By Gary Walker
A group that opposes the Annenberg Foundation’s plan for an animal adoption and nature education center in the Ballona Wetlands wants a judge to force the state to release records of public officials’ communications with Annenberg about its proposal.
The Ballona Land Trust filed a state Public Records Act lawsuit against the California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife seeking copies of Annenberg presentations on their wetlands center concept and emails between the agency and the foundation.
The state has challenged the Los Angeles County Superior Court lawsuit, arguing they’ve already produced all existing Ballona Wetlands records subject to disclosure.
The Annenberg Foundation is offering to fund a portion of the restoration but wants the right to build a $50-million, 46,000-square-foot facility within the wetlands near the Marina (90) Freeway and the Culver-Marina Little League baseball fields.
The proposed center, which has not been approved by state officials, would include an auditorium, classrooms, exhibits on wildlife and an animal adoption and care center with a supporting veterinary clinic.
The Ballona Land Trust advocates restoring the wetlands with minimal human footprint on the land and are concerned about a concentrated presence of domesticated animals. The group believes the state Coastal Conservancy and Fish and Wildlife, the agencies in charge of restoring the 600-acre reserve, don’t have the land’s best ecological interests at heart.
The suit by the Ballona Land Trust represents its first legal challenge, though indirect, of the proposed Annenberg center.
In court documents, lawyers for the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife contend that it’s unfair to ask the agency for documents that belong to a private group.
“Not content despite receiving every document in the [department’s] possession responsive to the California Public Records Act requests, Ballona [Land Trust] asks this court to effect a dramatic expansion of the act by requiring [the department] to obtain records from a third party and produce them to Ballona,” reads the state’s response to the lawsuit. “Courts have routinely found that a ‘non-governmental auxiliary organization’ is not a ‘state organization’ for the purposes of the California Public Records Act.”
Ballona Land Trust President Walter Lamb, who suspects state workers of secretly helping the Annenberg Foundation promote its plan, called the response a cynical stalling tactic.
“They are going to great lengths to keep these documents away from the general public,” Lamb said. “This legal maneuver is just another way for them to delay the release of these documents and force us to spend more money pursuing our case.”§