Malibu Man Given Jail for Illegal Grading : Environment: Landowner used a bulldozer to dump soil and asphalt into a creek. Sentence is the harshest imposed locally for such an offense.


A Malibu man who used a bulldozer to illegally grade his Santa Monica Mountains property and dump tons of soil and debris into Las Flores Creek has become the first landowner in the coastal area to receive jail time for violating environmental protection laws.

Malibu Municipal Court Judge Lawrence J. Mira ordered John Downs to serve 18 months in jail, pay nearly $7,000 in fines, and spend three years on probation for two misdemeanor violations of state Fish and Game laws.

Downs, 62, was accused of using the bulldozer to illegally grade his property at 2930 Gorge Road in Malibu between September, 1989, and March, 1990.


In one case, Deputy Dist. Atty. William Carter said, Downs pushed 3,000 pounds of asphalt down a slope and into the creek, altering the stream bed and polluting the water used by neighbors.

Carter said six months of the jail sentence will be suspended if Downs removes the asphalt from the creek and stabilizes the hillside by June 19.

But Downs’ attorney, Philip Center, said his client will appeal the conviction and what he called the “extremely harsh” sentence handed down Thursday.

State and local officials hailed the sentence, saying it serves as a warning to those who engage in illegal grading and other environmental crimes.

“This should send a blunt and clear message to everyone that we mean business in cracking down on illegal dumping and other like violations in the Santa Monica Mountains,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Deane Dana said.

The conviction was the first to result from an investigation involving a state and local government task force created last June to crack down on illegal grading and environmental crimes in coastal canyons and mountain areas.

“We consider the destruction of our environment a criminal act and, when appropriate, will file criminal charges and seek jail time,” Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner said in a statement.

The task force includes representatives from the California Coastal Commission, the state Fish and Game and Parks and Recreation departments, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, the district attorney’s office, the county Sheriff’s Department and other county agencies.

Coastal Commissioner Madelyn Glickfeld, a Malibu resident, said the Downs case “proves that a coordinated effort by cooperating agencies can be extremely effective in bringing violators of environmental laws to justice.”

Nancy Cave, statewide enforcement coordinator for the Coastal Commission, said the agency also has a case pending against Downs for violating the state Coastal Act by engaging in development without a permit.

Cave said that as far as she is aware, Downs is the “first person sentenced for illegal grading activities” in the Malibu area.

Downs’ attorney, Center, said in a statement that his client is the victim of a “vendetta by various governmental agencies. They just want to make an example out of John.”