Robert “Roy” van de Hoek is looking forward to being able to get back to leading nature tours of his beloved Ballona Wetlands.
The Playa del Rey environmentalist has not given a tour of the local wetlands for more than 50 days because of a restraining order that had prevented him from entering the wetlands. The order was issued after vandalism charges were filed against him in August.
The Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office charged van de Hoek, 50, with two counts of cutting down myoporum shrubs in the Ballona Wetlands and one count of cutting down a ficus tree in the Del Rey Lagoon.
He was also charged with three counts of violating sections of the Los Angeles Municipal Code prohibiting the cutting or injuring of any plant life without permission of the city Department of Recreation and Parks.
But in an agreement reached Friday, October 20th, at the Superior Court Airport Courthouse, city prosecutors said they would dismiss the charges in 18 months if van de Hoek complied with certain conditions.
Under the agreement, van de Hoek will not be allowed to cut or remove any vegetation in the wetlands or on public property unless he has an individual permit or works for an organization that has a permit to do so, which is currently the law.
He will be required to submit to the city Recreation and Parks Department a report on the flora and fauna of Del Rey Lagoon, as well as submit suggested recommendations for the lagoon that recognize the “ecological importance and sensitivities” of the area.
Additionally, if requested by Recreation and Parks officials, van de Hoek will be required to lead two one-hour field trip walk-throughs of the lagoon and donate up to 25 hours of his time to assist in city activities designed to improve the environment.
In the meantime, van de Hoek, co-director of the Ballona Institute in Playa del Rey, will be able to return to leading nature walks and bicycle rides each month at the Ballona Wetlands.
Van de Hoek said the agreement will also allow him to continue to lead Sierra Club efforts to remove non-native, invasive plants at the Ballona Wetlands. The Sierra Club has permission from both the California Coastal Commission and the state Department of Fish and Game to remove invasive plants, he said.
“I’m very happy and grateful,” van de Hoek said of the agreement. “I’m so glad that I can lead tours to the wetlands, teach and share information.”
Deputy city attorney Elizabeth Gertz said the prosecution made the deal with van de Hoek’s attorneys, Thomas Mesereau and Susan Yu, in an effort to come to an amicable resolution of the matter.
“It was a good resolution all the way around,” Gertz said. “We worked together diligently to come up with a resolution that was positive for both sides.”
As part of the presentation to the judge, van de Hoek read a statement in open court about his love of nature and the serious threat of invasive species on natural ecosystems.
The environmentalist talked about how, as a child, he learned from his parents to appreciate nature. He also spoke about how trees, both native and non-native, are important for some endangered and rare wildlife but not important for other endangered wildlife.
The statement was “quite moving and quite informative,” Gertz said.
City attorney officials said the vandalism charges stem from two separate incidents in August last year and one incident in March this year, in which residents and park officials alleged that they had observed van de Hoek cut off branches of vegetation in the Ballona Wetlands.
The vegetation that was allegedly destroyed is known to be the home of several rare and endangered bird species, city attorney officials said.
Van de Hoek said he believes that the charges were politically motivated, but Gertz denied the claim that politics was considered in filing the charges.
Van de Hoek has said he legally cut down myoporum shrubs because he had permission from the state Department of Fish and Game and the California Coastal Commission to remove such invasive plants that hurt endangered species.
He denied ever cutting down a ficus tree but said he “pruned” the invasive tree as part of restoration.
“Anyone who knows Roy van de Hoek knows that he would never harm any part of an ecosystem that is necessary for the survival of an endangered or rare species,” said Marcia Hanscom, co-director of the Ballona Institute.
Some residents living near the Del Rey Lagoon disagreed that van de Hoek only “pruned” the ficus tree and said they were disappointed to hear of the agreement to resolve the case.
“He was made to look like a victim,” Playa del Rey resident Mira Tweti said. “The only victim here is the crippled ficus tree.”
But van de Hoek defended his efforts saying, “My whole life has been dedicated to preserving wetlands and endangered species.”
With his next court date not scheduled for another year and a half, van de Hoek plans to get back on track with his monthly nature tours at the wetlands.
He has a bicycle ride scheduled Saturday, November 4th, and a nature walk scheduled Sunday, November 5th.