Malibu’s Epic Battle of Surfers Vs. Environmentalists- page 4 | People & Places | Smithsonian
Water and sediment flowing from Malibu Creek and Lagoon impact the waves at Surfrider, especially after winter rains. (Keegan Gibbs)

Malibu’s Epic Battle of Surfers Vs. Environmentalists

Local politics take a dramatic turn in southern California over a plan to clean up an iconic American playground

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Hanscom and van de Hoek recruited Malibu’s wealthy, celebrity-filled population. According to Hanscom, the actors Pierce Brosnan, Martin Sheen and Victoria Principal were among those who made financial donations or wrote letters on behalf of the anti-restoration cause. Kiedis, the rock singer, attended a fund-raiser benefiting the couple’s nonprofits. In a 2010 newspaper ad, Hanscom and van de Hoek estimated the anti-restoration legal fight would cost $350,000. Hanscom told Los Angeles Weekly in mid-2011 that she had raised $150,000. The support went toward legal fees and environmental research for lagoon litigation, Hanscom said. She told me she was “financially in the hole” on the lagoon fight.

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On June 4, a team of 60 workers began uprooting native plants and relocating animals in the first phase of the restoration project. A Chumash elder already had conducted a blessing ceremony of the lagoon waters. Later that day, Glas, Woods and their friend Cece Stein were holding signs on the bridge. “Restore Malibu Lagoon. It’s About Time.” “We Support a Healthy Lagoon.” A hundred yards away, near the entrance to Malibu Lagoon State Park, a group of 15 anti-cleanup activists solicited honks from passing drivers with their own signs. “Don’t Mess With Our Lagoon.” “Crime Scene.”

As Glas walked toward the park entrance en route to the bathroom, several protesters pounced. “They were hurling insults and profanity at her,” Woods told me. “They said, ‘You’re so f—— stupid.’” On her way back, the jeering intensified, prompting two park rangers to step in and escort Glas back to the bridge. When she rejoined Woods and Stein, she sat on the curb and broke into tears.

Over the next several days, Glas’ behavior grew odd and erratic, according to Woods and Stein. Her temper quickened and she was argumentative even with friends. Five nights after the lagoon protests, Woods and Glas had a seemingly mundane disagreement over whether to watch the Stanley Cup or a surfing competition on TV. But Glas was being irrational in the extreme, according to Woods. “She was trying to provoke me and push my buttons.” He stepped out of the house to get some air. Seconds later he heard a gunshot, and when he ran back inside, Glas was lying in the front hallway with her pistol nearby on the floor. She died later that night at a local hospital of what law enforcement authorities ruled a suicide by means of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

Woods acknowledged to me that Glas, 37, had had a history of depression and may have suffered from work-related post-traumatic stress disorder. But he insisted that tensions over the lagoon, specifically the harassment she endured near the bridge, had pushed her to her breaking point. “That was a stress she didn’t need,” Woods said.

The day after Glas’ death, Lyon wrote in an e-mail posted on Patch, “I’m shattered. Before all this b—— we were good friends....I have fond memories of [kiteboarding] with Steph and that is how I will always and only remember her.” He eventually challenged the suggestion that Glas’ suicide was linked to the lagoon debate. “If anybody’s going to put a gun in their mouth,” he told me, “it would’ve been me, given the amount of personal attacks I’ve taken for standing up to this thing.”

By early August, the work in the lagoon was 25 percent complete, with 48.5 million gallons of contaminated water having been drained and 3.5 tons of excess earth, utility poles and hunks of concrete removed. Numerous species, including the goby, and the nests of ducks, phoebes and coots were relocated to nearby habitat, to be returned in the fall, near the project’s scheduled October 15 end date.

Around this time, Hanscom and van de Hoek dropped the appeal of their initial lawsuit. “We felt that the odds were stacked against us in that particular venue,” Hanscom said. But they asked the California Coastal Commission to revoke the restoration permit. The commission produced an 875-page document denying the plea. “There’s not a single shred of evidence for us to entertain revocation,” one commissioner said. In testimony, an attorney for California’s parks department suggested that the commission request restitution from Hanscom and van de Hoek for the financial burden taxpayers had shouldered in defending against their lawsuits.

As summer gave way to fall, Woods and Stein continued the effort Glas had begun on TheRealMalibu411. They posted videotaped reports from the lagoon, interviewing the scientists overseeing the project and fact-checking the claims that kept rolling in from opposition members. They were also gearing up for the next big local environmental battle—the Malibu sewer debate. The city council is exploring plans to install Malibu’s first sewage treatment plant; some local residents support the measure as critically important for the environment while others oppose it, saying it would enable an onslaught of development.

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