Dear Editor – Headline Omits Legal History on Ballona Creek Project

Dear Editor,

   Your January 3rd article titled “Friends of Ballona Wetlands Win Coastal Commission Approval for Restoration Project” incorrectly suggested that two permits granted by the California Coastal Commission on December 15th would allow “early work to proceed on the Ballona Wetlands Restoration Project.” The planning for the Ballona Wetlands Restoration Project began in 2004, when initial estimates were that the planning process would take three years and cost $2 million. Over 18 years and almost $15 million later, there is still no path forward for that project. Of the two permits granted last month, was for the removal of non-native trees and shrubs that is not part of the Ballona Wetlands Restoration Project. The second was to conduct additional geotechnical studies, in addition to studies already funded and conducted between 2008 and 2014, in an attempt to salvage two construction sequences of the full, thirty-five sequence project, because the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is unable to secure permits needed for the full project. Even that salvage effort is very likely to fail because CDFW appears to have again underestimated the time and funds needed to get any project across the starting line, much less the finish line.

As the Coastal Commission staff report for the tree removal permit explains, “The [California Department of Fish and Wildlife] recently certified the final environmental document for the larger Ballona Wetlands Restoration Project to restore degraded wetland and upland habitats on approximately 566 acres within the BWER. The proposed project that is subject of this permit will take place outside the footprint of the larger proposed restoration project, and will supplement any future large scale restoration efforts by managing non-native vegetation and increasing habitat function and value. The 8-acre area targeted for this restoration effort will not undergo significant changes during the larger scale restoration project.” As the staff report goes on to explain, Friends of Ballona Wetlands only sought this permit after our organization, the Ballona Wetlands Land Trust, successfully blocked the Friends from removing certain trees without the required permit. In the permit granted by the Commission, the Friends must leave four palm trees in place until 2023. These trees provide roosting and possibly nesting habitat for native Barn Owls and are also used by woodpeckers, hawks, orioles, falcons and other native birds. They provide substantial educational value and shade for visitors. Additionally, the Friends has proposed installing an Osprey nest platform at the top of one of the fan palm trees without the appropriate analysis, and that proposal was therefore stricken from the permit.

With regard to the geotechnical studies, CDFW has acknowledged that it won’t secure permits for even the first two construction sequences of its project until February of 2024 at the earliest. It would then still have to obtain funding, select a contractor, and finalize mitigation plans before any actual restoration work could begin. In the meantime, the ecological reserve is known to suffer from dumped trash, the spread of invasive weeds, and other issues that require immediate attention.

The Ballona Wetlands is an extremely valuable resource to the people of Culver City. My wife and I discovered this when we moved here over 21 years ago. Since that time I have volunteered well over 10,000 hours to the cause of protecting and enhancing this ecosystem and to helping students and adults experience its wondrous plant and animal life first hand. Our mission is hindered by organizations such as the Friends, who too often gravitate toward policies that are financially and politically expedient, but which ignore the priority issues facing the ecological reserve.

Walter Lamb
Ballona Wetlands Land Trust

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