Officials from the Los Angeles Department of Public Works are petitioning the California Coastal Commission for an amendment to a coastal permit that will allow them to proceed with a local beautification project that will also protect an imperiled native flower.

The amendment would permit the continuation of the project along Pacific Avenue in the Marina Peninsula near the Lighthouse Bridge and at the same time provide a number of safeguards for the Orcutt’s Yellow Pincushion, a rare flower that was discovered a few feet away from where restoration work was taking place in March, city officials say.

The Coastal Commission is slated to hear the merits of the request at its Friday, July 9th meeting in Santa Rosa.

“We have submitted an amendment request to provide additional protection to the Orcutt’s Yellow Pincushion and for the collection and replanting of its seeds,” explained Lauren Skinner, a spokeswoman with Public Works. “One important consideration is that the city has a valid permit from the Coastal Commission for the work that we are planning, and the intent is to add additional protection for the pincushions.”

The Argonaut first reported the discovery of the Orcutt’s Yellow Pincushion (Chaenactis glabriuscula DC. var. orcuttiana) March 11th by the co-directors of the Ballona Institute, who were at the site of the restoration and beautification project as observers while city employees were removing iceplant and other non-native vegetation. They alerted William Jones, an environmental specialist at Public Works, and he confirmed that it was indeed the rare flower.

It is an annual plant, meaning it usually germinates, flowers and dies after a few months each year. Some annuals can survive longer if they are prevented from seeding. Typically, the Orcutt’s Yellow’s normal flowering period is from April to July. But this year the rare flower made its debut two months early in February, and according to city biologists, its flowering period should be completed by the beginning of summer.

The project is currently on hold and is scheduled to resume in September upon Coastal Commission approval, and the area where the pincushions were discovered is enclosed with protective fencing.

Skinner said city workers are also planning to reduce the proposed access trail along the western side of the lagoon from six to four feet in width.

“We are not going to proceed with restoration unless the Coastal Commission approves our application,” she added.

The petition calls for the creation of a rare plant preserve on Ballona Lagoon’s west bank, a map with the location of the 2010 pincushion population as well as other rare plants that were identified in the area, and a planting plan that will provide detailed instructions for the appropriate mix of seeds, cuttings and container plants for the area, which will all be native plants.

A Coastal Commission botanist, Dr. Joanna Engel, believes the city’s plan can be implemented without drastically harming the protected flower.

“I worked closely with the California Coastal (Commission) analyst assigned to this project and a (California Fish and Game Department, which owns most of the remaining wetlands) botanist to insure that the amendment to the Los Angeles Ballona Lagoon Phase IIIa Enhancement Plan will cause the least possible adverse impacts to the Ballona Lagoon environmentally sensitive habitat area (ESHA), including the Orcutt’s Yellow Pincushion population, while still providing the improved public access trail and recreational opportunities approved by the Los Angeles coastal development permit,” Engel wrote in an e-mail response.

But Marcia Hanscom, one of the Ballona Institute’s co-directors, says the Orcutt’s Yellow population could be inadvertently harmed unless other measures to protect them are taken.

“I’m very grateful that the Coastal Commission has stepped up to the plate and I agree with them on most of the points (in their petition),” Hanscom said. “But there are two very critical issues that need to be looked at before granting this amendment.”

Hanscom would like to see the plan for a walkway in the lagoon diverted away from where the pincushions have bloomed and for city officials to reconsider a temporary irrigation system outlined in the amendment petition.

In a June 28th letter to Coastal Commission analyst Chuck Posner, Engle points out that irrigation within the planned pincushion reserve would be eliminated and the irrigation lines will be laid directly beneath the path as close to the curb as possible.

Hanscom noted that there are pincushions that are growing near the edge of Pacific Avenue and she believes the planned irrigation there could drown the plants.

“We could lose a significant amount of the population,” she said.

The pincushion’s status was upgraded in late March by the Department of Fish and Game to “G5T1.S1.” G stands for global, T is the global for the variety and S is for the state rank. The state ranking of S1 on Fish and Game’s special vascular plants, bryophytes and lichens list means that a plant or flower is “critically imperiled” because of its extreme rarity or other factors such as very steep inclines that make it especially vulnerable to extirpation or extinction.

The pincushion is not, however, on the state or federal list of endangered or rare flowers.

Prior to the rediscovery in Ballona Lagoon, the Orcutt’s Yellow was listed as a “1.B.1” by the California Native Plant Society. The listing means the flower is rare, threatened or endangered.

Hanscom says its current imperiled status makes it that much more critical to ensure that its population near the lagoon is not disturbed.

“Annual plants are not easy to grow,” she noted. “You can’t afford to lose one plant.”

City officials contend that if necessary, the Orcutt’s Yellow can be relocated from the three areas where it occurs, or bloomed.

“When environmental conditions are favorable, seeds germinate, plants grow and mature, bloom, produce seed and then die prior to the onset of summer season,” the action plan states. “Therefore, the plant can be ‘moved,’ in effect, collecting mature seeds and planting them elsewhere in other favorable sites.”

City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents the area where the pincushions are located, sought the middle ground regarding how the restoration and beautification project should proceed.

“How we preserve and continue (the Orcutt’s Yellow Pincushion) is the debate that is going on right now between the state government, the city government and the Coastal Commission,” the councilman said.

Rosendahl said he would like to see the threatened flower protected, but he was not sure that Hanscom’s approach is the most effective to ensure the Orcutt’s Yellow’s preservation.

“I’m very proud of Roy (van de Hoek) and Marcia for finding it, identifying it and wanting to preserve it, and I think they’re on the right track on that, but I’m not necessarily with the strategy that they’re talking about,” he said. “I want to have all points of views on this very critical issue.”

Marc Saltzberg, who lives near the city project, is pleased to see the city working to beautify the project area.

“I think it’s long overdue and I’m glad that they’re working to make it look better,” said Saltzberg, a member of the Venice Neighborhood Council who has participated in some of the weeding and the planting at the project site.

He also feels that there should have been and should now be a professional botanist or biologist at the project site to make sure that plants like the Orcutt’s Yellow Pincushion are not harmed.

“How can you do a restoration without having a professional doing some of the supervising of it, at least some of the time?” Saltzberg asked.

Rosendahl said a balance must be struck between continuing a much needed restoration effort and allowing a native, imperiled flower to thrive and reproduce.

“I think that everybody appreciates the uniqueness and the beauty of the flower, but at the same time there is the practical reality of widening the canal area and refurbishing it,” Rosendahl said.

Kelly Schmoker of Fish and Game and Santa Monica City Councilman Richard Bloom, a member of the Coastal Commission, did not return calls for comment.

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