Opponents object to removal of hundreds of trees in flood control basin’s reboot as recreation area

By Gary Walker

Demonstrators rallied Tuesday to oppose the removal of 650 trees and shrubs from Oxford Basin Lagoon Photo by Gary Walker

Demonstrators rallied Tuesday to oppose the removal of 650 trees and shrubs from Oxford Basin Lagoon
Photo by Gary Walker

More than a dozen protestors, many of them affiliated with local environmental groups, rallied Tuesday at the Oxford Basin Lagoon in Marina del Rey to contest the planned removal of nearly 650 trees and shrubs as part of an $11-million overhaul of the flood-control area.

Renovation of the basin — including the addition of a walking path and observation areas, planting of native trees, addition of a berm to improve water circulation and the removal of 6,500 cubic yards of sediment contaminated by urban runoff — was approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors last year.

Work was slated to begin Tuesday but was temporarily rescheduled to a later date, said Los Angeles County Public Works Department spokesman Kerjon Lee.

“We anticipate starting construction as soon as possible,” said Lee, adding that he was unsure why the project’s start was delayed.

Those who attended the protest accused county leaders of failing to disclose the true number of trees that will be removed from the fenced-off 7.3-acre lagoon area and said they were alarmed to learn that all the trees would be taken out.

Lee said the number of trees that would be extracted during construction is included in the county’s environmental analysis, which was made public last spring.

Page two of the October 2013 document states that “the final [initial study and mitigated negative declaration] does not change the impacts that were analyzed for the removal of 650 plants [400 trees and 250 shrubs] and does not require a new mitigation measure.”

None of the trees around Oxford Basin Lagoon — bordered by Admiralty Way, Washington Boulevard and Oxford Avenue — were identified as nesting trees in a 2014 nesting survey, according to Lee. A biologist would remain on site during construction, he said.

Demonstrator Douglas Fay sued the county earlier this year to halt the project. Fay said he settled the lawsuit and cannot continue a court challenge the California Coastal Commission’s approval of the county project.

“But I can lobby for a better outcome,” said Fay, a Santa Monica resident who ran for a county supervisor seat earlier this year.

Fay, who grew up near the Oxford Basin Lagoon, called it a dedicated bird sanctuary and said the number of birds returning there has been increasing.

“To turn the only bird conservation area in Los Angeles County [jurisdiction] into a recreational park and exacerbate the flood control potential is the wrong thing to do,” he said.

County representatives say they do not take the project’s opponents grievances lightly.

“The concerns of the protesters are very valuable to us. We’ve attempted to do this in a very transparent way,” Lee said.

The renovation of the basin is part of a larger county strategy to convert flood-control structures into more recreation-friendly areas. In addition to a loop trail planned for Oxford Basin Lagoon, the renovation would add wildlife observation areas and educational signage.

By and large, opponents of the project complained that county officials have a poor track record of giving proper public notice about the details of controversial projects.

“I would say what they are doing he re falls right in line with that history,” said Venice Neighborhood Council Vice President Marc Saltzberg, who lives in nearby Marina Peninsula.

Saltzberg said he isn’t against beautifying the basin but has concerns about the removal of trees.

Construction at the basin is expected to last for at least a year after it begins.