By Gary Walker
Environmental advocates who stand in fierce opposition to a proposal by the Annenberg Foundation to build an interpretive nature center in the Ballona Wetlands watched in dismay and disbelief as the Del Rey Neighborhood Council voted against opposing the foundation’s center at its April 11 meeting.
The motion, brought forward by board member Peter Hsu, was rejected 6-3 with one abstention.
Representatives from several local organizations, including the Ballona Institute and the Sierra Club’s Airport Marina Group, asked the local board to take a stand against the $50 million proposed interpretive center, which would be built in the Ballona Wetlands.
Project plans include 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 on a 46,000-square foot site.
Annenberg representatives have stated that they will consider assisting in refurbishing the land in the vicinity of Culver-Marina Little League fields, which is where they are seeking to build their structure. That part of the wetlands is known as Area C.
Kathy Knight of the Airport Marina Group said the land where Annenberg wants to build was once where the Gabrielino/Tongva Native American tribe lived, hunted and fished. “Please respect that and do not support building on this land,” Knight implored.
At least three members of the board thought the motion was premature, given that the environmental impact report for the proposed center, which measures all of the potential effects, has yet to be released.
When questioned why he brought the motion to the board, Hsu responded, “Because there has been a large community response.
Second Vice President Ellie Bertwell disagreed with the contention of some of her colleagues that the board would be acting in a premature fashion if it chose to vote in favor of the motion. “To take a position now on (the Annenberg center) does not require us to have all of the scientific analysis now,” Bertwell countered.
Jonathon Neumann repeatedly reminded his board colleagues that no environmental analysis of the proposed nature center has been conducted and these reports, known as EIRs, detail all of the potential impacts that a project can have on the land as well as on the nearby communities.
Annenberg Foundation Executive Director Leonard Aube made a presentation March 6 to the local council’s Land Use and Planning Committee. Nearly 30 people spoke before the committee, including an organized opposition to the project. The foundation was scheduled to present its plans before the entire board the following day but postponed it until the April 11 meeting.
Earlier this month, Annenberg representatives informed Del Rey Neighborhood Council Vice President Elizabeth Zamora that they would not be attending the April meeting.
“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,” Zamora, who is also the chair of the council’s land use and planning committee, told The Argonaut.
The increasingly bitter confrontations over the Annenberg project is taking place against the backdrop of a planned state-sponsored restoration plan for the Ballona Wetlands, a 600-acre ecological reserved owned by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. They, along with the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the California Coastal Conservancy, will be in charge of the restoration venture.
Zamora also indicated that she thought the opposition motion was premature, given the fact that the comment period for the wetlands restoration effort ended last month and public input would be included when the EIR is released, which would give the local council plenty of time to carefully consider a position on the state’s plans.
Those who have spoken against the restoration argue that it is too intrusive and they have indicated little faith in the government agencies in charge of the wetlands.
The Ballona Wetlands EIR is slated to be released later this year. The notice of preparation, which initiates the environmental analysis, was reconfigured and released earlier this year to include the Annenberg project.
Jon Graff of the Reason Foundation, a conservative libertarian research organization with an office in Del Rey, said having the Annenberg Foundation play a role in rehabilitating portions of Area C could be a benefit to the wetlands as well as the surrounding communities.
“Typically, private conservationists do it right because they bring more resources that the state doesn’t,” he said.
The foundation lists arts, education, animal services, civic responsibility and health and human services as its focus, but not conservation.
Opponents of the state’s restoration plans, many of whom are also in opposition to the Annenberg’s proposal, convinced Hsu to amend the original motion. The amendment asked the board to oppose the entire wetlands restoration as well as the interpretive center. That motion also failed.
A resident of Playa Vista told the board that Annenberg representatives planned to make a presentation to some of the homeowners of the planned community this month.
Del Rey Local council rejects proposal to oppose Annenberg nature center
By Gary Walker