A beautification initiative for a stretch of land near the Lighthouse Bridge in the Marina Peninsula has been on hold since August as Los Angeles city officials seek a series of amendments to a coastal permit in order to complete the work.

And some of the community members who live in front of the project are raising concerns about the current condition of the restoration effort, described by one resident as “a mess.”

Robert Gilbert, who has lived on Hurricane Street for over a dozen years, has been wondering why there has been a cessation of work since the city embarked on the beautification and restoration project earlier this year.

“A lot of people use those trails,” said Gilbert, referring to the walking trails along the west side of Pacific Avenue near the project. “My wife and I use them all the time.”

Mark Winter, director of the Marina Peninsula Homeowners Association, is also concerned with the esthetics of the project site. The association will be watching to see what type of fencing the city decides to use, he said.

“The kind of fencing that goes in is critical,” Winter told The Argonaut in an Aug. 14 interview. “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.”

City Department of Public Works spokeswoman Lauren Skinner said officials are aware of the residents’ complaints regarding fencing and the status of the restoration effort.

“We are working with the project contractor on scheduling and budget to find out when he can begin to install the hardscape to the project site,” Skinner told The Argonaut.

Gilbert said he is concerned that plastic from the fencing could fall into the lagoon as well as with the appearance of the unfinished work site.

City officials appeared before the California Coastal Commission Aug. 12 to request an amendment to their permit to enhance and restore a stretch of land between Jib and Topsail streets near the Ballona Lagoon. Included in their request were plans to install an irrigation system, the creation of an ecological preserve for the imperiled Orcutt’s Yellow Pincushion (Chaenactis glab orcuttiana) and other rare plants as well as the construction of a pedestrian walkpath on the east side of Pacific.

The Argonaut broke the story of the discovery of the Orcutt’s Yellow in March after the tiny dune flowers were discovered in a patch of land during the removal of non-native plants and weeds in the project area. The authenticity of the rare flower was subsequently confirmed by several scientists, including a city environmental specialist, William Jones.

Environmental advocates had asked the coastal commissioner to exclude the insulation of irrigation from the city’s plans, as the rare flower derives its water naturally through rainfall and coastal fog.

The commission granted that request, and the irrigation system will be not be used in areas where the Orcutt’s Yellow exists or will be planted. The commissioners also directed city officials to work in close consultation with a qualified restoration ecologist on the beautification and enhancement plan. Initially, the proposal read “under the direction of a qualified restoration ecologist.”

Dr. Edith Read, a plant ecologist and biologist with Friends of the Ballona Wetlands, praised the commission’s decision to include a specialist for the restoration plan. She feels that the person chosen should have at least a master’s degree in biology or ecology.

“I think it’s a good compromise,” Read said of the changes made to the city’s amendment request. “It allows for the original purpose of the project and protects the yellow pincushion.”

The homeowners association supports having a restoration scientist involved with the project as well.

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

Robert “Roy” van de Hoek of the Playa del Rey-based Ballona Institute said he hopes the ecological consultant will be someone who is forceful enough to prevent city workers from unknowingly removing any native plants or flowers in the project area.

“The ecologist is going to have to be very hands-on and be very conscious about time management as well, because this is something that should not be done quickly,” said van de Hoek, who was the first biologist to notice the Orcutt’s Yellow Pincushion in March and later helped to identify the flower.

The permit also calls for the creation of a map on the location of the 2010 pincushion population as well as other native plants; the removal of non-native plants; a schedule for the implementation of the restoration and monitoring plan; and methodology for the collection of rare plant seeds.

Read said it was also important that the scientist be familiar with the history of the Ballona Wetlands.

“That’s really crucial,” she said. “The Ballona Wetlands are very unique and it requires someone who understands its history and its current state.”

Van de Hoek mentioned Dr. Martin Ramirez, an associate professor of biology at Loyola Marymount University, as someone that he thinks would be eminently qualified to work with the city on the enhancement project. “He has extensive knowledge of the wetlands, both as an undergraduate and as a professor,” he said.

Van de Hoek hopes that the habitat surrounding the Orcutt’s Yellow will also be taken care of properly in order to ensure the flowers’ return in 2011.

“Insects do pollination (of plants and flowers), and if there’s no insects, the Orcutt’s Yellow Pincushion might not occur again,” van de Hoek explained.

Another important consideration will be how the restoration initiative takes shape and the need to recognize than working in Ballona Lagoon will be much different that at other sites, said Read.

“(The restoration expert) will be working in a semi-natural system and not an urban landscape,” the biologist noted. “The project site maintenance does not rely on ordinary landscaping and it should not be treated like a traditional landscape project.”

Instead of the creation of a rare plant reserve, the commission opted to change the name of the designation to “protected area.”

Five years after the initial planting of all rare plants, the site will be actively monitored, native vegetation that fails will be replanted and non-native plants will be removed.

The concrete walkway, which is slated to be reconfigured during the restoration of the area, is one of the remaining points of contention between local environmental organizations and officials from Public Works. The city has decided to move the pedestrian access strip away from Pacific and it will be a maximum of four feet in width. The Ballona Institute sought to have the walkway diverted to the west side of the street or farther north along Pacific. Signs will be posted along the public access path at 90-foot intervals.

All of these conditions must be met prior to the issuance of the permit amendment.

Public Works representatives, who once expressed concern that further delays could threaten a Los Angeles County grant that is financing the project, are now confident that it will not be lost. “The grant is fine,” Skinner confirmed.”

Skinner said the city hopes to have the project completed no later than March 2011.

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