Mark Gold writes: The fight to preserve the Santa Monica Mountains has gone on for more than four decades, championed by former congressman Anthony Bielenson, the author of the 1978 law that created the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, and the late Marvin Braude, a conservation stalwart on the LA City Council for 32 years. Now we can add another name to that political honor roll: LA county supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.
Along the way, there have been numerous land acquisition success stories including Ahmanson Ranch, Lower Topanga Creek, King Gillette Ranch, Corral Canyon, Cheeseboro Canyon, and many others. Today, 35 million people a year escape urban Los Angeles to enjoy nature in the Santa Monicas. But despite the successful fights for land conservation, the environment in parts of the Santa Monicas has continued to degrade, most notably in a large portion of the Malibu Creek watershed. Much of the watershed is listed as degraded by the Environmental Protection Agency and the state of California because of nutrients, eutrophication (too much algae, low dissolved oxygen, etc.) sedimentation, fecal indicator bacteria, and loss of stream biodiversity. As a result, the state and EPA have approved water quality requirements to clean up the watershed and restore aquatic life and recreational opportunities. Clearly, land preservation has not been enough.
On April 10th in Santa Barbara, the California Coastal Commission unanimously approved a proposed Land Use Plan (LUP) amendment to the Local Coastal Program (LCP) to protect approximately 80 square miles of the Santa Monicas in the coastal zone. This effort was nearly a decade in the making and was spearheaded by LA county supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and his staff. The LCP was an example of how local and state government and the public are supposed to work together. Coastal commission staff and the commissioners were instrumental in making the LUP even more protective of local coastal watersheds. In the end, the plan was strongly supported by the county, affected cities, the environmental community, state and national parks agencies, and local homeowners associations and communities.
Of course no plan will make everyone happy. Lobbyists for the proliferating wine industry opposed the moratorium on future vineyards. Hillside vineyards have spread wildly in the Santa Monicas over the last decade. With growing sedimentation and erosion problems, as well as nutrient pollution concerns, the coastal commission decided to draw the line on future viticulture. Also, some horse owners opposed the LCP because of requirements to reduce pollution that stables contribute to local creeks and streams. However, the commission offered equestrians enforcement amnesty while they bring their corrals and stables into compliance with the LCP.
Riparian corridors and streams, oak and walnut woodlands, native grasslands, dunes, and wetlands are given the most protection under the plan. Together, these make up over 10,000 acres of habitat (20 percent of the plan area), which can only be developed for resource dependent uses and public works projects. Other highlights in the LCP include: a 100-foot building setback from all creeks and streams (some buildings and stables are directly adjacent to streams); a ban on blood thinning rodenticides that have wreaked havoc on mammalian wildlife; detailed maps of environmentally sensitive habitats in the Santa Monicas with various levels of protection; numerous best management requirements for pollutant sources from new development, some existing development, and horse stables; mitigation requirements for when environmentally sensitive habitat areas are lost or degraded; septic system leach field setbacks of 100 feet; dark skies requirements to reduce light pollution; and much more.
Together, the elements in the LUP provide the land use protections necessary to protect the land, wildlife, and aquatic resources of the Santa Monicas for decades to come. When the corresponding local implementation plan--which will provide more specific requirements such as which best management practices are required when and where--is approved by the coastal commission this summer, the county will have the ability to make land use decisions in the coastal zone of the Santa Monicas without getting approval from the California Coastal Commission.
And with that, Zev Yaroslavsky will have capped an impressive supervisorial career as an elected leader with a conservation and stewardship record on the Santa Monicas comparable to Bielenson and Braude.
Photo of Malibu Creek by Richard Austin Obenchain.