Reboot of controversial wetlands proposal now slated for Playa Vista

By Gary Walker

The Annenberg Center would occupy 30,000 square feet of The Collective at Playa Vista creative office campus, which will also house offices for Yahoo Inc. Photo by Michael Aushenker

The Annenberg Center would occupy 30,000 square feet of The Collective at Playa Vista creative office campus, which will also house offices for Yahoo Inc.
Photo by Michael Aushenker

Six months after suspending its plan for a $50-million environmental education and animal care center in the Ballona Wetlands, the Annenberg Foundation has announced plans to locate a modified version of the center in Playa Vista.

The newly proposed Annenberg Center — now focused primarily on domesticated animals — would occupy a two-story, 30,000-square-foot space in The Collective at Playa Vista, a five-building creative office space campus soon to house Internet giant Yahoo Inc.’s Los Angeles operations.

Annenberg’s footprint would include three animal program support spaces, two activity areas, two learning courtyards, administrative offices and 159 parking spaces.

“The mission of the Annenberg Center will be to promote and strengthen the human-animal bond as well as the understanding and enjoyment of companion animals for people of all walks of life in a fun, engaging and interactive setting,” an Annenberg Foundation statement reads.

Howard Litwak and Jackie Jaakola, leaders of the foundation’s animal companion project team, gave a presentation about the proposal on Tuesday before the Neighborhood Council of Westchester – Playa’s Planning and Land Use Committee.

Because the building is within 500 feet of homes, the Annenberg Foundation will be required to obtain a conditional use permit from the city to operate the animal care center, Litwak said. There will be a veterinary representative on site at all times to care for animals that are boarded at the facility, he added.

The committee voted 9-0 in support of the project and will forward the recommendation to the full neighborhood council, which will likely hear from Annenberg representatives at its July 6 meeting, said committee chair Patricia Lyon.

In December, the Annenberg Foundation decided to put a halt to plans for a 46,000-square-foot nature education and animal care center in the Ballona Wetlands near the Culver Marina Little League baseball fields.

Billed as primarily a nature education center that would complement wetlands restoration efforts, the facility would have also contained classrooms, and auditorium, exhibits about wildlife and domestic animals, a pet adoption center and veterinary facilities.

Opponents complained that the domestic animal adoption and care components were inappropriate for restoration efforts designed to protect wetlands flora and fauna.

During a telephone interview, Annenberg Foundation Executive Director Cynthia Kennard said building an animal care facility has been a longtime dream of foundation President Wallis Annenberg and that the foundation sees Playa Vista as the ideal setting for the facility.

“It’s a very vibrant area in terms of high-tech and creative businesses. We’re in the middle of this futuristic, vibrant community and we would be thrilled to be part of it,” Kennard said.

Playa Vista resident Marla Kay said the addition of an animal companion center to the neighborhood would be a “phenomenal asset” for two current Playa Vista entities, Playa Vista Elementary School and Discovery Park.

“I’ve been in Playa Vista for nine years, and I hope that someday I can volunteer or work [at the animal companion center],” Kay said.

Marcia Hanscom of the Playa del Rey-based Ballona Institute, a fierce critic of the initial wetland center proposal, also spoke favorably of the new project.

“I’m here primarily to say thank you to the Annenberg Foundation for listening to the community. It seems like wildlife and companion animals are separated now,” Hanscom said.

Annenberg representatives did not address the foundation’s motives for halting the wetlands project at the meeting.

“The project here is for domestic animals, but we will still continue to pursue some of the similar themes of the nature center,” Litwak told the committee.