In Closed Session

The wheels of government move exceedingly slow.

But, it appears, they do occasionally move.

My latest example is something we called the open channel. It is a project designed to connect Colorado Lagoon and Marine Stadium-Alamitos Bay with an open waterway across what is now Marina Vista Park.

The plan is the final phase of improvements to the lagoon that began almost 15 years ago. At that time, Colorado Lagoon was a nearly stagnant body of water that smelled, especially at low tide. It was more a storm water catch basin than the tidal lagoon it was designed to be.

Thanks to long and hard work from people ranging from then-County Supervisor Don Knabe to the members of the neighborhood group Friends of Colorado Lagoon, the place is a real oasis again.

Along with diverting the highly polluted low-flow storm drain out flow, the key to the restoration was cleaning out the large culvert under Marina Vista Park that connects the lagoon and Marine Stadium. The design was for tidal flow to come in and out of Colorado Lagoon, recycling and mixing the water in the lagoon.

All of this took place in the early 2000s. In a second phase, the open channel is designed to both eliminate the culvert maintenance and enhance the area. The redesigned Marina Vista Park is aimed to make that heavily used park more usable.

I know all of this because I was on the Parks and Recreation Commission at the time the open channel was approved.

While some of our more strident environmental activists found nits to pick in the first phase of the lagoon restoration, for the most part it moved ahead without opposition. The same could not be said of the open channel.

There were appeals at every step in the approval process, which began in 2008 with an Environmental Impact Report. After a battle at the Planning Commission, the process went to the City Council, where members unanimously denied the appeal and approved the open channel concept. 

That was in 2010.

The city has gone through four directors of the Parks, Recreation and Marine Department since the Colorado Lagoon restoration began. Two land use professionals (the entire Parks and Rec capital projects planning bureau) have retired.

And next week, Feb. 8 to be exact, the California Coastal Commission will consider approvals of the city's permit application and a proposed mitigation bank as a way to fund the work. (Developers, particularly the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, would pay into the bank to gain credits for their own work on and around the water.)

I say again, the meeting to move the open channel is scheduled for Feb. 8, 2019.

I admit, I'm not privy to the reasons why it has taken nine years to get to this point. I do know that our city experts work with the Coastal Commission staff to massage any proposal until the staff is ready to recommend approval to the commission. That task can, and often does, take years to complete.

For some projects, it makes me wonder whether the time elapsed could change the situation significantly enough to make plans outdated, if not totally undoable. That delaying tactic is a favorite of our city's dedicated naysayers. Has the approach infected Coastal Commission staff?

Whatever, the gears of government finally have ground to the point where we may actually see a project in my lifetime. And the Friends of Colorado Lagoon (FOCL) are not taking anything for granted.

The group has started a letter-writing campaign to show support for the project. The Coastal Commission's February meeting is at Half Moon Bay, so it is going to be hard to get a crowd to the meeting itself (although FOCL members say they plan to make the trip).

A letter from FOCL offers pointers about what to put into a letter or email — specifics about what you're supporting, personal experiences at the lagoon, environmental benefits and personal pleas. But there's a catch — the deadline for comments to be included in commissioners' packets is 5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 1.

So, supporters say, it is important to email letters to eorfc@coastal.ca.gov today or Friday. To be sure the comment is part of the Colorado Lagoon packet, reference Agenda Item Friday 14e — Permit No. 5-09-071-A3.

It's all part of the process. And while government moves exceedingly slow, this is movement to further improve our own back yard. Just do it.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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