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Beach Plan Stirs a Ruckus in Ventura County

VENTURA, Calif. (CN) - Ventura County sued the wealthy city of Moorpark and a Malibu beach abatement district, challenging their traffic plan to restore a beach by dumping 400,000 truckloads of sand on it over 20 years.

Ventura County and the City of Fillmore sued Moorpark and the Broad Beach Geologic Hazard Abatement District on April 1 in Superior Court. They claim the defendants' "traffic regulation agreement" violates the California Environmental Quality Act and that they "acted in excess of their constitutional and statutory authority in doing so."

It's a fight over traffic, and money.

The Broad Beach Geologic Hazard Abatement District (BBGHAD) is a political subdivision of the City of Malibu, formed for the express purpose of combating beach erosion at Broad Beach, which has accelerated in recent years, endangering the multimillion-dollar homes owned by Hollywood A-listers and corporate titans.

The $31 million restoration project, to be funded entirely by the owners of 212 parcels in the district, calls for 300,000 cubic yards of sand to be dumped on the mile-long beach every five years for 20 years.

The sand will be removed from an ancient marine deposit in Grimes Canyon, about 20 miles inland as a crow flies from Broad Beach. Grimes Canyon Road goes through Fillmore and Moorpark.

The 1.2 million cubic yards of sand will be hauled to Broad Beach, to restore it to its pre-1975 state, when a 100-foot-wide beach and a 60-foot wide sand dune system served as a buffer between the ocean and the houses.

Ventura County and Fillmore say Moorpark and the abatement district have no right to enforce their traffic regulation agreement.

"The city and the district are trying to change the normal flow of traffic on state highway," Ventura County Counsel Leroy Smith told Courthouse News. "They don't have the authority to do that."

The complaint states: "The Traffic Regulation Agreement constitutes an unlawful attempt by Moorpark and the District to enact a regional traffic regulatory program that prohibits the lawful use of state highways and other public roads by third parties, and that dictates the routes on state highways and other public roads that third parties must utilize to haul sand from the Beach Restoration Project."

Moorpark and the abatement have no right to do this, the county says, and their traffic plan is pre-empted by state law.

Moorpark and Malibu are extremely wealthy communities. Fillmore is not.

The median price of a home or condo in Malibu (pop. 12,900) was more than $1 million in 2013, almost three times the state median of $373,100, according to city-data.com. Malibu's median household income of $130,565 that year was more than twice the statewide median of $60,190.

The median household in Moorpark (pop. 35,100) that year was $97,815, more than 60 percent above the state median. The median price of a home or condo in Moorpark was $522,065, which was 40 percent above the statewide median.

Fillmore, however, (pop. 15,255) had a median household income of $55,766, which was 7.5 percent below the state median, and its median home price of $306,035 was 18 percent below the state median, according to city-data.

Moorpark and the beach abatement district's traffic plan essentially prevents the sand-hauling trucks from using portions of State Route 23 through Moorpark. In cutting the deal in October last year, the city and the district cited the "significant environmental and public safety threats to local communities" from "high frequency trucking."

Be that as it may, attorney Smith said, only the state that can regulate traffic on state highways. The defendants also failed to prepare a thorough environmental impact study, which violates CEQA, according to the complaint.

The traffic plan would "add an average of 14 miles to each truck trip, resulting in approximately 5,270,000 additional vehicle miles traveled over the 20-year Beach Restoration Project," the complaint states. "Use of this circuitous route would ... cause the emission of approximately 100,000 additional pounds of criteria pollutants and thousands of additional pounds of greenhouse gases."

Finally, the county accuses the city of cinching the agreement in an underhanded manner.

Moorpark completed the agreement "at a non-televised special meeting held on Oct. 7, 2015 ... the same day that the Moorpark City Council held a separate televised regular meeting," the complaint states.

"It was done intentionally, so as not to include other governments that might be impacted by this," attorney Smith said.

Moorpark City Attorney Kevin Ennis said his city was more than willing to work with its neighbors on the issue.

"We are disappointed that the County of Ventura and the City of Fillmore have taken this step of filing a lawsuit over the Agreement rather than working with the City of Moorpark to find other solutions to the issues involving the Broad Beach sand project and its sand hauling routes," Ennis told Courthouse News in an email.

In a March 24 letter to Smith , Ennis said his city "has expressed concerns associated with high frequency heavy hauling operations from the rock quarries north of Moorpark" and sought the county's assistance for years.

Ennis wrote that Moorpark stood ready to address the concerns of the county, the city of Fillmore and other affected jurisdictions to avoid litigation. However, "The city stands ready to defend its interests and the interests of the residents of Moorpark," Ennis told Courthouse News.

Smith said the sand deliveries are scheduled to start in September. "We'd like to get a resolution sometime this summer if we can," he said.

Smith said Ventura County does not oppose BBGHAD's beach restoration project, and is willing to help it seek alternative sources of sand. But the complaint says that the beach project and the traffic agreement are separate issues.

The project itself is not without controversy, as it was narrowly approved, 7-5, by the California Coastal Commission in October.

A consortium of watchdog groups, including Heal the Bay and the Surfrider Foundation, wrote to the Coastal Commission with concerns about the scale of the project, its duration, lack of protection for marine life and the septic systems used by some houses in the Broad Beach neighborhood.

The Surfrider letter defends the project on environmental grounds.

"The proposed project is a bellwether for California as we begin to grapple with policy and project related decisions about how to plan for a changing climate, which involves sea level rise, increased storm surge and changing precipitation patterns," the letter states.

BBGHAD project manager Mark Goss did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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