By Gary Walker
Representatives of the Annenberg Foundation will not be making a presentation of their proposed interpretive nature center before the Del Rey Neighborhood Council as they had planned to last month.
The decision not to offer the presentation to the full board on Thursday, April 11 comes a month after the foundation’s representatives showed the local council’s Land Use and Planning Committee their plans for their $50 million interpretive center, which would be located in what is known locally as Area C of the Ballona Wetlands.
Those plans include a 46,000-square foot site that would be equipped with an auditorium, classrooms, a public lobby, exhibits on wildlife and domestic animals, facilities for an animal adoption and care program and veterinary facilities for animals.
The proposed building would be adjacent to the Culver-Marina Little League fields on Culver Boulevard between Playa del Rey and Del Rey.
Liza de Villa Ameen, a former spokeswoman with the Annenberg Foundation, said the foundation might lend a hand in improving the nearby baseball fields, which are in need of repair.
“All of Area C has been neglected and can be enhanced and improved,” she said. “At this time, we are still considering enhancements and improvements to the ball fields.”
Several opponents of the project attended the planning committee meeting and were outraged when Annenberg Foundation Executive Director Leonard Aube, who made the presentation, refused to provide copies of the plans.
Annenberg was originally slated to present at last month’s council meeting.
“Annenberg asked to present again at our April meeting rather than (the March meeting) so they could have time to incorporate all the community feedback into their presentation,” explained Del Rey Neighborhood Council President Eric DeSobe.
The planning and land use committee submitted a motion to the council to consider the proposed center following its March 6 meeting.
“On March 11, the Annenberg Foundation requested that their presentation of the conceptual interpretive center be placed on the agenda of the (neighborhood) council at a later date in order to better review the public comments that were heard on March 6 so that each recommendation is given thoughtful consideration,” Elizabeth Zamora, the planning and land use chair, told The Argonaut.
“The foundation stated they would like to make a full presentation of the project to the Del Rey community after the draft environmental report is released this summer so that the community has the details of the (draft environmental impact report) to inform the project presentation. The foundation stated they appreciate the expression of views from all individuals and it looks forward to having more opportunities for the Del Rey community’s involvement in the decision making process.”
Critics of the nature center have seized on the animal care and veterinary facilities, claiming that the wetlands are not the appropriate site for such a facility.
They also argue that the foundation sought to construct a similar project in Rancho Palos Verdes two years ago that ultimately was not built after months of community protests.
That facility would have been 51,000 square feet and its features would have included an exhibit and classroom space and adoption suites for 10 dogs and eight cats. Plans also included native habitat, improved trails, a demonstration Tongva village and an archaeological dig.
Federal and state officials also raised concerns about the proposed park, which was largely marketed as a companion animal center, and the project’s deed restrictions. The foundation sought to build the park and animal center at Lower Pointe Vicente, a former military installation.
“Such a cynical idea to have a ‘nature center about the wetlands’ right on the wetlands. Wetlands, by definition, is a wild place habitat for birds, flora and fauna,” wrote Susan Craig, who opposes the foundation’s Ballona Wetlands project. “It’s like cutting down trees to have a tree park, but in this case, it’s destroying wetlands to build a wetlands park.
A memorandum of understanding signed by the foundation states that the project will encompass approximately 15-20 acres of land and will provide funding for a “uniform and design related to the restoration project.”
Annenberg’s proposal has been folded into the state’s notice of preparation, which marks the beginning of a long-awaited state-sponsored restoration plan to rehabilitate the Ballona Wetlands. The state Coastal Commission, along with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the United States Army Corps of Engineers will be in charge of the restoration effort.
“We hope this center will become a place where community members can come to learn how nature works, and how each of them is a part of it,” said Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton H. Bonham. “This effort is the kind of legacy project we need, with education programs to help instill a sense of stewardship in these urban communities that might otherwise not be fulfilled.”
The foundation did not return calls for comment.