After all work ceased on the Ballona Wetlands Restoration Project in December due to California’s budget crisis, two revised alternatives were presented at a public meeting last month at Loyola Marymount University.
Mary Small, South Coast manager of the California Coastal Conservancy, said that the revised alternatives needed about two more weeks of work at the time all bond-funded projects in California came to an abrupt halt.
The lead agencies on the restoration project are the Coastal Conservancy, the California Department of Fish and Game, and the California State Lands Commission.
The Ballona Wetlands Restoration Project plans to restore and enhance a variety of native habitats on the site of the Ballona Wetlands, as well as provide for public access and recreational opportunities.
In September, an initial presentation of five potential alternatives was prepared, with the understanding that revisions to those alternatives would be based on input from the public, the project’s Science Advisory Committee, the project’s working group and key agencies such as the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors, the Gas Company, the Flood Control District and others.
At that September meeting, speakers were upset at what some saw as an attempt to transform the Ballona Wetlands into an inland extension of the ocean, with no regard for uplands and wildlife.
Small said the two revised alternatives — Alternatives 4 and 5 — that were presented at this meeting are from the original Alternatives 4 and 5.
A third alternative is the “do nothing” alternative, which is required under CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) and NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act).
Small said the main changes being incorporated into the alternatives are to increase the amount of upland habitat around the site for its own intrinsic value as well as to increase the buffer around the site.
In both alternatives, most of Area C (Fiji Way) will be left as upland and a larger portion of Area A will also be preserved as upland.
The alternatives are being designed to maximize resilience to sea level rise. In both alternatives, Small said they would orient the site and plan any grading to have long transitional slopes, which will allow habitats to migrate across the site as the sea level rises. Alternative 4 includes water control structures, while Alternative 5 does not.
Detailed phasing plans are being developed, especially for Alternative 5. These plans will be designed so that the project can be implemented over many years, minimizing the potential impacts to existing habitats or species, said Small.
Dr. Shelley Luce, director of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Committee, has a major role in the restoration project. She told The Argonaut earlier in the year that there was definitely a consensus that more uplands were needed, and that a comprehensive survey of what is on the land was also necessary.
Luce said the revised plan would preserve more of the higher elevation habitat, and the grassland, upland, sagebrush area, particularly in the area east of Lincoln Boulevard.
BALLONA INSTITUTE —
Marcia Hanscom and Robert “Roy” van de Hoek, co-directors of the Ballona Institute, said they do not advocate “doing nothing” about restoration, but do support the “wildlife friendly alternative” for the Ballona Wetlands.
“The most important question is, what are we managing for? What species are important at Ballona and what species will the plan help?” asked Hanscom.
Issues such as the continued presence of Great-blue Herons nesting, Great Egrets thriving; Western Meadowlarks remaining on the coast; and the White-Tailed Kite (a species of special concern and the most protected in the state) all require non-wetlands, said Hanscom.
“They will say the goal is ‘estuary restoration,’ but there were other goals we all agreed on in the beginning as stakeholders, which are all being ignored now, and most of the money for acquisition came from the Wildlife Conservation Board — which one would think would want to support wildlife friendly, not just water quality,” Hanscom said.
“The plans coming from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and these two state agencies Shelley and Mary represent are not wildlife friendly, and in fact, will cause the extirpation (local extinction) of numerous species of wildlife, including many of the beautiful birds which now inhabit Ballona.”
Hanscom said that the new alternatives that have been proposed are not much different than the previous ones, except that now they appear to be preserving the Little League fields off of Culver Boulevard.
“It is curious that the Coastal Conservancy is concerned over preserving the Little League fields but not the prairie grasslands which are so important to so many of the native species at Ballona. We think both are important,” she said.
Hanscom and van de Hoek’s recommendations encompass ten points: do no harm; acquire more land (nine open spaces on the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve edges identified by the Committee to Complete the Park); underground utility wires; community-based restoration; remove dead palms along Culver Boulevard; secure the reserve from human, canine and feline unauthorized trampling; calm traffic and encourage wildlife crossings; viewing platforms and walking trails; parking; and restore animals and plants.
FRIENDS OF BALLONA WETLANDS POSITION STATEMENT —
Otella Wruck, executive director of the Friends of Ballona Wetlands, provided a position statement regarding the revised alternatives and the Ballona Wetlands restoration:
“Friends of Ballona Wetlands (FBW) support the California Coastal Conservancy’s (CCC) restoration planning process for restoration of the Ballona Wetlands. The CCC has developed two alternative restoration concepts as a result of detailed scientific analysis.
“These concepts include many of FBW’s goals and objectives for restoration, which the public can view at our Web site along with a ‘hybrid’ concept proposed by FBW that addresses public access and education opportunities in conjunction with restoration.
“We expect all of these concepts will be refined as the environmental review process moves forward, based on studies that are underway to update what is known about the biological resources of the Ballona Wetlands, and on well-informed community input.
“Biological resource considerations will include existing high-value habitats and rare species. Pollutants in Ballona Creek are also being studied in order to understand potential impacts of restoration on water quality of the wetlands and Santa Monica Bay.
“What is most important, however, is that at long last, after more than 100 years of abuse and neglect, followed by decades of struggle by FBW and others to save the wetlands from further loss, Ballona finally has a chance to become a functioning ecosystem once more.
“Many studies of Ballona have been conducted over many decades, and now with the state purchase of the land in 2003, it is time to act. Ballona is the last remaining coastal salt marsh in Los Angeles County, and with populations of many marsh-dependent species declining or endangered in California, the urgency of restoration is clear.
“With completion of the Freshwater Marsh in 2003 by Playa Vista, we have already seen several bird species return to nest at Ballona after many decades of absence. Much is already known about existing wildlife values of Ballona and this information must be considered in relation to the tremendous biodiversity that will come with restoration.
“We hope that with political willpower and a strong sense of priorities that reflect a balance of needs, restoration will move forward. After all, we need to keep perspective. With nearly ten million people in Los Angeles County, the ultimate cost per person for restoration may amount to less than a family outing at the movie theater. And the results, in terms of conservation of endangered species and protection of an entire ecosystem that was almost lost forever, will be priceless.”
BALLONA ECOSYSTEM EDUCATION PROJECT —
Rex Frankel, director of the Ballona Ecosystem Education Project, said that there are three major controversial issues in the state’s restoration proposal for the Ballona preserve:
“The cost is a big one. Should we spend $209 million to restore the land which we already spent $225 million to buy? Shouldn’t we spend less on restoration and buy up other threatened lands next to the wetlands?” asked Frankel.
“Another issue is the source of the water, from the ocean or from urban Los Angeles. The third and most important issue — is this a restoration or a massive habitat conversion scheme,” Frankel said.
Regarding water resources, Frankel said that more water should be brought into the wetlands from the ocean, and that this water should be clean, not contaminated with urban runoff.
“The state’s plan takes water for the wetlands right out of Ballona Creek. They say they will only do that when the water in Ballona Creek is no longer being fouled with urban pollution from all of the streets in the Westside of Los Angeles,” said Frankel.
“Cleaning up the polluted runoff in Ballona Creek is an important project which we support, on which we are working in partnership with the city’s sanitation department, but it’s going to take a long time and billions of dollars to accomplish this,” he said.
Frankel said that taxpayers ultimately have to pay for cleaning up the urban street runoff, and they need to be convinced that the cost is worth it, so this is a long-term project that may or may not happen unless approved by taxpayers and voters.
“It doesn’t need to drag on forever, nor cost $209 million as the last proposal would. That’s why we’re uncomfortable in tying the restoration plan at Ballona Wetlands to the success of another very expensive project that may not be successfully completed in many years,” Frankel said.
“The state’s plan for habitat conversion is not restoration; it is development. We support a balanced ecosystem approach for the Ballona Wetlands restoration project. What this means is that as, currently, the almost 600 acres of state land is 49 percent uplands and 48 percent wetlands, we prefer it to stay in roughly those same proportions. Unfortunately, the state’s managers have proposed not a restoration project but a habitat conversion project,” Frankel said.
All of the information regarding the restoration and comments are on the individual Web sites at
ballonainstitute.org/, (and for
www.friendsofballona.org/, and http://ballona-news.blogspot.com/.