Following its staff's recommendation, the California Coastal Commission rejected Los Angeles International Airport's plan to build a golf course that would destroy a large part of the El Segundo Dunes--the breeding ground of an endangered butterfly and a host of other endangered species.
After six hours of testimony from more than 50 city officials, scientists and concerned citizens last week, the commission voted 8 to 2 to deny the proposal, saying it could not determine the effect the development would have on the dunes and the flora and fauna that live there.
The 302-acre dune area north of the airport is nearly all that remains of a massive dune system that once stretched from the Palos Verdes Peninsula to Playa del Rey. The only other dunes to survive are on a two-acre reserve at Chevron USA's nearby El Segundo refinery, where the endangered El Segundo blue butterfly is flourishing.
The airport had planned to build a golf course on about two-thirds of its dune area, and the remaining third would have been preserved as a conservancy and ocean view area.
Airport officials maintained that a golf course was the best use for the land, noting that five courses have closed in the area in as many years. The airport's plan drew an impressive group of supporters at the hearing, including El Segundo Mayor Charles (Chip) Armstrong and Councilman Jack Siadek, Inglewood Councilman Virgel Benson, Los Angeles City Planner Calvin Hamilton and officials from the National Fish and Wildlife Society and the state Fish and Game Commission.
They said a golf course is badly needed in the area and would be a boon to the environment.
Coastal Commission approval was the last hurdle for the 10-year-old plan, which had been approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the Los Angeles City Council and the state game agency.
But the commission planning staff found that the proposed golf course needed more study, and coastal commissioners agreed.
"The city's proposal does not adequately protect this . . . sensitive environment," said Lisa Horowitz, staff analyst.
Commissioners who voted against the proposal said the airport's plan did not include adequate regulation of the use of herbicides, pesticides and other harmful chemicals, nor did it fully evaluate alternative uses of the land.
During the lengthy hearing, most commissioners expressed surprise or dismay about what they called the airport's lack of study and research on the dunes and the species that depend on them for survival.
Commissioner Duane Garrett said he was "deeply troubled by the airport's attitude and lack of stewardship toward the property."
Airport officials could not be reached for comment after the vote, but they said earlier that if the project was rejected, they would try to come up with an acceptable plan.