Congressman wants to make Ballona and the coastline eligible for National Park Service funding

Standing on the edge of the Ballona Wetlands in Playa del Rey, Rep. Ted Lieu makes the case that L.A.’s coastline should become part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

Standing on the edge of the Ballona Wetlands in Playa del Rey, Rep. Ted Lieu makes the case that L.A.’s coastline should become part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

By Gary Walker

The Ballona Wetlands, Ballona Creek and local beaches could become eligible for an infusion of federal funds under new legislation proposed by Rep. Ted Lieu (D- Torrance), who represents the area.

Lieu’s bill calls for a congressional study to facilitate incorporating the wetlands and 35 miles of coastline — Playa del Rey, Marina del Rey, Venice and Santa Monica included — into the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

A hodgepodge of open space preserves and parks from Malibu to southeastern Ventura County, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is under the administration of the National Park Service, which coordinates with state and county agencies.

Federal funding, if approved, could be used for maintenance and improvement projects but not day-to-day operations, Lieu said.

That could mean a lot for the state’s long-delayed plans to restore the Ballona Wetlands.

“In the long term, bringing the Ballona Wetlands into the recreation area would help draw down additional federal funds and resources that could be used for trails, maintenance and various projects,” Lieu said.

Completion of an environmental study needed to begin wetlands restoration has been delayed time and time again over several years, but representatives of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife say the study is on track to be completed this summer.

An infusion of new funding could have a big impact on the scope of restoration work, considering the loss of a $50-million pledge from the Annenberg Foundation after local environmental groups opposed its plan for a visitor center and animal care facility within the footprint of the ecological reserve.

But state officials aren’t sure how Lieu’s bill would affect plans for the wetlands.

“As part of the study, the Secretary of the Interior would consult with federal, state, county and local governments, as well as private parties. Until we engage in those consultations, it is difficult to determine what effects there will be from including the Ballona Wetlands into the National Recreation Area,” state Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Jordan Traverso said.

Even if the wetlands receive federal funding to offset restoration costs (and related federal oversight of how those funds would be used), the 600-acre state preserve would remain firmly in the hands of the state, Lieu said.

“This is not a proposal for a national park,” he said.

Rather, the national recreation area designation would be about lowering jurisdictional barriers that no longer make sense.

“The beauty of Southern California and the natural resources that we have are amazing. When they were created, there really were no boundaries as there are now. Those are artificial constructs,” Lieu said. “There’s no reason not to expand these areas.”

Bay Foundation Executive Director Tom Ford said he’s intrigued by the possibility of a national recreation area designation for local wetlands and beaches.

“It recognizes the beauty of protecting our wildlife and native species. And I like the concept that we need to connect and coordinate these organizations within the national recreation area,” said Ford, whose agency has been assisting the state in its preliminary restoration efforts.

Former Friends of the Ballona Wetlands President David Kay thinks it makes sense to bring the area’s natural resources under the federal umbrella.

“I’m glad to see [Lieu] include the Ballona Wetlands in the study. I would hope down the road that if it is incorporated into the national recreation area, it would include things like access trails and signage for visitors to the wetlands,” Kay said.

The study requested by Lieu’s bill would be expected to take at least three years, and additional legislation would be necessary to finalize the national recreation area designation.

Editor’s note: The stated total area of the Ballona Wetlands has been corrected to 600 acres.