Over the objections of the Mexican government, the California Coastal Commission on Tuesday joined opponents of a giant salt plant proposed for a cherished calving ground for the gray whale.
The Mexican government and the Mitsubishi Corp. have for years talked of constructing what would be the world's largest salt-evaporation operation in Baja California's 17-mile-long Laguna San Ignacio, virtually the last undisturbed refuge for the massive California gray whale.
Environmentalists and celebrities have protested the proposed plant as desecration of a spot where some of the world's largest creatures nurse their young and swim amicably among boats of whale-watchers.
Leading the majority in the commission's 8-1 vote to support a resolution urging Mitsubishi to scrap the project, Chairwoman Sara Wan of Malibu said building a plant in the lagoon would be comparable to "putting an industrial facility in Yosemite. . . . It's just not appropriate."
Wan, noting that she had been to the lagoon and even kissed a whale there, said the inlet's migratory wildlife belonged not only to Mexico but to the entire West Coast.
In a letter read by a representative at the commission's Santa Monica meeting, Mexican Consul General Jose Luis Bernal urged commissioners not to take a stand until a forthcoming environmental impact assessment is issued and reviewed by Mexican authorities.
"We consider it would not be appropriate to take any decision that could prejudge the actions of the government of Mexico on this matter," Bernal wrote.
Mitsubishi also asked the commission to postpone a vote on the resolution, arguing that it had not been given adequate time to prepare a presentation. Cynthia McClain-Hill agreed, casting the lone negative vote.
But the rest of the board sided with Wan. "If I was a shareholder I would be ashamed" of Mitsubishi's plans for the salt plant, said commission alternate Patrick Kruer of San Diego.
The resolution was strongly backed by leading environmental groups. Calling the inlet 600 miles south of San Diego "one of the world's extraordinary places," attorney Joel Reynolds of the Natural Resources Defense Council said that if the lagoon could not be saved, "our environmental future is very bleak indeed."
Another saltworks has operated 50 miles up the Baja California coast for 40 years and Mitsubishi says that plant has not harmed the whales there.
In other action, the commission Tuesday gave its approval to a statewide plan to tackle urban runoff, one of the state's most intractable water pollution problems.
The blueprint has already been adopted by the State Water Resources Control Board and officials praised the plan as the beginning of an important collaborative effort by a multitude of government agencies.
But environmentalists criticized the cleanup plan as too vague and said it lacked concrete standards.
Mark Gold, executive director of the environmental group Heal the Bay, called it a "mediocre effort" that should not "give the public any reason to believe the largest water quality problem will be solved."