Coastal Commission approves $11-million plan to refurbish key Marina del Rey flood control parcel for public recreation

By Gary Walker

An $11-million renovation plan for the Oxford Retention Basin in Marina del Rey cleared its final government-approval hurdle this month with a June 13 green light from the California Coastal Commission.

Los Angeles County officials aim to transform the currently fenced-off flood control basin along Admiralty Way into more of an urban recreation area, adding nature observation decks, wildlife-friendly lighting, low-height decorative fencing and a circular bicycle and foot path wending two-thirds of a mile around the manmade salt marsh lagoon.

The project was approved last year by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors and landscaping work is slated to begin in the fall, Los Angeles County Dept. of Public Works spokesman Kerjon Lee said.

The 12-member commission voted unanimously to grant a work permit for the upgrades but attached several conditions, including that the county make efforts to minimize construction noise that could impact herons and egrets as well as inspection, biological surveys and monitoring of the basin. The commission also ordered the county to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and insisted the county follow through on plans to landscape with native, drought-tolerant plants.

County officials plan to dredge approximately 6,700 cubic yards of sediment from the 7.3-acre parcel as part of a larger goal of reducing storm water runoff pollution and improving flood protections. Public Works project manager Hannah Koo said previously that a biologist will be onsite during construction and will monitor any impacts to wildlife.

The beautification element comes as part of a countywide strategy to convert existing flood-control structures into more recreation-friendly areas that can be opened with limited access for public enjoyment.

Plans for Oxford Basin, however, also have opponents.

Environmental activist Douglas Fay, a Santa Monica resident who ran for the County Board of Supervisors Third District seat in June, has filed a lawsuit against the county to halt the renovations. Fay believes that construction in the basin will infringe on wildlife access to potable water.

“The county and California Coastal Commission don’t want to provide any drinking water for wildlife, including juvenile and migratory birds. The burning question is, ‘Do birds have a right to potable water in a dedicated bird conservation area?’” asked Fay, the son of late Marina del Rey marine scientist Rimmon Fay. “I believe they do.”

Walter Lamb, president of the Ballona Land Trust, an organization that advocates for the Ballona Wetlands, asked the commission to postpone its decision in order to ensure maximum wildlife protections.

“I understand that this project has been in the works for quite some time and that county staff have invested a great deal of time into it. I also understand that there are some disagreements over what the primary purpose of the site was intended to be,” Lamb wrote to the commission.

Marina del Rey Lessees Assn. President David Levine applauded county officials for their efforts to create more of a park-like atmosphere.

“The Oxford Basin project proposes to improve flood protection and water quality while enhancing recreational opportunities and habitat at a key facility within the marina. At present, the Oxford Basin is not visually appealing for residents or visitors,” Levine said.

David Kay, former president of the Playa del Rey-based Friends of the Ballona Wetlands, said because the basin is within very close proximity to a bicycle path, both pedestrians and those riding bikes will be able to see how the basin is being renovated.

“Folks will be able to stop and see wildlife there when the renovations are finished, and the public will passively get educated about natural wetlands and wildlife,” Kay said. ª