(CN) – A group of property owners in a wealthy California enclave won a victory on Tuesday when a state appeals court ruled their sand relocation project aimed at staving off massive beach erosion was not subject to California’s main environmental law.
Affirming the lower court’s decision, a three-judge panel from California’s Second Appellate District ruled the Broad Beach Geologic Hazard Abatement District’s (BBGHAD) deal with the city of Moorpark to truck in huge amounts of sand to help rescue an eroding beach was exempt from review of the California Environmental Quality Act.
“The settlement agreement between Moorpark and BBGHAD is part of the whole of the action of the beach restoration project,” wrote Justice Martin Tangeman for the panel in a 22-page ruling.
The County of Ventura and city of Fillmore argued the deal between the two entities that established the haul routes was separate from the restoration project itself and warranted a separate environmental review.
The panel disagreed, finding the settlement “is one piece of a single, coordinated endeavor to address erosion at Broad Beach, and is thus part of the whole of the action.”
BBGHAD is a political subdivision of the city of Malibu, formed to combat beach erosion at Broad Beach. The erosion has accelerated in recent years, endangering the multimillion-dollar homes owned by Hollywood A-listers and corporate titans.
The $31 million restoration project, which the owners of 212 parcels in the district are funding, 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 the 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 create a 100-foot-wide beach and 60-foot-wide sand dune system to serve as a buffer between the ocean and the houses, restoring the beach to its pre-1975 state.
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.”
Ventura County and Fillmore argued that Moorpark and the abatement district have no right to enforce their traffic regulation agreement, particularly as the haul route goes through Fillmore.
Ventura and Fillmore also said the settlement violated parts of California’s vehicle code that precludes local entities from preempting state law as it relates to the rules of the road.
But the panel ruled that the settlement is not an attempt to create new regulations or ordinances.
“The settlement agreement is a contract, not an ordinance or resolution,” Tangeman wrote.
The case has been remanded back to Superior Court.
Ventura County Counsel Leroy Smith did not respond to emails seeking comment.
While 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 income 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.
The California California Coastal Commission narrowly approved the beach restoration project in a 7-5 vote 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 and its disregard for marine life.