Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Two Restoration Projects, Not One...

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Here is Our Proposal for Restoring the Ballona Wetlands and Uplands:


June 17, 2009, from Rex Frankel, Director, Ballona Ecosystem Education Project

Right now, the local environmental community and the State's restoration planning team are on opposite sides: the State wants to dredge out most of Ballona and convert it into mostly wetlands. The local community wants all of the things they love about Ballona to be preserved, both the wetlands and the uplands, without the huge amount of bulldozing and habitat conversion.

The State's current plan is a recipe for many years of lawsuits. It makes a lot more sense to design a project that can win the support of the local community than push a plan that will lead to endless battling and bad feelings.


A PROPOSAL FOR RESOLVING THE CONTROVERSY:

1. Redesignate Ballona as Two Preserves: One for the Wetlands, and One for the Uplands

Right now, the Ballona Preserve is almost evenly split between low lying wetlands and higher elevation uplands. Both are vital components in a restored natural ecosystem.

Under this proposal, advocates of wetter wetlands can focus on bringing more water into the area south of Ballona Creek that is already wetland. That area can be restored and made much wetter without huge amounts of bulldozing, as the land is between 0 and 3 feet above sea level.

And with this compromise, the community's hiking trails and sagebrush and grasslands north of Ballona Creek that sit on the 15 foot tall uplands will be cleaned up and restored without the need for expensive earth-moving equipment.


2. Slowly remove the non-native weeds and replant native plants in both preserves

3. For the Wetlands Preserve south of Ballona Crek: Bring more water from the ocean into the Wetlands Preserve. Preserve the pickleweed and mudflats, the freshwater Centinela creek and eucalyptus grove, the far-west sand dune, and the former railroad track berm/trail, remains. Hopefully, the City will one day take back the portion of Cabora Road that the Gas Company has been allowed to fence off, so we will have a continuous 3 mile hiking and biking trail south of and overlooking the wetlands.

4. For the Uplands Preserve north of Ballona Creek: keep and enhance the wildflowers, sagebrush, dense laurel sumac thickets, loop hiking trails, Pacific Electric bridge platforms and sand dune, remnant of Ballona Creek and its saltbush, grasslands, and little league fields. Work with all users of the Uplands to sensitively design a new small water channel to expand the biodiversity of the Uplands without widescale habitat conversion.

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Map of Existing Habitat Conditions at the Ballona State Preserve

ORANGE SHADING: UPLAND HABITAT
BLUE SHADING: WETLANDS

(click on map to enlarge)

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For more photos showing how an Upland is different from a Wetland:
http://ballona-news.blogspot.com/2009/01/state-officials-back-off-from-over.html
WHAT AN UPLAND LOOKS LIKE:

Thickets of laurel sumac and loop hiking trails in the Uplands north of Ballona creek and the Playa Vista development and west of Lincoln Blvd.

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WHAT A WETLAND LOOKS LIKE:

The wettest part of Ballona, the tidal channel south of Ballona Creek, surrounded by pickleweed and mud flats

Monday, June 8, 2009

State Declares People are Banned in the Wetlands, but Bulldozers are OK?

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More on the Controversial State Plan to Bulldoze at Ballona...

6/10/2009--Read the views of three groups on the State restoration plan:

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6/10/2009--Billboards in our wetlands?

Rex Frankel of the Ballona Ecosystem Education Project was even more blunt.

“The idea of putting any new signs in the Ballona Wetlands is absurd,” Frankel asserted.

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5/28/2009--Marina Affairs Committee hears update on Ballona Wetlands restoration project, halted in December

BY HELGA GENDELL, Marina Del Rey Argonaut

...Another question was about the public wanting to know what types of birds, wildlife and other species exist in the wetlands, asking if a biologist will be doing an inventory.

Mayfield said a biologist had been hired to do the inventory when the money freeze occurred.

The audience member also asked if photos of the various species could be provided online to educate the public, and said it was necessary for the EIR as well.

Small said some quality photos had been taken by Jonathan Coffin, although Mayfield interjected, alleging they were taken illegally because Coffin didn’t have permission to access the property....

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OUR OPINION:

Letter to the editor,

Re: Ballona Wetlands restoration proposals from the State:

June 8, 2009

There are three major controversial issues in the State’s restoration proposal for the Ballona preserve. The cost is a big one. Should we spend $209 million to restore the land which we already spent $225 million to buy? Shouldn’t we spend less on restoration and buy up other threatened lands next to the wetlands?

Another issue is the source of the water, from the ocean or from urban L.A. The third and most important issue: is this a restoration or a massive habitat conversion scheme?


WATER SOURCES:

We believe more water should be brought into the wetlands from the ocean, absolutely. We believe that this water should be clean, not contaminated with urban runoff.

The state’s plan takes the water for the wetlands right out of Ballona Creek. They say they will only do that when the water in Ballona creek is no longer being fouled with urban pollution from all of the streets in the Westside of Los Angeles. Cleaning up the polluted runoff in Ballona Creek is an important project which we support, on which we are working in partnership with our City sanitation department, but it’s going to take a long time and billions of dollars to accomplish this. Taxpayers ultimately have to pay for cleaning up the urban street runoff, and they need to be convinced that the cost is worth it. So this is a long term project that may or may not happen unless voters and taxpayers support it. On the other hand, restoration of the Ballona Wetlands could be accomplished quickly. It doesn’t need to drag on forever, nor cost $209 million as the last proposal would. That’s why we are very uncomfortable in tying the restoration plan at Ballona wetlands to the success of another very expensive project that may not be successfully completed for many years.


HABITAT CONVERSION ON A MASSIVE SCALE IS NOT RESTORATION:

The state’s plan for Habitat conversion is not restoration. It is development.

We support a balanced ecosystem approach for the Ballona Wetlands restoration project. What this means is that as, currently, the almost 600 acres of state land is 49% uplands and 48% wetlands, we prefer it to stay in roughly those same proportions. Unfortunately, the state’s managers have proposed not a restoration project, but a habitat conversion project. This would, at its worst configuration unveiled last fall, mean that the uplands, which contain our beloved hiking trails, thickets, fragrant sagebrush and wildflowers could be cut with heavy earthmoving equipment down to only 16% of the site.

This is not acceptable to the vast majority of the public who have attended planning meetings for the last 4 years, and to those of us who have devoted well over 20 years to saving the diverse Ballona wetlands ecosystem.

A little historical perspective is important here. The reason the Ballona Wetlands ecological preserve is twice the size it was promised to be 20 years ago is because the community and 100 groups rallied around the cry of “Save All of Ballona!”. We doubled the size of the preserve, convincing the State Wildlife Conservation Board to acquire almost 300 acres of uplands to add to the almost 300 acres of wetlands and other near sea-level land that the Playa Vista developer had offered as a concession in exchange for development permits in the 1980’s.

Each component of the fragile Ballona natural ecosystem must be preserved. There is no sense in trying to play backers of fish against the “friends of the lizards”, for example. Both wetlands and uplands are vital to the ecological health of this natural area. Wetlands are the food source, uplands are the nesting homes for the wildlife. There is room for both at Ballona.

The state’s misguided approach shows a lack of understanding of what is a restoration. To restore a wetland, you pull out the non-native weeds, replant native wetland plants and bring in more water from the ocean or the local river. But to restore an upland, you pull out the weeds and replant native upland plants. You don’t bulldoze it all away and turn it into something completely different.

This land is within the jurisdiction of the California Coastal Commission, which operates under tough rules that were written by the voters to protect our precious coastal natural resources. Because this current proposal is not a true restoration but a habitat conversion project, it should and will be analyzed by the coastal commission like any other development proposal.

The state’s managers have declared their property an “ecological preserve”. This means that all natural resources there are protected. That means that people are told to stay out in order to protect the nature. So it’s extraordinarily contradictory that massive earthmovers could be allowed in an ecological preserve. If the public is not allowed inside, why should we allow heavy earthmovers?

It’s also odd that local citizens who wish to take pictures of the wildlife in order to document its existence in order that it be protected are told by Rick Mayfield, the state’s manager, that they are trespassing. I suppose he will be as insistent when the state’s bulldozers arrive? If he won’t protect the wildlife, the public will!

The ecological preserve designation is identical to what the coastal commission calls an ESHA, which is an ecologically sensitive habitat area. Under the coastal commission’s rules, the only allowable “development” activities allowed in an ESHA are for restoration. If the natural value of that ESHA is as an upland, the only way to restore it is to keep it an upland. You can’t develop it, or change that habitat into something completely different, be it houses or a wetland. Lest there be any confusion, this is not said to be anti-wetlands, but because we oppose destruction of uplands.


IN SUMMARY:

We believe that all the reasons that the public loves the Ballona wetlands preserve should be preserved and enhanced in this restoration plan:

That means that for the uplands north of Ballona Creek, the wildflowers, sagebrush, dense laurel sumac thickets, loop hiking trails, Pacific Electric bridge platforms and sand dune, remnant of Ballona Creek and its saltbush, grasslands, and little league fields remain.

For the wetlands south of Ballona Creek, this means the pickleweed and mudflats, the freshwater Centinela creek and eucalyptus grove, the far-west sand dune, and the former railroad track berm/trail, remains. Hopefully, the City will one day take back the portion of Cabora Road that the Gas Company has been allowed to fence off, so we will have a continuous 3 mile hiking and biking trail south of and overlooking the wetlands.

We believe all the things the public loves at Ballona can be preserved.

But this requires the state’s managers to stop thinking of the land as “theirs”, and to recognize that the Ballona preserve belongs to all of us.

Rex Frankel
DIRECTOR, Ballona Ecosystem Education Project

http://saveallofballona.org