By Gary Walker
For those who were anticipating a presentation by the Annenberg Foundation on its plans to build an interpretive nature center in the Ballona Wetlands before a local neighborhood council Thursday, March 14, they will have to wait until a later date.
The nonprofit organization unveiled some of the plans for the proposed nature center at the Del Rey Neighborhood Council Planning and Land Use Committee meeting March 6 and was slated to show them to the full council a week later. But the foundation decided to postpone its presentation, said Del Rey Neighborhood Council President Eric DeSobe.
“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,” the neighborhood council president explained.
The interpretive center, which has been the subject of heated controversy, is slated to be a 46,000-square foot building that will 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.
One wetlands advocate was taken aback with Annenberg’s plans for the nature center when they were displayed at the planning committee meeting, which drew a spirited audience of over 30 people.
“We were shocked to hear (Annenberg Executive Director) Leonard Aube present that their plan will now take over the entire Area C land,” said Marcia Hanscom, co-director of the Ballona Institute.
Area C of the Ballona Wetlands runs along Culver Boulevard near the Culver-Marina Little League baseball fields.
In a memorandum of understanding, the foundation indicates the center will occupy 15 to 20 acres.
The proposal has been factored into the notice of preparation, a document that triggers the environmental process for a restoration of the wetlands. The state Department of Fish and Wildlife will be in charge of the restoration of the 600-acre ecological reserve, as well as the United States Army Corp of Engineers.
The initial notice was released last year but was recirculated after the Annenberg Foundation made its plans for the nature center public last month.
Hanscom’s organization and others have been pushing unsuccessfully for a 90-day extension for the public to review the documents pertaining to the wetlands refurbishing as well as the foundation’s project. They also want the federal government to reopen the scoping period.
The Argonaut first reported Fish and Wildlife’s decision late last month to grant an additional 15 days for comment.
“We did this in response to many public requests,” explained Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Jordan Traverso.
Hanscom said the foundation could have sought another place for the interpretive center.
“This land grab by a very wealthy private foundation of public land that was meant for wildlife protection and restoration is so puzzling,” she asserted. “It’s not as if they could not afford to buy some land in the area and build their domestic animal companion center there.”
DeSobe thinks the turnout at the planning meeting is indicative of his constituents’ dedication to preserving the environment.
“I’m so impressed with the Del Rey community for its commitment to our natural treasures in Del Rey,” he said. “We’ve received so many comments and thoughts on this issue that show how much we care for this community and its future.”
The comment period ends Saturday, March 16. Those who would like to weigh in on the restoration plan may contact the Ballona Wetlands Restoration Project C/O Donna McCormick 1 Ada, Suite 100 Irvine, CA 92816, or by email to: Donna.McCormick@icfi.com.