By Gary Walker
The California Coastal Commission is investigating a drainage system installed by Playa Capital LLC in the Ballona Wetlands that apparently is not legal.
According to the California Coastal Act, any development, which is defined as a change in the intensity of use of land, within the costal zone is required to receive a permit from the Coastal Commission.
“We don’t have any record of permits (for this drainage system),” Andrew Willis, the enforcement officer for the commission, told The Argonaut.
The Coastal Commission is responsible for regulating land and water use within the coastal zone.
On July 10, the Grassroots Coalition disseminated a press release alleging that Playa Capital was in violation of the Coastal Act, but the commission says no official sanctions have been given to the developer.
“We’re in the investigative phase right now,” Willis clarified.
The Grassroots Coalition identifies itself as “an organization that has long worked to protect the Ballona Wetlands and the surrounding areas of open space on the Los Angeles coast,” and claimed in its release to have received a notification from the Coastal Commission claiming that Playa Capital had been found in violation of not having a permit for development related to the drainage project.
In a letter described as “final (California Coastal Commission) news release,” the organization states the commission is now requesting that Playa Vista “comply with the California Coastal Act.”
“We were alerted by Ballona naturalists of these devices and once we understood their extent, we immediately began demands to the Coastal Commission to investigate what we now have confirmation is illegal activity on the part of Playa Vista developers,” claimed Patricia McPherson, president of the Grassroots Coalition.
In a June 12 letter to Marc Huffman, Playa Capital’s vice president of planning and entitlements, Coastal Commission Enforcement Analyst Jimmy Chang listed the possible ways that the installation of the unpermitted drainage system could be remedied.
“In many cases, violations involving unpermitted development may be resolved administratively through removal of unpermitted development, restoration of any damaged resources and mitigation for such damages or by obtaining a coastal development permit authorizing the development after the fact with any necessary mitigation,” Chang wrote.
Willis said part of the investigation would entail gathering more information on the drainage devices and reiterated that the investigation is ongoing and no official violations have been found. “No formal action has been taken,” he said.
“The drainage lines were constructed many years ago, at the request of the city of Los Angeles,” Huffman explained. “These drains are intended to protect the adjacent roads from flooding in the event of a massive storm, which has not occurred since the drains were installed.”
At question is a system of underground pipes that have been installed near the Ballona Freshwater Marsh in the wetlands. Attached to the system are what are known as surface risers that are visible on land. According to the Coastal Commission, the drainage lines are connected to the freshwater marsh outlet, which travels under Jefferson and Culver boulevards and takes fresh water to the Ballona Channel.
There is a long history of animosity between environmental organizations affiliated with the Grassroots Coalition and Playa Capital, which have clashed throughout the years over the planned community of Playa Vista.
McPherson and other groups affiliated with the coalition filed numerous unsuccessful lawsuits against the first stage of Playa Vista’s residential development in an effort to halt it. They have contended for years that the developer was awarded special land use privileges by the city and have warned of the dangers of building a residential community on top of a methane gas zone.
“Playa Vista was not found to be in violation of any statutes, nor did we receive a cease and desist letter. We are currently working closely with the California Coastal Commission and the Department of Fish and Wildlife to determine the next steps,” Huffman said.
The state-sponsored restoration of the Ballona Wetlands will be conducted by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the state Coastal Conservancy. The environmental impact report is slated to be released later this year.
Many of the groups accusing Playa Vista of breaking the law are also opposed to the planned restoration of the 600-acre wetlands.
Playa Vista: Coastal Commission begins probe of drainage system in Ballona Wetlands
By Gary Walker