Follow the money…and the bias

By Molly M. Basler

Molly Basler is a longtime advocate for protecting the Ballona Wetlands and a candidate for Los Angeles City Council for the 5th Council District. Photo by Jane-Velez Mitchell

This week the UCLA Institute for the Environment & Sustainability is organizing an online program to promote an ecologically illiterate project. How can that be? For the past year, activists have been pointing out to whoever will listen that there are dots to connect, and that the primary motivations for this overly expensive, highly destructive project appear to be money and influence. Whose money and influence? Well, just look at the sponsors for this “Institute” – and you will see Chevron and SoCalGas front and center.

These are the same corporate entities that keep showing up to support the few groups that are speaking up the most in favor of this nine-year construction project that promises to completely remake an ecological reserve that the state paid $140 million to acquire in 2003. Ballona is valuable enough coastal land that it has been relied on during the past decade by no less than seven species on the federal or state endangered species lists and a couple of dozen species that are on the California List of Species of Special Concern. No wonder the state paid so much!

And yet, there are these corporations and the UCLA Institute that think it’s not good enough. Already more than $12 million of public money has been spent just on planning and engineering. Hundreds of millions more are needed for this construction, and it has become increasingly clear to anyone who looks just beneath the surface of the project description of this huge bulldozing project that the biggest beneficiary, besides the many contractors, is SoCalGas.

Excavating and digging deep into the gas infrastructure that runs throughout the ecological reserve site will enable SoCalGas to install new fossil fuel infrastructure so that they can continue operating their dangerous and toxic gas storage facility at the Ballona Wetlands for decades into the future. Extending the life of this facility at Playa del Rey is the exact opposite of what I and other Climate Reality leaders are calling for.

So, who are those that are speaking up at this forum sponsored by SoCalGas and Chevron (who buys gas stored at the wetlands from SoCalGas after it is transported here in pipes from Oklahoma, Colorado and Texas)? And why?

The “scientific community” that has gathered together to promote this functionally depauperate project has been paid to say so. Rich Ambrose, Shelley Luce, Tom Ford and more – have all been paid with funds in support of moving this highly destructive project forward. It is not a restoration that is planned. Restoration ecologist Dr. Margot Griswold says it is not. Robert “Roy” van de Hoek, a federal wildlife biologist, archaeologist and botanist for years, who has studied Ballona’s flora and fauna far longer than any other scientist, says it is not.
Even Terri Stewart, a biologist for the CA Department of Fish & Wildlife, admitted to the Resolutions Committee for the LA County Democratic Party that what is planned for the Ballona Wetlands is not a restoration.

“In hindsight, we probably should have used a different word, a better word,” she said. The problem was that they were accessing money – millions of dollars – that was earmarked by voters for either land acquisition, protection or “restoration” – not something that maybe had “a better word” to describe it.

And – as for science – do you go with what the new discoveries have proven? Or do you stay with “the Earth is flat” crowd?  When environmental scientists David Jacobs, Travis Longcore and Shawna Dark revealed the newest science that concludes full tidal salty ocean water does not make ecological sense – the team led by Ambrose, et al, did not want to accept it. Just like when thought leaders in the time of Galileo didn’t want to look at or believe the newly discovered science.

If David Kay, whose unsupported opinion was published in The Argonaut recently, and those he follows almost religiously were to review the habitat needs of all the rare and endangered species that call the Ballona Wetlands home, then he would realize that the salty tidal waters of the Ballona Creek estuary are sufficient for the equilibrium at Ballona that exists there now, and he would also realize that the additional habitats – ones that are protected from those tidal waters by the earthen levees – are hosting species that require more brackish and freshwater soils and vegetation.

Bringing in additional highly saline ocean water would be a death sentence for them. Other imperiled species require upland habitats that are not wetlands, but that are also rare coastal habitats, and these plants and animals too would be unable to live at Ballona under the bulldozing plan supported by the UCLA Institute and its benefactor, SoCalGas.

But Kay won’t do this because he is a vice president at Southern California Edison, and his company relies on buying electricity from archaic electricity companies that use the gas from the storage operation at the Ballona Wetlands for powering up their plants.

Together, these companies refuse to get on board fully with the mandate that we use 100 percent renewable energy as fast as we can if we are to lessen the blow from impending climate change problems. Instead, they are willing to sacrifice an important ecological reserve and endangered species in order to squeeze out every last dime from the fossil fuels that are killing our planet.

When Ambrose made a presentation at a Sierra Club meeting nine years ago, and he even acknowledged the newly published science in his presentation, a prominent Sierra Club leader asked him afterwards why the plans he’d drawn up and supports are so far off from the historical condition of Ballona, and he said he just has “a bias” for full tidal wetlands.

Let’s let nature tell us what she needs at Ballona. Otherwise, it’s just ignorance, bias and hubris guiding the decisions.

Ms. Basler is a long-time advocate for protecting the Ballona Wetlands, was trained by Al Gore as a Climate Reality Leader, has served as national and state issues chair for the West LA Democratic Club, is founder of the Green Dream Campaign, and is a candidate for Los Angeles City Council for the 5th Council District where Paul Koretz is termed out.
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