The deputy director says the most significant revision to its staff report is a recommendation to defer action on the biological resources and environmentally sensitive habitat areas
BY HELGA GENDELL
The Marina del Rey Local Coastal Program (LCP) periodic review by the California Coastal Commission has been postponed until a commission meeting in October in San Pedro. The postponement came at the request of the County of Los Angeles Department of Beaches and Harbors, the Coalition to Save the Marina and local opponents and residents, said Jack Ainsworth, deputy director of the California Coastal Commission at a hearing Thursday, July 12th, in San Luis Obispo.
The coastal commission staff recommends that the commission find that the Marina del Rey Local Coastal Program is not being implemented in conformity with certain policies of the Coastal Act, which established the commission, and it recommends that corrective actions be transmitted to the County of Los Angeles, according to coastal commission staff documentation.
To date, Los Angeles County officials have not submitted a formal response to the August 2006 coastal commission staff recommendations “because they [the county] wanted such comments to be treated as confidential, and coastal commission staff disagreed, indicating that county response would be treated as a public document,” Ainsworth said.
He also said Los Angeles County officials had done a good job of adhering to the Local Coastal Program and carrying out many of its requirements, and that the county agreed on major portions of the recommendations. But Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors director Stan Wisniewski stated, “Agreement has to come from the Board of Supervisors.”
The county has not conducted any local public hearings on its own relative to preliminary coastal commission staff recommendations, but county officials have been meeting with coastal commission staff to discuss points of disagreement in the coastal commission’s recommendations, said Ainsworth.
Ainsworth said that the “most significant revision to this report” is the coastal commission staff’s recommendation to defer action on the “Biological Resources and Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas (ESHAs)” policy group until the October meeting.
The coastal commission staff was seeking action by the county on the other policy groups at the July 12th meeting, and said that the County of Los Angeles had originally asked that all references to environmentally safe habitat areas be deleted from staff recommendations, but then county officials requested additional time to present further information on sensitive habitat areas, and specifically, the heron rookeries, according to Ainsworth.
Dr. Jonna Engel, a staff biologist for the coastal commission, had visited the Marina area of the heron rookery and then presented her recommendations on the heron rookeries and other environmentally sensitive areas in the Marina.
Engel recommended that “The heron rookeries identified in and around the Marina should be identified as environmentally safe habitat area under the California Coastal Act, largely concurring with the delineation and adoption of resource protection measures for other habitats identified by the coastal commission staff.”
MAJOR LOCAL COASTAL PROGRAM RECOMMENDATIONS — Among major recommendations by coastal commission staff to modify the Marina del Rey Local Coastal Plan are:
ï specify that in order to adequately assess boater impacts, boating data should be no more than five years old;
ï include provisions to expand affordable boating opportunities through a variety of measures including reservation of slips and rental or membership clubs;
ï revise water quality recommendations to reflect requirements and ensure integration of the existing NPDES (National Pollution Discharge Elimination System), SUSMP (Standard Urban Stormwater Mitigation Plan), and TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Loads), and to clarify application of BMPs (Best Management Practices);
ï concur that a new traffic model is not needed to justify the current peak hour trip cap, but that a revised model should accompany any proposed changes in the cap;
ï require that the standard for models and methodology used in traffic studies explicitly reflect the county’s requirement that studies be based on and consistent with the most recent studies of major projects in the area, including models prepared for the LAX airport expansion and Playa Vista Phase II traffic models;
ï suggest that the county amend and ensure an ongoing assessment to support shuttle buses as part of all retail, residential and hotel development as a Category 1 transportation improvement;
ï recommend that the county consider all pending project-driven amendments of the Local Coastal Program that would change the designation of parcels from a public park or parking use to a private use at the same time, with the county analyzing the total pattern of public-serving and park uses, along with public parking demand in the Marina;
ï clarify the implementation process for design review of development to ensure adequate implementation of public access and visual resources provision of the Land Use Plan and that the land implementation plan doesn’t clearly identify which county agency should act on the Design Control Board’s report;
ï if the county amends the LCP to reassign the review of site plans from the Design Control Board to the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning, make clear that Regional Planning is responsible for reviewing these design elements for consistency with the certified LCP and public access policies of the Coastal Act; and
ï revise recreation and visitor-serving recommendations to prohibit development of condominium hotels, timeshares or other forms of fractional interest ownership on publicly owned land designated for visitor or public uses.
BIOLOGICAL RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENTALLY SENSITIVE HABITAT AREAS — Ainsworth had stated that the “most significant revision to this report is coastal commission staff’s recommendation to defer action on the biological resources and environmentally sensitive habitat areas until the October hearing.”
The staff report from the California Coastal Commission on the LCP review states that “One of the primary objectives of the California Coastal Act is to preserve, protect and enhance environmentally sensitive habitat areas.”
The Coastal Act defines environmentally sensitive area as “any area in which plant or animal life or their habitats are either rare or especially valuable because of their specific nature or role in an ecosystem and which could be easily disturbed or degraded by human activities and developments,” according to the staff report.
The coastal commission staff report noted:
ï the 1996 certified Local Coastal Program for the Marina contains no policies specifically addressing environmentally sensitive habitat areas and only limited policies addressing onshore habitat resources, according to coastal commission documentation;
ï the Local Coastal Program does not contain a definition or delineation process for wetlands consistent with the Coastal Act and Code of Regulations;
ï the Local Coastal Program does not provide adequate measures to assess the effects of development on biological resources should they be identified on a site-specific basis during coastal development permit review; and
ï the Local Coastal Program does not assure that development in the Marina will be sited and designed to prevent impacts that would degrade adjacent resources, according to the coastal staff review recommendations.
According to coastal commission documentation, when the commission certified the Land Use Plan (LUP) for the Marina del Rey segment in 1986, Area A and the wetlands within it were still part of the Local Coastal Program area and, as a result, the 1986 Land Use Plan contained an “environmentally sensitive habitat area” definition and policies designed to address the biological resources in Area A. (Area A was originally part of the Playa Vista development, west of Lincoln Boulevard between Marina del Rey and Culver Boulevard, later sold back to the state by Playa Vista.)
In September 1990, the Local Coastal Program was segmented into a Marina del Rey segment and an Area A segment and the Local Implementation Program (LIP) certified the Marina del Rey segment only, while the Area A segment was, and remains, uncertified, coastal commission staff states.
While the Marina del Rey segment contained a definition of environmentally sensitive habitat areas, it didn’t contain any policies to guide resource protection because that was removed with the segmentation process.
At the time, the coastal commission found that in denying the implementing ordinances for the Marina del Rey segment as submitted and approving modifications that Area A contained substantial wetland resources and degraded wetlands supporting habitat of the rare and endangered Belding’s savannah sparrow, but noted, “The certified Land Use Plan doesn’t identify any sensitive habitat in the Marina del Rey proper,” and stated that none of the restoration programs for the remainder of the wetlands required active participation on the part of the developed Marina del Rey.
In 1995, the county comprehensively updated its Local Coastal Program, deleting all environmentally sensitive habitat areas policies from the Local Coastal Program, and the coastal commission stated, when certifying the document, that “This chapter deals exclusively with Playa Vista Area A.”
The coastal commission said its decision was made with the knowledge available at the time, but now additional information has been presented “to indicate that sensitive resources may be present in selected areas of developed Marina del Rey,” and states that “The certified Local Coastal Program (1996) currently does not contain sufficient policies and development standards to address the assessment and protection of any resources that may be identified through the development review process, including wetlands and the heron rookeries identified throughout the Marina.”
The coastal commission states that in 2001, new information was presented identifying the possible existence of wetland resources on a parcel that was slated for the development of the Woodfin Hotel Suite and Vacation Ownership, and the U.S. Army Corps or Engineers determined that 1.3 acres of wetland on this parcel were subject to jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act.
In addition, the coastal commission states that since 1996 “new information has been presented concerning resources (which may themselves be new) in the Marina area as well as possible effects from Marina development on adjacent wetland areas slated for restoration.”
Also in 2001 and continuing to this date, states the coastal commission, as a result of monitoring development activities, great blue herons were found to be nesting in the developed areas of the Marina, and concerns of tree trimming and removal by the county focused on disturbance of the nesting areas.
The U.S. Department of Fish and Game noted concerns about the importance of the nesting areas and said, “The great blue heron is not a common nesting species in Los Angeles County because of historic and present incompatible land use practices, and there is some question as to whether other suitable sites are available in the area.
“The existence of heron nesting colonies is of particular importance to the continued biodiversity of Ballona Wetlands and Los Angeles County, and the persistence of herons as a successful breeder in Los Angeles County can only be accomplished by providing areas of suitable nesting and feeding habitat over time.”
While herons are not listed or proposed for listing as threatened or endangered species, individual herons and nests are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the California Fish and Game code, according to coastal commission staff.
The Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors currently maintains a tree trimming policy to coincide with bird breeding cycles, but the coastal commission stated that this policy is not in the Local Coastal Program and lacks some specificity in standards for approval of the activities, such as removing dead palm fronds with attached nests after the staff biologist visits the site and gives his approval, but does not determine what happens to the bird nests.
Coastal commission staff stated that since the certification of the 1996 Local Coastal Program, the commission has continued to gain information on the importance of environmentally sensitive habitat area buffers and potential urban impacts from con- struction, noise, lighting, urban runoff and potential introduction of non-native plants.
The coastal commission stated that, “In response, the county has made several assertions. First, the county objects to the reintroduction of ESHA policies into the Local Coastal Program and initially called for the deletion of all such references from the recommendations.”
The county also said that “there is no authority to impose an ESHA determination through the periodic review process,” which the coastal commission acknowledges.
The county is now attempting to hold the coastal commission to that earlier decision, claiming there is no new information since 1996 and that the California Coastal Commission concurred with this in certifying the updated Local Coastal Program that eliminated environmentally sensitive habitat area policies.
The county is now asking for additional time to prepare reports on the environmentally sensitive habitat area determination regarding heron rookeries and the coastal commission agreed to discuss this item at the October hearing.
While the hearing was postponed until October, speakers were given the opportunity to voice their opposition to a number of issues relating to development in the Marina.
Speakers at the meeting, who had driven over 200 miles from Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo to be heard by the California Coastal Commission, noted the lack of a comprehensive master plan for Marina del Rey while pushing through development without an amended Local Coastal Program; traffic congestion; concerns about environmentally safe habitat areas; lack of affordable amenities and boating slips for average individuals; and water quality issues.
California Coastal Commission members also commented on several issues.
Commissioner Sara Wan said she is concerned about a major change in direction regarding the nature of the recommendations by coastal commission staff.
One of the things wrong is that the cumulative effect is not seen, and that development is done on a project-by-project basis, and that is not good planning, said Wan.
On water quality, Wan said there needed to be additional strengthening of the system.
Regarding traffic in Marina del Rey, Wan said it takes her an additional one-half hour to 45 minutes to get to the airport with all of the traffic congestion on Lincoln Boulevard, and she asked, “Who from the county is driving on this road?”
Referring to it as a “traffic nightmare,” Wan asked what it will take to understand that traffic is not improving for those using Lincoln Boulevard, saying, “When moving at five miles an hour gets down to two miles an hour, will that be what it takes?”
Concerns about the environmentally safe habitat areas and species under attack by urbanization were also cited by Wan, saying that the term “where feasible” in the Local Coastal Pro- gram language means “when it doesn’t impact development,” and she said she wanted to see this term eliminated.
Ainsworth said written comments may be directed to the California Coastal Commission before the upcoming hearing in October to:
California Coastal Commission, South Coast Area Office, 200 Oceangate, Suite 1000, Long Beach 90802-4302.
The Marina del Rey Local Coastal Program Periodic Review is available at http://beach es.co.la.ca.us/bandH/main.htm/.
Due to the number of recommended revision items the California Coastal Commission has identified in its staff report and which could not be covered in detail in this article, The Argonaut plans to do further stories on these items prior to the commission’s hearing in October.