By Gary Walker
Attention surrounding a drainage system at Playa Vista that apparently was installed without permission from the state Coastal Commission has not dissipated since the discovery of the network was reported in June.
The underground system was discovered earlier this summer and was reported to the California Coastal Commission. The installation is now under investigation by the commission, which confirmed that it does not have a coastal permit.
“We don’t have any record of permits (for this drainage system),” said Andrew Willis, the enforcement officer for the commission.
Per 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.
“The drainage lines were constructed many years ago, at the request of the city of Los Angeles,” explained Marc Huffman, Playa Capital’s vice president of planning and entitlements. “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.”
Since the discovery of the drainage system in June, Ballona Wetlands environmental groups have taken turns applauding or condemning the underground network of pipes.
Dr. David Kay, the president of the sand dune wetlands restoration volunteer group Friends of the Ballona Wetlands, said the underground flood control network drains salt marsh “stranded” between Lincoln and Jefferson boulevards. Unearthing the drainage network, Kay stated, would be detrimental to the wetlands ecosystem.
“Removing the drains, as some have already advocated, could cause long-term freshwater ‘drowning’ of the wetlands salt-tolerant flora and fauna,” he wrote.
Patricia McPherson of the Grassroots Coalition took issue with the assertion by Huffman that the drainage system was installed at the behest of city officials. “They are not now and never have been part of the city’s drains,” McPherson said.
Several wetlands groups argue that the underground pipes have damaged the ecological reserve’s drainage system and Coastal Commission officials have stated their belief that “adverse impacts” have occurred.
“Why is the state allowing freshwater to be drained from Ballona?” McPherson asked.
State authorities are also monitoring the situation in the wetlands.
“This issue only recently came to our attention,” Jordan Traverso, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, told The Argonaut. “Our understanding is that the Playa Vista developer said the drainages were required by the city for flood control.”
Fish and Wildlife owns the land where the 600-acre wetlands is located and is the lead agency in charge of the state-led restoration that is underway.
The environmental impact report for the wetlands restoration is slated to be released in the fall.
“It is important to understand that these drainages were in place at the time the department took ownership of the land,” Traverso noted. “Since this issue as to whether they were properly permitted only recently came up, we will need to look into it further and respond at the appropriate time.”
In a June 12 letter to Huffman, 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.
“We are currently working closely with the California Coastal Commission and the Department of Fish and Wildlife to determine the next steps,” Huffman said.
Unpermitted development in the coastal zone is not uncommon. The Argonaut reported in 2009 that much of the street furniture that has been installed on Venice streets did not receive Costal Commission permits and some did not have city permits as well.
And a billboard at the corner of Venice and Washington boulevards several years ago was removed after it was learned that the outdoor advertising company did not have coastal permits for the billboard.
Fish and Wildlife authorities said their primary goal was to do whatever is best for the environment and the ecological reserve.
“We look forward to resolving this issue in a way that is most conducive to healthy wetlands,” Traverso said.