The Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) has recommended that state lawmakers take charge of Salton Sea restoration efforts. Last year, the Resources Agency released a restoration plan that called for shrinking the 376-square-mile lake into a narrow, U-shaped lake separated from two brine sinks, extensive saline habitat areas and exposed lake bed (see CP&DR Environment Watch, September 2007). The plan was the latest of several that address the problems caused by reduced freshwater flows into the increasingly saline lake.

The LAO did not pass judgment on the Resource Agency's 75-year, $8.9 billion plan. Instead, the LAO urged the Legislature to "set explicit policy priorities in statute for addressing environmental problems at the sea." The analyst said protection of air quality and preservation of wildlife habitat should be top priorities.

The LAO further recommended that lawmakers adopt a comprehensive restoration plan and designate the Department of Water Resources as the primary implementing agency. Because implementation of any plan is years away, the Legislature should consider interim funding for air quality and habitat issues, according to the analyst.

The LAO report is available at

Stockton update. Since CP&DR detailed the extensive land use issues and litigation in the City of Stockton in the February Local Watch, there are have been two important developments in court.

First, the state Supreme Court accepted for review a Third District Court of Appeal decision that the statute of limitations for Wal-Mart opponents to challenge the lack of environmental review for a Supercenter had not expired because the city's approval of the project was not valid. The state high court voted 6-0, with Chief Justice Ron George recusing himself, to consider whether or not the statute of limitations ever started running. The case is Stockton Citizens for Sensible Planning v. City of Stockton, No. S159690.

Second, the Third District in an unpublished decision rejected a downtown Stockton property owner's claim that the city's demolition of her condemned building amounted to inverse condemnation and violated her civil rights. The three-story structure was one of several the city has torn down during recent years as part of a code enforcement and urban revitalization effort. The court ruled that Dominga Flores had her day in court when she sought an injunction to halt the city's abatement proceeding, and she could not re-litigate based on essentially the same facts. The case is Flores v. City of Stockton, No. C053479 and was filed on February 15, 2008.

The Coastal Commission surely set records at a meeting in February when the panel voted 8-2 to reject the Orange County Transportation Corridor Agencies' plan to build a toll road through San Onofre State Beach. An estimated 3,500 people attended the hearing in Wyland Hall at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, and 2,500 signed up to testify. The Commission cut off testimony after 12 hours and voted 14 hours after taking up the item.

Although the Commission's decision pleased the majority at the meeting, the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) has vowed to press forward with the project. Its first step was filing an appeal with the federal secretary of commerce. "We are not going to ignore our responsibilities and allow South County to be choked with traffic," Jerry Amante, a TCA board member and Tustin councilman, told the Los Angeles Times.

The Commission found the project in violation of the Coastal Act because of the toll road's potential impact on coastal resources and sensitive habitat. The Commission's 246-page staff report (which includes links to numerous related documents) is available at

Santa Monica Place has closed while owner Macerich overhauls the 550,000-square-foot, Frank Gehry-designed shopping mall into an open-air complex.

Macerich had sought to develop high-rise condominiums, shops and offices on the site of the 28-year-old Santa Monica Place (see CP&DR Places, February 2005; Letters to the Editor, April 2005). That project eventually died and the property owner instead decided to convert the mall into an open-air facility with outdoor dining and ocean views from the third floor. The project is scheduled to be completed in fall 2009.