By Gary Walker
A utilitarian coastal flood control basin in Marina del Rey is slated for an $11-million facelift that would give it the look and feel of a public park.
Landscaping work at Oxford Retention Basin — bounded by Washington Boulevard, Oxford Avenue and Admiralty Way — would begin this summer if the project gets a green light on Tuesday from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
Upgrades planned for the basin include a 2/3-mile circular bicycle and walking path around the salt marsh lagoon, nature observation areas, wildlife-friendly lighting and low decorative fencing in place of its current uninviting chain-link barrier.
The Los Angeles County Dept. of Public Works would also strip the area of invasive plant species and replace them with native coastal scrub.
The landscaping and beautification proposal comes as part of a county strategy to convert functional flood-control structures into recreation-friendly areas that the public can enjoy, Public Works Dept. spokesman Bob Spencer said.
“Typically, flood control facilities have been off limits to the public. But many of them wind through communities and residential neighborhoods throughout the county, so for several years now it’s been normal for us to look at opening them for community use,” Spencer said.
Hannah Koo, the county engineer managing the project, says the transformation of Oxford Basin would have important functional advantages as well — namely enhancing flood protection and reducing runoff pollution by rechanneling the flow of water in and out of the basin.
As part of that effort, Koo said she expects workers to dredge some 6,700 cubic yards of sediment from the 7.3-acre parcel.
A combination of state and county funding will pay for the project’s $6.7 million construction tab and $4 million in design and other soft costs, Spencer said.
The more recreational aspects of Oxford Basin’s restoration took shape over a four-year public hearing process.
“It has transformed from an infrastructure project into a passive [recreational] attraction,” said Carol Baker, a spokeswoman with the Los Angeles County Dept. of Beaches and Harbors.
But not everyone is pleased.
Douglas Fay, a Venice resident and son of well-known local marine biochemist Dr. Rimmon Fay, says changing Oxford Basin may damage its value as a wildlife habitat.
Fay has challenged the county environmental approval process and says its current study of the project is insufficient. He thinks a full environmental impact report — a much more detailed, costly and time-consuming analysis — should be done in order to insure wildlife is projected.
Oxford Basin “is/was a dedicated bird conservation area that has been destroyed by the people responsible to protect it. The county wants to manage this property as a flood [pollution] control basin in perpetuity. They want to do the same to the Ballona Wetlands by opening the wetlands to the flood control channel, also calling it a restoration,” he wrote in an email.
An environmental study that will determine the scope of a state-sponsored restoration of the nearby Ballona Wetlands is due out in spring.
Oxford Basin was historically connected to the Ballona Wetlands but used for agriculture in the early 20th Century and then integrated into the area’s flood control system in the late 1950s, according to county documents. The basin receives storm runoff from the Venice area and releases it into the Marina.
In 2010, a biologist hired by the county found various fish species in the water and reported that herons and egrets have used the basin as a breeding ground despite its non-native vegetation. The report suggested that replacing invasive species with native plants would encourage other native bird species, including migrant songbirds and the threatened California least tern.
Officials admit that birds and other animals could be displaced during the anticipated 10 months of construction at Oxford Basin but are optimistic their plan is best for the long run.
“There is no doubt that some wildlife might be impacted, but when the project is finished we fully expect the wildlife to return,” Spencer said.
Spencer defended the county approvals process and said workers would halt the project if unexpected environmental issues arise.
Koo said a biologist would be onsite during construction to make certain that the habitat is disturbed as little as possible.
Challis McPherson, who lives just 500 feet from the basin, said its recasting as a recreational area is “a grand idea … but I’ll believe it when I see it.”
Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, who represents Marina del Rey, said he supports moving the project forward quickly.
“Oxford Basin is a great opportunity for the county to take an infrastructure project and expand its use to recreation purposes. We plan to not only improve the area’s primary function, flood protection, but also create a destination for residents and visitors to enjoy,” Knabe said.
“This is an area that has needed to be cleaned up, and I’m pleased that we will be making it a more attractive and useful space for people and habitat alike,” he added.