Butterfly Protection Law Stalled : Environment: The council votes for a delay amid threats of legal action. Opponents had adopted the slogan ‘Kill a butterfly, go to jail.’
Malibu’s City Council has backed away from a law that would protect monarch butterflies, responding to howls of protest from developers and homeowners.
The proposed law called for up to $1,000 in fines and a year in jail for anyone who kills or disturbs the insects.
Opponents had derided the penalties as too severe, adopting the slogan “Kill a butterfly, go to jail.”
But it may have been threats by lawyers to sue the city on behalf of clients whose property rights they said would be imperiled by the law that proved to be the proposal’s undoing Tuesday.
After a stormy two-hour session, the City Council--which just two weeks ago had appeared poised to approve such a law--voted 3 to 2 to delay the matter.
The outcome was greeted with outrage from butterfly enthusiasts, who accused the officials of knuckling under to development interests.
“The pro-development majority (on the council) didn’t want to vote no, because then they would have a hard time calling themselves environmentalists, so instead they tabled it,” said Paul Russell, an advocate of butterfly protection.
However, several council members--and the butterfly enthusiasts--expressed displeasure with the ordinance as revised by a city planner. They said it was unnecessarily complicated and contentious.
Only council members Walt Keller and Carolyn Van Horn, who voted against the delay, expressed enthusiasm for an earlier draft of the law that the butterfly enthusiasts had favored.
The proposal, patterned after similar ordinances in Santa Barbara County and in three Northern California towns, would make it illegal to destroy trees where the insects roost, and would tightly regulate construction near places where the butterflies live.
Malibu is among a handful of communities along the California coast where the colorful orange and black monarchs spend each winter before returning to Mexico and points beyond.
Experts say there are at least 15 such habitat areas in Malibu, totaling less than five acres. Most are in groves of eucalyptus trees, and all but one of the sites are on private property.
Although the butterflies are not considered to be endangered, enthusiasts say their habitats are. They contend that development pressures have resulted in at least two habitat areas in Malibu having been destroyed within the last year.
All five members of the City Council say they support butterfly protection, but the effort has become entangled in the divisive battle over development in the community.
In voting to exempt certain residential projects from an existing moratorium on construction, the council stipulated last year that certain other protective ordinances that it might consider could, in effect, delay those projects.
The city will soon allow construction to begin on some projects that qualified for exemption.
But, under the butterfly protection law drafted by the city staff, even those projects would have been suspended until public hearings could be held to determine the boundaries of the areas to be protected.
Developers and others attacked the measure as a thinly veiled attempt by the City Council to renege on releasing the projects it had previously exempted from the building ban.
“This is not a butterfly ordinance. This is called, ‘Let’s take back the permits we promised them,’ ” attorney Frank Buck said. “Why don’t you come out and be truthful? It will be a lot easier to get reelected.”
Three council members--Van Horn, Mike Caggiano and Missy Zeitsoff--are up for reelection in April.
On Tuesday, Buck and other opponents ridiculed the proposal as a burdensome intrusion on people’s property rights.
Citing the monarchs’ milkweed diet as making them toxic to birds, Buck added, “That’s why (they’re) not endangered. Even birdbrains know the monarch butterfly is not endangered. Why don’t we?”
But defenders of the plan to protect the insects expressed another view.
“We’re talking about less than five acres in all of Malibu,” Sandra Russell said. “If we don’t protect their habitats, the butterflies will have nowhere else to go.”
The proposal are patterned after similar ordinances in Santa Barbara County and in three towns in Northern California. It would make it illegal to destroy trees where the insects roost, and tightly regulate construction near where the butterflies live. Malibu is among a handful of communities along the California coast where the colorful orange and black Monarchs roost each winter before returning to Mexico and points beyond. Experts say there are at least 15 such habitat areas in Malibu, totaling less than five acres. Most are in groves of eucalyptus trees, and all but one of the sites is on private property. Although the butterflies are not considered to be endangered, enthusiasts say their habitats are, and that development pressures have resulted in at least two habitat areas in Malibu being destroyed within the past year.
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