought, not snow, tempered her arrival, is here at last. In the Santa Monica Mountains, annual flowers like lupin and California poppies have just beginning to spring up in the aftermath of our one big March rainstorm. 

In the garden, everything seems to be rushing to make up for lost time. The first thing one hears stepping out of the back door is the buzzing of honey bees so loud it sounds like live electricity. They are drawn to the thicket of wild pear saplings that are covered with white blossoms. The thicket is really rootstock run wild after the ornamental pear tree grafted onto it died. It's much tougher and more drought tolerant than the original tree. It also blooms spectacularly in the spring, produces a crop of tiny bitter fruit in the fall that are eaten by the wild birds, and ends the year in a blaze of crimson leaves. The bees aren't the only ones who have come to love it.

A domestic honey bee gathers nectar from the blossoms of the wild pear tree in the garden.  We've been seeing more honey bees lately, most likely due to revived interest in backyard beekeeping in the neighborhood.  Photo © 2014 S.Guldimann
A tiny syrphid fly pollinates a lavender flower. These elegant little native pollinators are also known as flower flies or hover flies. Photo © 2014 S.Guldimann
Most of the winter migrants have moved on, even the robins, but the dark-eyed junco is still here. I can hear its whistling song and geiger counter-like ticking, alternating with mad splashing from the birdbath, as I type this. Most of the local birds are busy building nests. 

I anticipate the loud, insatiable shrieks from baby crows and conure parrot hatchlings any day now—both species are nesting in the neighbor's eucalyptus trees again this year. The great horned owls are back, too. All three species nest early and are already raising their young by the time most of the songbirds are nesting.

The dark-eyed junco prepares to take a bath. Photo © 2014 S.Guldimann
Bathing is a serious business for this energetic winter bird. Photo © 2014 S.Guldimann
The spotted towhee is another early bird. Its rusty squeak and high-pitched song is part of the spring soundtrack in the garden. You can hear it here.

Spotted towhees are ground nesters and will sometimes take advantage of manmade items like upended pots or abandoned construction materials to shelter their nests. I'm always careful this time of year about picking things up in the garden. I once found a nest under a fallen trash can lid, and another in an overturned bucket. 

A spotted towhee forages for breakfast using his claws to dig up grubs and other tasty morsels, including the bulbs of the invasive oxalis plant, which seem to be a towhee delicacy. This bird's bright coloring and fearless nature makes it a favorite garden resident. Photo © 2014 S.Guldimann
This spotted towhee nest was constructed under an old plastic trash can lid. It appears to be made mostly out of palm tree fibers and grass, but it's held together with thick, sticky black widow spider webs, and is lined with a warm, insulating layer of dog fur. I suspect humans could learn a lot from the towhee about the art of building with recycled materials. Photo © 2014 S.Guldimann

Here's another backyard character who is busy building a nest. The Western scrub jays have set up shop in the center of an old bougainvillea vine this year. They weren't thrilled when the paparazzi showed up with a camera. I was told to leave, in no uncertain terms. Scrub jays are members of the crow family, and like their larger cousins, they're intelligent and have good memories. Ours know just where the squirrels stashed their autumn supplies. We often see them snacking on stolen acorns long after acorn season is over.  Photo © 2014 S. Guldimann 
Here's the rightful owner of the acorns. The fox squirrels aren't nesting here this year (perhaps the great horned owls are a little too close for comfort?) but they come to eat pinecones and play tag in our liquidambar trees. Photo © 2014 S.Guldimann
The liquidambar trees are one of the most dramatic manifestations of spring in the garden. They've gone from bare branches to an explosion of chartreuse leaves and rusty flower catkins almost overnight. Photo © 2014 S.Guldimann

Spring green is always transient in Southern California. It's arrived later than ever this year and will fade faster than usual, unless more rain arrives soon. All the more reason to seize the day and spend the rest of it in the garden, or in the hills, or on the beach, celebrating the presence—however fleeting—of Persephone.

Suzanne Guldimann
21 March 2014

A little madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King,
But God be with the clown—
Who ponders this tremendous scene—
This whole Experiment of Green—
As if it were his own!

—Emily Dickinson

Friday, March 14, 2014

Put It to the Vote

A young surfer contemplates the surf at Big Dume Cove. For most people who love this 23-mile-long stretch of mountains and shoreline, this is the "real" Malibu, the one worth fighting for and protecting. © 2014 S. Guldimann

Malibu is a unique land and marine environment and residential community whose citizens have historically evidenced a commitment to sacrifice urban and suburban conveniences in order to protect that environment and lifestyle, and to preserve unaltered natural resources and rural characteristics. The people of Malibu are a responsible custodian of the area’s natural resources for present and future generations.

—General Plan Vision Statement for the City of Malibu

Malibu was buzzing this week with the news that Malibu residents and political activists Rob and Michelle Reiner, working with the Preserve Malibu Coalition, have formed an organization called Save Malibu and submitted a ballot initiative to curb commercial development and expansion in Malibu. 

 “We filed the ‘Your Malibu, Your Decision Act’ because that [small-town] character stands to be destroyed by massive new commercial developments – developments that we think the voters of Malibu should have the power to approve or reject,” Michele Reiner said in a statement to the media.

The “Your Malibu, Your Decision Act” includes a 30-percent limit on the maximum number of chain stores in each Malibu-area shopping center and would require a citywide referendum on any development in excess of 20,000 square feet. Current chain stores would be grandfathered, but would require a conditional use permit if they seek to expand or relocate. Save Malibu is seeking to place the initiative on the November ballot.

An early real estate brochure boasts: "The entire beach property has been carefully, but moderately restricted. Necessary business units will be conveniently, but not conspicuously located." Many Malibuites would still like to keep it that way.
“Previously, the proposed ordinance (which the city council had stalled around on, practically studying it to death) was overwhelmingly opposed by most of the commercial landowners, who threatened all sorts of litigation if the ordinance was enacted,” Arnold York, publisher of the Malibu Times, wrote in an editorial this week.

“Well, the commercial landowners and developers may have overplayed their hand a bit because there is a new group who have just presented to the city a very thorough ordinance, obviously drafted by professionals and seemingly legally vetted, which means there is some significant money and expertise behind the push,” York wrote.

“It’s clear this is going to be a battle for the heart and soul of Malibu, and it’s going to be played out at the polls this November," he concluded.

More than one million square feet of development are reportedly planned for the Civic Center area of Malibu. So are the sewers early Malibu activists fought so hard to prevent. Contemporary activists, tired of delays and prevarication, say it's time Malibu residents to take an active hand in their own fate, instead of letting developers preach the gospel of   postmodern manifest destiny. © 2014 S. Guldimann

The “Your Malibu, Your Decision Act” contains two components. Under the first, all major shopping center development and commercial or mixed use construction over 20,000 square feet would require a citywide vote. This would include all future projects that do not already have permits. The second component would place a 30 percent limit on the number of chain stores permitted to operate in Malibu shopping centers.

It’s not the first time Malibu residents have been driven to the polls to enact change. Mostly, Malibuites like to be left alone. That’s why most people live here, the real, 4000-5000 year-round residents, not the other 8000 who have second (or third or fourth) homes here for weekends, or property for investment. For the “real” residents, it’s simply worth the inconvenience of bad roads and periodic natural disasters for the pleasure of living near mountains, ocean, wildlife, quiet.

"Your front yard is the Pacific Ocean." This ad from the early 1930s still sums up the real appeal of Malibu.

It takes something major to shake most residents out of their self-imposed isolation. Measure M, which involved development on what is now Legacy Park, was one occasion. Cityhood was another. In fact, it’s ironic that the announcement of the formula retail ordinance initiative came just weeks before the city’s 23rd birthday on March 28.

It took three tries to pass the Malibu cityhood initiative: in 1964, 895 yes votes were defeated by 1,161 noes. In 1976, there were 3498 yeas, and 3,681 no votes. Finally, in 1990, Measure Y passed with 4,682 yeas, 892 nays. A judge had to order the county to permit the third election to take place.

My parents moved here in 1969. They joined the fight to pass the Coastal Act and create the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, worked to save the Point Dume Headlands, and my dad was active in the battles to prevent sewers, get truck traffic off PCH, and stop plans for off-shore oil drilling platforms and a six-lane freeway in Malibu Canyon. They just missed the fight over the nuclear power plant in Corral Canyon.

Some of my earliest memories are of packed living room meetings, thick with cigarette smoke—local activist Faye Hove was a chain smoker. So was Dotty Linke, who used to take notes using shorthand, all loops and hooks and completely indecipherable now. My mom, who wasn't a public speaker, would help my dad with speeches or letters on weekends and in the evening, the table in the dining room covered with papers.

An artist's rendering of the six-lane freeway proposed for Malibu Canyon that helped convince many Malibu residents that it was time to part company with the county. 
For my dad and many other activists, cityhood was the ultimate goal, the best way for the beach and the mountains to be protected from the massive development desired by the county. Everyone worked together. People piled into buses to protest at downtown meetings. They didn't give up during months and years of endless, repetitive, frustrating, boring bureaucracy and sometimes deliberate obfuscation. My dad used to call "wheel spinning." 

It was a brutal, uphill struggle against a Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors determined to bend Malibu to their will, backed by a powerful lobby of developers armed with seemingly unlimited financial resources and influence, but despite the odds, the fight was finally won in 1990.

Supervisor Deane Dana is on record in 1989 recommending that the board continue to attempt to "bury and delay the process." More than half of Malibu was astonished to find that Dana and Supervisor Pete Schabarum didn't actually have horns and a forked tails, not that anyone could see, at least.

"There is no other city that was ever formed that had such a burden," Supervisor Kenneth Hahn said in December of 1989. "I've never heard of or seen such confusion."

An editorial on KNX Radio in March 1990 recommend that the county, "Stop trying to foil the Malibu cityhood effort. You've had your day in court. It's time Malibu had its day at the polls."

Suporters of the Malibu Cityhood Initiative gather on the corner of Webb Way and PCH to urge passers-by to vote yes on Measure Y in this Malibu Times photo reproduced in the City of Malibu's Independence Day Commemorative Journal, March 28,1991.

"Hooray for Malibu, Mayor Walt and all of the people who have worked so hard to make cityhood happen," wrote Ann Cornelia Andes-Dixon in the 1991 Malibu Cityhood commemorative program. "My children and I have been involved in this fight for 23 years, I'm so glad to be here to see the dream come true. Happy Birthday, Malibu!" 

Another 23 years later, Ann Cornelia's daughter Dru Ann signed the "Your Malibu, Your Decision Act," along with the Reiners and longtime Malibu activist Carol Moss.

The "Your Malibu, Your Decision Act" is currently being reviewed by the city. It will then need to garner enough signatures to place it on the November ballot. Whether it passes will be up to the people of Malibu. It doesn't require divination skills to foresee the developers attempting to blitz the initiative with negative advertising or trying to put together a poison pill initiative to neutralize it.

Fortunately for Malibu, protections were built into the first development plans when the ranch went on the block in 1940 and no amount of greed and grandiose plans have ever been able to entirely undermine them.

Here's an excerpt from an Evening Outlook article, dated December 7, 1940:

Plans for converting the historic Malibu Ranch into a private empire for business leaders of Southern California were being mapped out today by Louis T. Busch, past president of the Santa Monica Bay District Realty Board, following his appointment this week as general sales agent for the Marblehead Land Co. With 17,000 acres of land to sell, and 23 miles of ocean frontage thrown in for good measure, Busch confirmed reports that he is building up a sales organization that will strive to develop the rolling hills of the Rindge property to their best and highest use.
“This is going to be one of the greatest real estate developments ever launched in the Western United States,” Bush [sic] declared. “We have some of the finest real estate in Southern California, and our contract with the Marblehead Land Co. permits us to liquidate the entire property, offering everything from ocean front lots with sandy beach to golf courses, hotel sites and 640 acre ranches.”
“The announcement is of particular interest to the business men of Santa Monica because our sales program provides that the residential character of the entire ranch is to be maintained strictly with the exception of two small neighborhood service centers…”
Two small neighborhood service centers, not destination shopping centers, or high density chain store mega malls, but something in keeping with residential character. Is that something the majority of Malibuites still think is worth fighting for? We'll find out.

Suzanne Guldimann
14 March 2014
This is the Malibu Civic Center seen from a half-mile off shore. The mountains help put everything in perspective and serve as a reminder that Malibu is a key part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area—a National Park that, in its own way, is just as valid and worthy of preservation as Yosemite, or Acadia, and that we are stewards of unique and irreplaceable natural resources. © 2014 S. Guldimann

Friday, March 7, 2014

Strong Poison

Please don't poison us! These great horned owl chicks were rescued by the California Wildlife Center and had a second chance at life, but all kinds of wildlife in the Santa Monica Mountains—including owls like these, are increasingly the victims of secondary poisoning from the use of anti-coagulent rodenticides—rat poison. © 2014 S. Guldimann

O, I fear you are poisoned, Lord Randal, my son!
I fear your are poisoned, my handsome young man.
O, yes, I am poisoned, mother, make my bed soon,
For I'm sick at the heart, and I fain would lie down.

—Lord Randall, English traditional ballad

If the wild animals of Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains could sing ballads, "Lord Randall," a classic tale of death by poison, might be their rallying anthem, but since they can't human activists are rallying to be their voice and work for change.

Anticoagulant rat poison kills more than rodents in the Santa Monica Mountains. Among the documented victims of inadvertent poisoning are mountain lions, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, owls, weasels, opossums, hawks, snakes, as well as native non-pest rodent species and domestic cats and dogs, but there’s a growing move to stop the carnage and replace unsustainable poison use with wildlife friendly alternatives.

Many species impacted by rodenticide die as a result of direct poisoning, but according to National Park Service research, rat poison is a slow and painful death sentence for some species, including bob cats and coyotes.

"I can't say it strongly enough, never, ever use poison to control wildlife. Secondary rodenticide toxicity, and sarcoptic mange [caused by poisoning] is a huge problem right now,” California Wildlife Center Executive Director Cindy Reyes said, at 2010 presentation that I reported on for the Malibu Surfside News. “We are seeing huge levels of toxins in the system. Owls, hawks, bobcats, all come in with poison symptoms. Rat poison is not a good option." 

Here's a Malibu coyote infected with mange. I photographed her on Cross Creek Road in the Serra Retreat last week. She was still on her feet, but seemed weak and dazed. The California Wildlife Center said they can't help in a case like this unless the animal is brought to them. They recommended that I call animal control. However, animal control will only respond to a downed coyote, and their response is usually euthanasia, although in some cases they will work with animal rescue organizations.  © 2014 S. Guldimann
Here's a healthy male coyote with a beautiful bushy tail for comparison. We're lucky that the poison and mange epidemic doesn't seem to have spread to the west end of Malibu, not yet. © 2014 S. Guldimann

Since then, the tide has begun to change. In Malibu, a campaign started by members of the Agricultural Society called Poison-Free Malibu/Santa Monica Mountains, with support from across the community, led to the city passing an anti-pesticide resolution (only the State of California can pass a ban). Predictably, the only ones protesting were the pest control industry. 

A local organization called the Earth Friendly Management Team has added its voice to the fight and is working with neighboring communities to raise rodenticide awareness and change rodenticide and herbicide use policies.

There are still hold-outs in Malibu. Residential pest control companies are doing a brisk business in residential areas. Most of Malibu’s commercial shopping centers continue to use rodenticide bait. One of the worst offenders is Malibu High School, which has repeatedly carpeted the upper playing fields with rodenticides to kill the local ground squirrel and gopher population. But thanks to the Poison Free volunteers, the most dangerous rodenticides are off the shelves in all Malibu shops.

In rural Malibu, the most often encountered rat is our old friend the dusky footed wood rat that I wrote about in November here on the Malibu Post. Wood rats are native wildlife, they are not remotely frightening, and unlikely to carry any kind of disease that is dangerous to humans, although they are vectors for fleas.  Rattus rattus, the common wild black rat, also shows up in some Malibu neighborhoods. It's not a native and is one of the most successful and common animals on earth. I once watched one leisurely waddle across a rafter at Alice's Restaurant on the pier—it certainly added a nautical feel to the place but wasn't exactly the kind of dinner guest one usually prefers. Excluding rodents like these by closing off openings into attics, crawl spaces and outbuildings can keep human-rat confrontations to a minimum. © 2014 S. Guldimann

This, bright-eyed, sleek and shiny pocket gopher is probably rodent public enemy number one in Malibu. It has a genius for transforming gardens overnight into miniature scenes of WW I trench warfare and has a passion for everything humans like to grow. Raised beds lined with heavy-duty mesh are the best way to keep gophers out of vegetable gardens and flower beds. Encouraging owls and hawks to frequent the garden can also help. Traps are the only safe option when all other remedies fail. Coyotes and bob cats also hunt gophers, so do domestic dogs and cats. Gopher poison is probably one of the most common ways rodenticides end up poisoning other species in the Santa Monica Mountains. Its use on the burgeoning vineyards has spread rodenticide into vast swaths of the mountains that used to be pesticide free. © 2014 S. Guldimann
The recently finalized Land Use Plan for the part of Malibu that is in unincorporated Los Angeles County also takes a stand on rodenticides and herbicides.

“The use of insecticides, herbicides, anti-coagulant rodenticides or any toxic chemical substance which has the potential to significantly degrade biological resources in the Santa Monica Mountains, shall be prohibited, except where necessary to protect or enhance the habitat itself, such as for eradication of invasive plant species or habitat restoration, and where there are no feasible alternatives that would result in fewer adverse effects to the habitat value of the site," the final draft of the document states.

“Work toward a poison free Santa Monica Mountains by exploring the feasibility of eliminating the use of all rodenticides at the soonest practicable date, and identify and promote rodent control methods that do not involve the use of poisons.”

An astonishing range of wildlife is being impacted by rodenticide. Owls and hawks are the most frequent bird victims but turkey vultures—part of the local garbage crew—depend on carrion and can easily ingest rodenticide. © 2014 S. Guldimann

On September 11, 2013, the Calabasas City Council also adopted a  resolution urging businesses in Calabasas to no longer use or sell anticoagulant rodenticides, and urging all property owners to cease purchasing or using anticoagulant rodenticides on their properties in Calabasas.

Malibu pesticide and water quality activist and Earth Friendly Management Team member Wendi Werner brought this event to my attention. I'm planning to be there and hope to see some of you there, too.

Calabasas is sponsoring a pet safe, wildlife safe, rodenticide awareness community meeting on On September 11, 2013, 6-8 p.m., at the Calabasas Public Library Founders Hall located at 200 Civic Center Way, Calabasas, CA 91302. It’s free and open to the public. 

NPS biologist Seth Riley will be there to talk about the impact of rodenticides on urban carnivores. He’ll be joined my members of Poison-Free Malibu/Santa Monica Mountains and Julie Elginer, Adjunct Professor at the UCLA School of Public Health.

This is one of the white-tailed kites that winter at Malibu Bluffs Park and are regularly seen perched at the top of the dead eucalyptus trees by the side of PCH. This raptor, which came close to extinction in the 20th century, has extensive federal protections but is reportedly a frequent victim of rodenticide poisoning because, like the barn owl, it depends primarily on mice, and frequently hunts near human activity, where rodenticide use is elevated. © 2014 S. Guldimann
Malibuites who are seeking safe options to rodenticide might consider building or buying an owl box and installing raptor poles in their gardens. Owl nest boxes can help provide incentive for owls to take up residence—this is owl nesting season, so it’s a perfect time to install a box. Just be aware that owls won’t hunt too close to their home base. Prefabricated nest boxes and directions for homemade versions are available from a variety of sources online.

Raptor poles—a simple t-shaped perch on a sturdy pole are good choice for open fields and hills where there aren’t trees or vantage points for hawks to perch. 

Mechanical snap traps are the most humane choice for eliminating rodents when all other options fail. 

Malibu's increasing rare native badger preys primarily on rodents and is another potential accidental victim of rat poison. The intrusion of vineyards into the Santa Monica Mountains backcountry is put badgers at risk of secondary rodenticide poisoning. © 2014 S. Guldimann

Rodentide was an issue that concerned Anne Soble, the former owner and publisher of the Malibu Surfside News, greatly. She devoted numerous "Publisher's Notebook" entries to the subject and we covered the issue extensively. Here's a 2010 article that I wrote about secondary poisoning in bob cats,  a 2011 article on the use of rodenticides at Malibu High School, and a 2012 article on the campaign to eliminate anticoagulant rodenticide from Malibu. I hope the new Surfside News will continue to highlight this issue. It's one that is important to many in the community.

One thing I learned while covering the issue is that change has to take place throughout the community.  Animals don't recognize human boundaries. Animals in our "poison free" backyards can easily be poisoned by neighbors who are not aware of the risk. We need to all work together on this campaign and get the word out to every one.

Suzanne Guldimann
The Malibu Post
This is Pippin, the Malibu Post's official LOL Cat. He's here to remind everyone that domestic cats and dogs and human children are also the victims of rodenticide poisoning. It's a slow painful death for rats, mice,  gophers, squirrels, coyotes, bob cats, owls, hawks, snakes, badgers, raccoons, opossums, cats and dogs. The list goes on and on, but it doesn't have to. It's something we can stop, if we all work together. © 2014 S. Guldimann