A group of residents who reside near a planned restoration project are the latest to publicly declare their opposition to the Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering’s proposal to build an irrigation system for a beautification project near the Marina Peninsula that will also include a preserve for an endangered sand dune flower.

Mark Winter, the director of the Marina Peninsula Neighborhood Association, took part in a conference call with city officials and a member of Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s staff on Aug. 6 to reiterate the organization’s views on the city restoration project.

“Our position remains unchanged. We want to improve public access into the ecological preserve as well as preserve the wetlands,” Winter told The Argonaut before the meeting. “It came as a surprise to us and I think to the environmental community that there would be irrigation in the plan.”

City officials are asking the California Coastal Commission through an amendment to their existing permit to enhance and restore a stretch of land between Jib and Topsail streets in the Ballona Lagoon to implement some additional features.

They will be requesting that the commission at its Friday, Aug. 12 meeting in San Luis Obispo approve the creation of an ecological preserve for the imperiled Orcutt’s Yellow Pincushion, the installation of a water sprinkling system and the construction of a pedestrian walk path on the east side of Pacific Avenue.

Lauren Skinner, a spokeswoman with the Department of Public Works, said the city’s engineers included a change to its amendment to the commission last month to remove any irrigation plans from the area where the pincushions are growing and limit the use of watering in other parts of the project area.

“My understanding is this was explained to those who participated in the meeting,” Skinner said.

The homeowners association joins the Ballona Institute, a Playa del Rey-based environmental organization, and biologist Edith Read in opposing the irrigation plans for the site.

The pincushion receives its water through natural methods, such as rainfall and moisture from the nearby ocean, say Read, a board member of the Friends of the Ballona Wetlands and the environmental organization’s staff biologist, and Robert “Roy” van de Hoek, the lead biologist and co-director of the Ballona Institute.

The city has agreed to reduce the walk path from five feet in width to four, but its proposal to construct the trail near the preserve is being challenged by the Ballona Institute, which would like to see the path rerouted to the west side of Pacific.

The recommendations to the amendment application also indicate that the walkway will be built as close as possible to the curb of the avenue, a major sticking point between the city and the opponents of this provision.

Environmentalists argue that this would eradicate a portion of the existing pincushions, which city officials plan to mitigate by collecting seeds from the imperiled flower and replanting them.

The commission’s biologist, Dr. Jonna Engle, believes the pedestrian trail, which would be built not far from the plant preserve, would not have a deleterious impact on the native plants or the pincushions. In a letter to the commission and city officials last month, Engle concluded the irrigation system would not be harmful to the native plants at the site if properly designed and implemented.

Despite Read’s findings, the board of the Friends of the Ballona Wetlands continues to back the city’s recommendations to the commission.

“The Friends of the Ballona Wetlands agrees with the proposed special conditions No. 11, which requires staff approval of a restoration plan prepared by a qualified restoration ecologist prior to permit issuance, and has specific recommendations for sprinkler systems that would not harm native plants like the Orcutt’s Yellow Pincushion,” Richard Beban, one of the organization’s co-directors, wrote in a letter to the commission last month.

Unlike the Ballona Institute, Winter said his association does support the proposed walk path on the east side of Pacific.

“We are advocating for a walkway of decomposed granite south of the Lighthouse Bridge,” he said.

Betsy Landis, the education chair of the Los Angeles/Santa Monica chapter of the California Native Plant Society, has a different viewpoint.

“Dumping decomposed granite on sandy soil holding the seedbank of a plant being driven to extinction, then compacting it as a walk path used by hundreds of people will smother the in situ seedbank of the Orcutt’s Yellow Pincushion known to be there and destroy the sandy soil drainage characteristics required by the rare (flower),” Landis stated in an e-mail to the commission. “Furthermore, even temporary irrigation during the summer can negatively impact native plants in summer dormancy.”

Winter’s group is also asking that a fence that is being proposed in the amendment not be closer than four feet from Pacific, one of the association’s biggest concerns. The other is the industrial fencing that is at the project site, protecting the Orcutt’s Yellow Pincushion. Winter said his homeowners group is adamantly opposed to what is currently there.

“The kind of fencing that goes in is critical,” Winter said. “We cannot accept the notion of a fence up to the curb (of Pacific) nor will we accept a fenced off ‘nature preserve’ of any kind.”

The homeowners association director agrees with the Ballona Institute and Read in their belief that a qualified scientist be a part of the restoration process.

“Any planning by the city (in the wetlands) should include an environmental specialist who is an independent expert in restoration,” Winter said.

Read, a plant ecologist, said adequate surveys of what plants, flowers and other natives species were present at the site would have allowed the city to make a more comprehensive restoration plan.

“(Having a trained environmental expert) is extremely important from a project planning standpoint and for the protection of the area,” she said. “Had (city engineers) done that beforehand, the project might have turned out differently.”

City officials are recommending that provision in their amendment.

Winter says that his homeowners group hopes there can be an amicable agreement on the restoration plan. He feels further discord would leave the area with no tangible benefits.

“I think there can be a reasonable and balanced compromise between all parties involved,” he reiterated. “If there’s not it would be an opportunity lost, and that would be disappointing.”

Winter said demands for having a fence around the nature preserve would potentially cause the project to be halted.

Skinner said last month that Los Angeles could lose its county restoration grant if the commission does not approve the amendment.

“If that is what certain environmental interests insist on, then we will kill the project south of Lighthouse and it will remain in an unimproved state,” Winter asserted. “End of story.”

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