In a joint project, the California State Coastal Conservancy, the California Department of Fish and Game and the California State Lands Commission, interacting with other agencies, have identified an Early Action Plan as part of the Ballona Wetlands Restoration Plan.
This Early Action Plan is intended to “serve as a blueprint for specific actions that are ready to be implemented to improve public access and habitat conditions at the wetlands,” said Mary Small, program manager for the state Coastal Conservancy and Rick Mayfield, ecological reserve manager of the Department of Fish and Game.
Small and Mayfield outlined details for the Early Action Plan at the Marina Affairs Committee meeting Wednesday, May 21st, at Tony P’s restaurant in Marina del Rey.
Small and Mayfield said that the purpose of the Early Action Plan is to take recommendations and concepts from the Interim Stewardship Access and Management Plan and identify specific projects that can be implemented prior to full restoration of the Ballona Wetlands.
The Ballona Wetlands Restoration Project goals are “to restore, enhance and create estuarine (having to do with an estuary) habitat and processes in the Ballona Ecosystem to support a natural range of habitats and functions, especially as related to estuarine-dependent plants and animals and to create opportunities for aesthetic, cultural, recreation, research and educational use of the Ballona Ecosystem that are compatible with the environmentally sensitive resources of the area,” according to project documentation.
A brief outline of the Ballona Wetlands Restoration Project Early Action Plan schedule includes: completion of the feasibility study by this summer; refining of alternatives and hiring California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) consultants by this fall; and initiation of the environmental review this winter, said Small.
In the summer of 2009, the environmental review is scheduled for finalization, as well as initiation of final engineering. Permit applications and completion of final engineering are scheduled for winter of 2009, and construction of Phase I is scheduled to begin in 2010, Small said.
The three Early Action Plan projects include establishing gateways to the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve at Gordon’s Market (303 Culver Blvd., Playa del Rey) and Fisherman’s Village (13755 Fiji Way, Marina del Rey), as well as installation of a regional sign at the intersection of Culver and Jefferson boulevards identifying the ecological reserve, as well as signage in and around the wetlands to increase public awareness, said Small.
The following descriptions of the Ballona Wetlands Project, the Early Action Plan, the Freshwater Marsh, and Areas A, B and C are from a report prepared for the California State Coastal Conservancy.
GATEWAY ENTRANCE AND TRAIL IMPROVEMENTS SOUTH OF BALLONA CREEK —
Gordon’s Market is at the southwestern-most corner of the Ballona Wetlands located in the parking lot behind the market, and the current parking lot is unpaved, generating dust in the summer and impassible mud holes during the rainy season, Small said.
Parking spaces are not delineated and there is no signage indicating the lot is owned by the California Department of Fish and Game, with a chain-link fence needing replacement between the parking lot and the wetlands.
Groups accessing this Area B for educational programs enter the ecological preserve through a gate at the corner of the lot, as well as less formal access eastward at Titmouse Park on Culver Boulevard (which has drawn scrutiny for its name and may soon be renamed to more adequately describe the area).
Small said the area behind Gordon’s Market receives some of the heaviest usage of the entire wetlands complex — with the possible exception of the Little League fields in Area C on Culver Boulevard — and approximately 300 to 400 people per week utilize this location for wetlands access.
The proposed project for Gordon’s Market Gateway development includes improvement of the existing parking lot to create a public staging area with visible access to the site; improve visitors’ experience by providing a safe staging area and interpretive information; reduce runoff from the parking lot by installing storm water best-management practices (BMPs); provide sufficient parking for site visitors, including school buses; and reduce management issues by increasing public presence and use of the site, according to state Coastal Conservancy documentation.
Circulation and signage to maximize visibility of the gateway to passersby as well as return visitors is a priority, with access to the gateway continuing to be from Culver Boulevard via the alleyway between Gordon’s Market and the Matilla shopping center and from Vista del Mar.
Visual access to the site for drivers westbound on Culver Boulevard will be assisted by directional signage along Culver Boulevard and at its signalized intersection with Vista del Mar, while within the site the alleyway will provide one-way ingress and Vista del Mar will provide two-way ingress and egress, states conservancy documentation.
The acreage of the existing parking lot will be reduced to provide for a net increase in restored natural areas of approximately 1,700 square feet, and redesigned to provide the same number of spaces with additional benefits of restoring the edge habitat, public walkways, resurfacing the lot with permeable paving and integrating urban storm water best-management practices, shade trees, educational opportunities, bike racks, portable restrooms, trash receptacles, decorative gates and picnic tables.
The existing trail from the Gordon’s parking lot to the Boy Scouts’ overlook platform will be improved to meet accessibility standards, and natural materials such as logs or railroad ties will serve as physical demarcation of the trail to convey access limitations due to the site’s sensitivity.
GATEWAY ENTRANCE AND TRAIL IMPROVEMENTS NORTH OF BALLONA CREEK —
The proposed location of a second gateway entrance to the site is at the northwestern-most edge of the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve, along Fiji Way in the County of Los Angeles, located directly across the street from Fisherman’s Village in Marina del Rey.
This entrance is adjacent to the heavily used coastal bike trail, extending from Will Rogers State Beach in Pacific Palisades to Torrance and the Ballona Creek Bike Path.
There is currently no public use of this area, although there is a chain-link access gate and dirt area used by the Southern California Gas Company for operations and maintenance of its wells.
This site presents a significant opportunity to allow visitors visual access into the wetlands and to create a short trail that links to the Ballona Creek Bike Path, and gateway improvements to be designed and evaluated include:
— new parking area for two Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant parking spaces, turn-around space for a mid-size van and permeable parking;
— bicycle parking;
— new perimeter fencing around staging area, installation of a new lockable security gate and a new pedestrian gate;
— limited plant restoration and brush clearance around parking area;
— new directional, gateway, regulatory and interpretive signage;
— new elevated viewing platform;
— improving existing roads to accommodate pedestrians and including grading, clearing, fencing and edging as needed to create a trail linkage to the Ballona Creek Bike Path; and
— new gate and entrance to the site from the Ballona Creek Bike Path.
The final element of the Early Action Plan is design of signs at and around the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve to increase public understanding and awareness of the wetlands.
The project will fund final design of entrance signs at the two gateways described above and interpretive signage at those gateways and along the Ballona Creek Bike Path.
If approved, this grant will complement a River Parkway grant to the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) to design interpretive designs along the Ballona Creek Bike Path upstream of the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve. A single large sign that identifies the reserve will be designed to be visible from the roads traversing the wetlands.
In her staff report to the Coastal Conservancy Board, Small is recommending authorization to disburse up to $175,000 to the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority to complete final design and permit applications for the implementation access and interpretive improvements identified in the Ballona Wetlands Early Action Plan.
Small’s staff recommendation includes that the conservancy adopt the following findings:
— that the proposed project is consistent with the project selection criteria and guidelines, last updated by the conservancy on September 20th, 2007;
— that the proposed authorization is consistent with the purposes and objectives of Chapter Nine of Division 21 of the Public Resources Code regarding System of Public Accessways; and
— that the project serves greater than the local need.
The Ballona Wetlands once occupied approximately 2,000 acres, extending northward from the bluffs. Remnant areas of that wetland complex include Del Rey Lagoon, Ballona Lagoon, Marina del Rey and the Venice Canals. These areas are not the primary focus of the restoration planning effort, but are considered in this report to give a landscape context, according to the report.
The Ballona Wetlands Project area includes 600 acres owned by the State of California; 540 acres owned by the California Department of Fish and Game; and 60 acres owned by the State Lands Commission, including the 24-acre Freshwater Marsh and the expanded wetlands parcel.
A portion of the restoration site is in unincorporated Los Angeles County and the rest is in the City of Los Angeles.
The Freshwater Marsh is located west of Lincoln Boulevard and south of Jefferson Boulevard in the City of Los Angeles.
The Freshwater Marsh was constructed between 2001 and 2003. It treats urban runoff and storm water from the Playa Vista development (central inlet) and from Jefferson Boulevard (Jefferson inlet).
The Freshwater Marsh is operated and managed by the Ballona Wetlands Conservancy, a non-profit organization established for that purpose. A riparian corridor east of Lincoln Boulevard and outside of the project is currently being constructed that will connect to the southern end of the Freshwater Marsh.
The part of Ballona Creek that flows through the project area is owned by the Department of Fish and Game. The channel is trapezoidal, with bottom widths varying from 80 to 200 feet and depths varying from 19 to 23 feet from the top of the levee.
AREA “A” —
Area A is approximately 139 acres in size and lies north of Ballona Creek, west of Lincoln Boulevard and south of Fiji Way (across from Fisherman’s Village). Elevations range between approximately nine and 17 feet relative to mean sea level, with fill places on Area A during the excavations of Ballona Creek and Marina del Rey.
Area A is undeveloped, with the exception of a parking area along the western boundary and a drainage channel along the northern boundary. The Gas Company currently maintains four monitoring well sites in the western end of this area.
Area B, approximately 338 acres in size, lies south of Ballona Creek and west of Lincoln Boulevard. Area B extends south to Cabora Drive, a utility access road near the base of the Playa del Rey bluffs. To the west, Area B extends into the dunes that border homes along Vista del Mar.
Elevations across Area B range between approximately two and five feet mean sea level in the lower flat portions, and up to 50 feet below mean sea level below the Playa del Rey bluffs.
Area B contains the largest area of remnant unfilled wetlands with abandoned agricultural lands to the southwest and the Freshwater Marsh to the northeast. The Gas Company has easements for oil wells, one of which is active, and supporting access routes in Area B.
AREA “C” —
Area C is north of Ballona Creek and east of Lincoln Boulevard in the City of Los Angeles. The Marina Freeway (State Route 90) forms the northeastern border of Area C. The area is approximately 66 acres in size and is traversed in an east-west direction by Culver Boulevard.
Area C contains fill from the construction of the Ballona Creek flood control channel, and developments such as Marina del Rey, the Pacific Electric Railroad, the raising of Culver Boulevard and the Marina Freeway.
Elevations within Area C range from approximately 4.5 to 25 feet mean sea level. Area C is mostly undeveloped with the exception of the baseball fields on Culver Boulevard and supporting minor structures.
Ballona Creek today is a nine-mile-long flood control channel, draining the Ballona Creek watershed, which covers approximately 130 square miles from the Santa Monica Mountains on the north to the Baldwin Hills on the south, and from the Harbor Freeway (Interstate 110) on the east to the Pacific Ocean, with a paved service road for county maintenance vehicles and a bike path running along the westernmost seven miles, states documentation on BallonaCreek.org
The project management team includes staff from the Coastal Conservancy, the Department of Fish and Game and the State Lands Commission, with the land-owning agencies retaining final discretionary approval for any project constructed on their property, and some actions may require regulatory approvals by such agencies as the California Coastal Commission, the City of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County.