Posted March 30, 2016 by The Argonaut in Columns
Ballona Wetlands Records Lawsuit was a Taxpayer-Funded Witch-Hunt

Re: “Keep a Watchful Eye on the Wetlands,” Letters, March 10

The letter from Mr. Walter Lamb of the Ballona Wetlands Land Trust reminds me of the Benghazi hearings.

Congressional committees or panels held 21 hearings investigating the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) lost his bid to succeed John Boehner as Speaker of the House largely because of his gaffe admitting that the hearings were simply a ruse for Republicans to torpedo Hillary Clinton’s reputation.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D- Md.), summed it up nicely: “The core Republican goal in establishing the Benghazi committee was always to damage Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and never to conduct an evenhanded search for the facts.” The Benghazi inquiries cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

It would be provocative to ponder whether the Ballona Wetlands Land Trust’s recent lawsuit against the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission was similarly a vast, evil conspiracy to torpedo the Ballona Wetlands Restoration Project, but I’m sure that is not the case. I believe it’s just another bush league move by a vaguely relevant non-profit group to fabricate a government corruption fable, hoping to scare the public into donating to their cause in order to “protect” the public interest.

The tactic is understandable and common. When I see SPCA commercials on late-night TV, it takes great restraint to not write yet another check to save the poor pooches shown in Texas puppy mills. The difference here is that the puppy mills really exist, but Bay Commission corruption does not. Also, the SPCA does not force taxpayer dollars to be wasted in order to obtain my sympathy or my money.

After reading the judge’s ruling in the Land Trust’s case, which denied many but not all of the Land Trust’s public records information requests, it’s obvious to me there is no story here.

The inquiry focused on the relationship between the Annenberg Foundation, the Bay Commission and the non-profit arm of the Bay Commission known as The Bay Foundation. To no one’s surprise, the Annenberg Foundation donated money to The Bay Foundation at a time when Annenberg was seeking to construct a controversial facility on the south-easternmost parcel of the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve, where the 90 Freeway and Culver Boulevard intersect. That proposal died, and Annenberg has since moved on to create their facility in the commercial area of Playa Vista. The Wetlands Restoration Project continues to move forward at glacial speed, sans the Annenberg element, with the support of The Bay Foundation.

This should have been the end of the story, except the Land Trust went to trial court seeking documents belonging to The Bay Foundation (including fundraising activities, donors and other information) — presumably to prove some insidious conspiracy to misappropriate federal funds. The judge said “no” to disclosing these documents that are the property of a private foundation and thereby not subject to public records disclosure laws. The judge did order other documents to be disclosed, many of which had already been provided to the Land Trust prior to the trial.

Now, back to my Benghazi reference. Since the Bay Commission is a state agency, it was defended in the Land Trust’s lawsuit by the California Attorney General’s office. The Los Angeles County Superior Court hosted the trial, led by a judge and supported by a court clerk and many other public employees who ensure justice on a daily basis. All of these public institutions burned up our taxpayer dollars to defend against this nonsense. This is the Benghazi parallel: the wasting of precious public resources on a frivolous investigation.

I could not determine from the court order whether the Land Trust’s attorney was compensated for her troubles with taxpayer money. I sure hope not.

David W. Kay, Playa Vista


Re: “There Goes the Neighborhood,” Opinion, March 3

Rent control has never been a good solution. It creates an adverse relationship with the residents we serve. We do our best to follow the laws and meet our residents’ needs. We regularly improve our building, and twice a year we inspect each unit for deferred maintenance when we do our smoke detector inspections. Any items that are damaged or worn are repaired or replaced.

Lately we have seen residents try to sell their rights as tenants to others by bringing in a roommate and not telling us. Then the resident leaves and we have a new person in the apartment who says we cannot raise the rent.

The rents have not kept up with increasing costs, and our income has gone down. We are considering selling because we can’t continue to keep the building in its current great condition.

This explains why others are going out of the long-term rental business. What I would love to see is rent control replaced by a requirement for owners to provide a percentage for low-income housing. Then when the resident is requalified by the city on a yearly basis, we would all know that the resident who needs the discount would get it, and people would stop cheating. Landlords would have no reason to push someone out just to raise rents, because they couldn’t raise the rents.




    My thanks to David Kay for keeping the focus on the important issue of transparency with regard to the Ballona Wetlands. As the President of the Friends of Ballona Wetlands at the time, Dr. Kay was an ardent and vocal supporter of the Annenberg Foundation’s proposal to construct a 46,000 square foot building in the protected ecological reserve at Ballona. That ill-advised construction project was opposed by numerous environmental groups, newspaper editorial boards and elected officials. As such, Dr. Kay’s discomfort with an increase in transparency at Ballona is not surprising. Given that Dr. Kay once compared environmental groups at Ballona to the 9/11 terrorists, simply for wanting to preserve more land at Ballona than he deemed sufficient, his provocative Benghazi analogy is also not unexpected.

    Lack of transparency in governmental decisions is one of the greatest threats to our environment globally. The Ballona Wetlands Land Trust is proud to have increased transparency at Ballona via our successful lawsuit against the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission. It is indeed unfortunate that the Commission chose to waste substantial public resources defending against the lawsuit instead of simply adhering to California’s straightforward public records law. The Land Trust made every effort to avoid this costly litigation by repeatedly asking the Commission to disclose the records in question voluntarily, as required by law. Instead, the Commission attempted to hide those documents behind the private Bay Foundation, which Dr. Kay himself describes as the “non-profit arm” of the Commission.

    Lest anyone be confused, the Commission and the Foundation are, by and large, the exact same people working out of the exact same offices on the exact same projects. The Los Angeles Superior Court judge presiding over this case actually had to correct the Commission’s false assertion that work performed on the Ballona Wetlands Restoration Project was private work done for the Foundation when it was, in fact, public work performed for the Commission. That, in itself, should serve as a red flag that the lines between the Commission and Foundation are blurred to a troubling degree. For the record, the Land Trust does not object to the Commission and Foundation working as a team to further the goals of the Santa Monica Bay National Estuary Program as long as both entities adhere to the same standards of public transparency.

    Dr. Kay’s inaccurate insinuations that the Land Trust used this litigation to raise money are insulting to everyone who supported this exhaustive effort to hold a state agency accountable to the law. I personally volunteered hundreds of hours of my time and made a substantial donation to the Land Trust to support this effort. I was joined by other members of our board and many members of the public who recognize the benefit of transparency at Ballona. As Dr. Kay know, I receive no compensation whatsoever for my work on behalf of the Land Trust.

    Hopefully, the various project agencies responsible for Ballona will begin working more collaboratively and transparently with the many stakeholder groups that care so much about this important ecosystem, and we can resolve future disagreements outside of the courtroom. Already, there are hopeful signs that such collaboration is possible. Just yesterday, I and others participated in a meeting of the SMBRC’s Watershed Advisory Council facilitated by Commission/Bay Foundation staff. Many important topics, including the Ballona Wetlands Restoration Project, were discussed. The Watershed Advisory Council voted to convene again during the public comment period for the draft EIR for the Ballona Wetlands Restoration Project, which will hopefully occur this summer after many years of delays. Having enjoyed several friendly discussions with Mr. Kay about the CEQA process for Ballona, I know that he has valuable experiences and perspectives to share, and I hope that he will do so, rather than simply attempting to pour fuel on the fire, as he is often prone to do.


    The Middle East war analogy by the defender of Bulldozing the Ballona Wetlands in last week’s Argonaut was seriously cockeyed. I have met him and he bears a worrisome resemblance to ex-US Vice President Dick Cheney both in appearance and in argument style.

    Bravo to the Ballona Wetlands Land Trust for forcing the secret Santa Monica Bay Foundation to open its files! It is shocking that insiders in our government park management agencies have set up a private and “non profit” corporation (The Bay Foundation) employing themselves and friends and to which they have also handed the responsibility for planning the future of the public’s precious Ballona Wetlands Preserve. This is very sad given that leadership in this corporation get taxpayer funded 6 figure salaries while they attempt to force upon the public a massive and unpopular wetland destruction plan, followed by a $100 to $200 million restoration to something it never was. I repeat: this is not a restoration! This insider’s Ballona Wetlands plan has been, and if allowed to continue, will be a massive boondoggle for the benefit of bulldozing engineering firms and their friends in the inside circle of the Bay Foundation. This needed to be exposed.

    Contrast this to less destructive and historically accurate restoration proposals pushed by volunteer community groups composed of longtime local residents who love the wetlands and recognize this trumped up plan to “invade” our wetlands with bulldozers as a massive taxpayer fleecing plan based on a faulty need to destroy the wetlands in order to save them.

    The Middle Eastern analogy is apt here. Remember the tragedy of the USA’s recent “public-private” partnership in the war in Iraq? Remember how the newly elected US Vice President stepped down as CEO of Halliburton Corporation, but kept his millions in stock? Then he trumped up the argument for starting a war with Iraq based on weapons of mass destruction that did not actually exist? Then he and his buddies looted the USA taxpayers for trillions which poured into no-bid contracts to the benefit of his Halliburton Corporation which essentially ran the war operations? Then this VP left office, and Halliburton left the wreckage of Iraq behind, taking its trillions to a new headquarters overseas, out of reach of the USA legal system?

    This is the pattern of secret public private partnerships. Fleecing the taxpayers and leaving behind a mess. Secret government is corrupt by definition.

    We cannot afford to let these insiders privatize and wreck our Ballona Wetlands. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

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