Sunday, December 16, 2007

Ballona Historical Archive

PHOTO: Ballona Underwater after Storms of 1941

A Collection of Historical Ballona Stories...

Our long struggle is finally paying off. The following is a chronology of the grassroots efforts to Save All of Ballona. In bold print we have included totals of Playa Vista and Howard Hughes' campaign contributions, and have tried to document every sweetheart deal they got in exchange for their gifts to politicians.

For the full story, click here: Historical summary of Ballona battles 1975-2003


April 1988--Demopublican Developmentality
Howard Hughes came to Southern California in 1940, and bought about 1000 acres of farmland and blufftops south of Venice for his new aircraft plant, paying less than $500,000 for all of it. By the time of his death in 1976, Hughes Aircraft had become the largest employer in the State, with defense plants throughout Southern California. Producing missile guidance systems, helicopters, radar and satellites, Hughes lead the U.S. to great advances in technology, all mostly paid for with Federal tax dollars. While their products led to economic prosperity here, they produced an equal amount of suffering among innocent victims of foreign wars whose combatants Hughes supplied.
Hughes left an estate worth billions.
To read more, click here:
Demopublican Developmentality, see page 3


May 1989--L.A. and Culver City at War over each other's developments
Showdown at the Straits of Prudential
Members of the Venice Town Council voted 68-2 last April 13th to continue a lawsuit the group has filed against the developers of the Marina Place shopping mall, turning down a $9 million package of relief measures. The site is an 18 acre parcel which once was a Hughes Helicopter plant, located on Washington Blvd. just east of Lincoln Blvd… One of the reasons the Culver City Council Oked the Marina Place last year was because "L.A. is building big projects just outside of our City limits, we get all the traffic and L.A. makes all the money". The Culver Planning Commission said "the impact of traffic from Marina Place would be insignificant when measured against the traffic generated by major developments OK'd by L.A. near the project site."
To read more, click here:
L.A. and Culver City at War (against the public), see page 8


August 1989--Lincoln Blvd. Traffic War
Battleground of the Giants
Can We Take It All?
Can you imagine 540,000 more cars a day in the Westchester to Venice area? That’s what we face if 5 huge developments are built along Lincoln Blvd. as the owners are threatening to do. Two projects, Playa Vista and the LAX expansion will contribute 310,000 cars alone.
According to traffic studies performed by both L.A. and Culver Cities, rush-hour traffic will triple on Lincoln Blvd from what it is now, which is already abominable.
Fresh from ok’ing the Marina Place Mall in March of this year, the Culver City Council has just announced their opposition to L.A.’s Playa Vista, with Mayor Steven Gourley calling it “potentially disastrous”. Culver officials are also threatening a lawsuit over the L.A. City Council’s July 10th ok of the Channel Gateway project, partially in retaliation for a suit filed by the Venice Town Council and L.A. City against Culver City for their approving Marina Place.
Now that both projects are approved, how do the 2 cities plan to deal with the traffic? Well, local businesses lose again to let the giants build…
To read more, click here:
Lincoln Blvd. Traffic Capacity War

NOVEMBER 24, 1995

The first major news article covering the Ballona battle from our perspective:



May 1997: The truth is ugly enough, but Friends of Playa Vista launch campaign to accuse their opponents of lying
click here: Desperate Developer Deception


April 1998--Ballona Baloney
By Rex Frankel
It's Friday afternoon. The rush hour traffic is whizzing by 10 people who are holding signs at a street corner covered with wildflowers south of Marina Del Rey. This curious, devoted group, who call themselves "BEEP!", has shown up every Friday at 5:00 P.M. for the last two years to protest the proposed real estate development, called Playa Vista, which will wipe out these wildflowers, replacing them and much of the marshy Ballona Valley nearby with a square mile of concrete, condominiums, and congested traffic. Vying for the right to pave over this rare L.A. open space are two of wall street's biggest financial powerhouses, Morgan-Stanley and Goldman Sachs, and the producer of many of Hollywood's recent blockbuster movies, Steven Spielberg -- and his multi-billionaire computer-monopolist partner, Bill Gates.
To read more, click here, see page 2:


April 1999
The Playa Vista Papers
…What isn't well known, until today, is actually what the current owners of the land paid for it. According to a shocking, revealing, and extremely cynical 188-page internal memo written by Playa Vista’s owners and given to the citizens who oppose this development by an active whistleblowers network inside the development company, the firm Playa Capital LLC only paid $101 million to acquire this fragile urban open space. Galanter, who claims to be a "strong environmentalist", wants the government to help develop 2/3rds of this land with incentives of well over twice what the entire parcel is worth. Galanter is amply rewarding the developer for their huge campaign contributions.
But the Playa Vista developer's assistance to her campaign goes much farther than that. …
To read more, click here: Insider whistleblowers release Playa Vista internal memos


June 1999: Playa Vista hosts "Smart Growth" convention" see page 2

and: DreamWorks can't get exemption from responsibility for Toxic Waste at their future studio left by previous tenants

September 1999

On July 1st, the super billionaires at DreamWorks said "Hasta la Playa Vista". They're out of here! Blaming the high cost of construction and lack of financing, they won't help in the destruction of the Ballona Wetlands…
On August 2nd, Councilwoman Ruth Galanter announced that she has now realized that there are more wetlands needing to be preserved than she has claimed for the past ten years. While she continues to support the first phase of the project, which is east of Lincoln Blvd, she now says that the proposed second phase, everything west of Lincoln Blvd., should be acquired by the government and preserved…
Last month, the Vice President of Playa Vista, David Herbst, admitted that the project "has a methane problem" before the City Council's housing committee…
To read more, click here:


August 2000--Playa Vista developer's finances in deep trouble;
the full story of the discovery of explosive gases under Playa Vista's condos
click here: Self-Heating Condos

EARLY 2003

January 2003
Lincoln Blvd. Widening through future State Park halted; BEEP's alternative gets good review by Coastal Commission; and more in BEEP's Save Our Ballona Park newsletter


September 2004
If, 200 years from now, your remains were moved to make way for high-end apartments and condos, you'd at least hope your surviving relatives would be bummed. And so it is for some Native Americans, who fear that a more than 200-year-old Gabrielino-Tongva burial site just east of the Ballona Wetlands will soon be paved over with 2+2s and modern living, now that the Los Angeles City Council has given its approval to Phase 2 of the controversial Playa Vista development south of Marina del Rey. Can you say Poltergeist?
To read more, click here:
Community Fights Last Phase of Playa Vista


December 12, 2007
California Supreme Court Deals Playa Vista the Final Blow:

The landmark victory by Los Angeles environmental groups against the enormous Playa Vista Phase 2 project has been affirmed by the California Supreme Court, which denied a request by Playa Vista to review the case. The L.A. Appeals Court ruling on September13th has completely halted all work on the 110 acre development. The ruling wiped out both the development approvals for an extremely dense project of 2600 condominiums and office and retail space, and also wiped out the zoning that allowed such high density development.

The Appeals Court found that the backers of this project had falsely described the project as a huge reduction in what they were already allowed to build. Instead the Court found that the project needed a huge"upzoning" to proceed, but the truth of this was covered up from the public's view. It is BEEP's view that this was a $300 million gift from the taxpayers and residents of Los Angeles that should not have been allowed to happen without the public's knowledge and without them being given the right to reject it.

The result of this lawsuit is that this land is now returned to the truthful pre-project zoning, effectively zoned for agricultural uses and one 108,000 square foot commercial building, which is around the size of a supermarket and drug store.

Before Playa Vista unleashed their bulldozers to this land a few years ago, the land was covered with beanfields, wetlands and seasonal ponds. It is our hope that this court victory will lead to a more enlightened review of this development by our City Council.


September 2007 Appeals Court Ruling: PLAYA VISTA LOSES HUGE CASE TO OPPONENTS

The court repeatedly called the City and developer’s statements “untrue”, describing the project’s environmental analysis as “illusory” and “materially misleading”.

Please Donate to Help Us Keep Up Our Winning Streak! Tax deductible donations to BEEP’s legal fund can be mailed to BEEP at P.O. Box 451153, Los Angles, CA 90045. We are an IRS-recognized Charitable California Corporation. More information on our projects is available at


California Court of Appeal Overturns L.A. City Council’s
Approval to Expand the Playa Vista Development

Court Rules L.A. City Violated State and Local Environmental Laws
Ballona Southeast Safe for Now

LOS ANGELES –(September 13th, 2007) – The California Court of Appeal today overturned all approvals of the 111 acre Phase 2 of the massive Playa Vista development in West Los Angeles – essentially stopping the project – because the City of Los Angeles violated state and local environmental laws.

The court’s landmark ruling is a major victory for the citizens of Los Angeles, the environment, civil rights of Native Americans, and overall quality of life in Los Angeles. The ruling covers two consolidated cases involving groups as diverse as Ballona Wetlands Land Trust, the Tongva/Gabrieleno Tribal Council of San Gabriel, city of Santa Monica, Surfrider Foundation and Ballona Ecosystem Education Project.

The Court ruled: “We conclude that the [Environmental Impact Report on the project] was deficient in its analysis of land use impacts, mitigation of impacts on historical archaeological resources, and wastewater impacts.”


In addition, the Court ordered all project activities cease immediately: “All construction activities on the project by any person are hereby ordered to be stayed effective immediately. The superior court is directed to issue an order enjoining all project activities that it finds would prejudice the City’s consideration or implementation of mitigation measures or alternatives and that could result in an adverse change to the physical environment, until the City fully complies with CEQA.”

The Court’s injunction is much tougher than those usually granted to land use lawsuits: “The relief can be limited to those portions of the determination, finding, or decision or to specific project activities that are not in compliance with CEQA, but only if the court finds that those portions or activities are severable, that severance will not prejudice full compliance with CEQA, and that the remainder of the project is not in noncompliance with CEQA…We conclude that the misleading analysis of land use impacts, failure to discuss preservation in place of historical archaeological resources, and failure to properly analyze wastewater impacts rendered the EIR as a whole deficient as an informational document, and that these matters collectively are not severable from the project as a whole.” (Page 113)

The full ruling may be read here:

The Court of Appeal directed that all City approvals be overturned and permits revoked. The City must now comply with the California Environmental Quality Act, write a new Environmental Impact Report (“EIR”) and hold new public hearings. They must respond to public comments and give the public and City Council an opportunity to reconsider the proposed project or some alternative to it.


The Land Use impact analysis that the court found so troubling was that the project was claimed as a huge downzoning, and therefore a huge down-sizing of impacts to the surrounding communities compared to a project Playa Vista claimed they were legally entitled to build. Playa Vista claimed they had the right to build a project including over 2.5 million square feet of office and retail space that would dump 36,000 cars a day onto local streets. In contrast, Playa Vista touted their proposed condominium and office/retail project as dumping only 24,000 cars a day onto local streets, and that this was a huge concession based on what they were legally allowed. The Court agreed with BEEP that Playa Vista was not allowed to build this threatened project, but only 108,000 square feet of office space on the 111 acre site. The actual zoning of the site allowed a development that would dump 1568 cars a day onto local streets, or a difference between what Playa Vista claimed they were entitled to and the true zoning of 15 to 1. So what Playa Vista and the City claimed was a huge downsizing of their project was in fact a huge increase in Playa Vista’s development rights. The public had a right to know the true project that was being considered by the City Council. The court repeatedly called the City and developer’s statements “untrue”, describing the project’s environmental analysis as “illusory” and “materially misleading”.

The reason Playa Vista claimed they were entitled to such a huge project was based on proposals they had made in the 1990’s. However, the Court agreed with BEEP that Playa Vista had used up those development rights in their 300-plus acre First Phase project approved in 1993 and 1995, , which was marked by controversies over wetlands, endangered species, traffic and a huge taxpayer-subsidized benefit package granted by then-Governor Pete Wilson and then-Mayor Richard Riordan.

Because Playa Vista and the City claimed that the zoning of the land allowed such a huge amount of development, it tainted the review of the legally mandated alternatives to the project, such as a regional park or wetlands restoration, by making them all “infeasible” due to the cost of buying the land.

The Court’s action returns the zoning on the land back to the 108,000 square foot office building that was the true zoning at the beginning of the EIR process.

Rex Frankel, Director of the Ballona Ecosystem Education Project stated, “If Playa Vista wants to build more than that, they will have to honestly admit to the public what they want and why they should be granted such a huge upzoning gift by the City Council, and why they deserve even more corporate welfare than they got in their first phase project. This victory for the people of Los Angeles is a victory for telling the truth on development decisions. The Court didn’t accept the developer’s masquerade about benefits to the public that didn’t actually exist. Playa Vista and the City threatened the public with a monster development that they could never build as a club to beat us into submission and accept a slightly smaller, but still enormous, project. In fact, the Court agreed with us that Playa Vista never had the right to build this monster project.”

Briefs in BEEP's case can be found on their website,
Tax deductible donations to BEEP’s legal fund can be mailed to BEEP at P.O. Box 451153, Los Angeles, CA 90045


Tom Francis of the Ballona Wetlands Land Trust stated, “The Court has given the City Council another chance to get it right. The Council can save taxpayers millions of dollars, clean up Santa Monica Bay, and avoid increased traffic congestion by approving the alternative to more development at Ballona: a natural treatment wetland with parks. We trust Councilman Bill Rosendahl and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will say “no” to more developer-driven land use planning, and lead the way to greening Los Angeles by supporting alternatives such as this one.”

Surfrider Foundation’s California Policy Coordinator, Joe Geever, responded: “We are ecstatic that this issue is finally seeing the light of day. Our major concern was that the City was approving more pressure on out-dated sewage treatment capacity and unabated urban runoff without fully understanding the additional adverse impacts on coastal and ocean water quality and human health risks.”

The Court ruled that the City of Los Angeles, in its environmental review of the project, failed to discuss methods or options of requiring Playa Vista to preserve in place archaeological sites, including Native American gravesites, impacted by the massive development. By omitting this discussion, the City “effectively precluded both meaningful public participation and informed decisionmaking with respect to the decision on mitigation measures.” The Court required the City to return the drawing board on the project, noting that the City had the discretion under CEQA to consider restoring archaeological resources to their prior resting places if already disturbed by Playa’s development.

In dealing with sewage, the EIR admitted that Playa Vista would cause the City’s Hyperion treatment plant to overflow, and therefore require expansion. But the EIR contained no evaluation of the impacts on Santa Monica Bay from the Hyperion expansion that was necessitated by the Playa Vista project.

Playa Vista’s 111-acre Phase 2 is the largest, undeveloped, privately-owned parcel of land in the City of Los Angeles. Until today’s ruling, the development was to include 2600 dwelling units, 175,000 square feet of office space, 150,000 square feet of retail space and 40,000 square feet of other uses adding 24,000 new daily car trips and paving over a portion of the historic Ballona Wetlands ecosystem, favorably known as “Ballona Southeast.”

Numerous health and safety issues to residents and the environment have plagued Playa Vista since its inception. Media investigations have exposed a series of methane dangers at Playa Vista including methane gas leaking through the so-called impermeable membranes placed under buildings at Playa Vista Phase 1.

# # #


Playa Vista Quicksand
A rare court ruling against the developer puts the kibosh — for now — on a vast Phase Two
By Patrick Range McDonald
Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Blank slate: Aerial view of the Playa Vista site in the early 1980s
IF YOU LISTEN TO THE DEEP-POCKETED executives behind massive Playa Vista — a controversial minicity plopped by City Hall planners onto the Ballona Wetlands near Playa del Rey that has swamped Lincoln Boulevard and helped gridlock many Westside intersections — a stunning appeals-court ruling last week halting construction is merely an irritating hiccup.

But in 20 years of legal battles over the biggest residential construction project in city history, whose cheek-by-jowl, $3,000-per-month apartments have ushered in East Coast densities and tiny patches dubbed green space, last week’s decision by the California 2nd District Court of Appeal could wreak havoc on the extensive Phase Two. It couldn’t come at a more uncertain time for developers, or at a better time for Westsiders who hate the hulking, multistory community, as Southern California confronts an iffy housing market — and as some Angelenos begin to decry a crush of overbuilding citywide.

“The modifications are relatively minor,” sniffs Steve Soboroff, president of Playa Capital, pledging unequivocally that Playa Vista “will continue to completion.”

In fact, the 114-page brief written by the three judges on the Court of Appeal is anything but minor. The jurists didn’t just snatch away the keys for the bulldozers, handing the project’s opponents their biggest courtroom victory in roughly two decades. The three judges also ordered the city of Los Angeles to “vacate” long-standing approvals by the Los Angeles City Council for the second and final phase — and to decertify Playa Capital’s massive, multimillion-dollar environmental-impact report.

The court says that the EIR — years in the writing, and which contains hundreds of paragraphs that set off word-by-word fights between federal and local agencies, environmental organizations and politicians — must now “revise” analysis of land-use impacts, “discuss” better preservation at the site, and “identify” and “analyze” the disposal and environmental impacts of wastewater.

In other words, developer Playa Capital, for now, is screwed.

“The court stopped the development cold,” says Doug Carstens, an environmental attorney with the Santa Monica–based law firm Chatten-Brown & Carstens. “It’s a sweeping decision.”

Carstens worked as co-counsel at the trial that culminated in last week’s appellate ruling. At the trial last year, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William F. Highberger found that the city and Playa Capital followed proper approval procedures and that the environmental-impact report was valid. But the appellate court overturned Highberger’s decision last Thursday.

“People have been through a long, hard struggle,” says Carstens, “and they’ve been vindicated by the [state appeals] court.”

From the start, developers, environmentalists and journalists have described Playa Vista as one of the most expensive, highly studied and fought-over mixed-use projects in Los Angeles — with a price tag between $4 billion and $7 billion. After years of negotiations and studies, the 3,246-unit first phase of imposing condos, pricey apartments and $1.9 million homes with postage-stamp yards is nearly complete. The final phase — 111 acres of proposed housing, retail and office space dubbed “The Village at Playa Vista” — now sits at the red-hot center of the dispute.

BY NOW, THE TWO WARRING SIDES are sick of each other. Playa Capital Co. and the city are the defendants in the current lawsuit; the Ballona Wetlands Land Trust, Surfrider Foundation, city of Santa Monica, Gabrieleno/Tongva Tribal Council of San Gabriel and Ballona Ecosystem Education Project are the plaintiffs. Playa Capital has won most of the 19 or so lawsuits over the past 20 years. It wasn’t until 2005 that things stopped consistently going Playa Capital’s way. That year, environmentalists won a comparatively minor appellate-court decision forcing the city to someday fix a methane-gas removal system installed beneath the housing, which sits atop an ancient riverbed and pockets of potentially explosive gas.

Soboroff describes the environmentalists as a “small group of people” who are “extremists.” Rex Frankel, director of Ballona Ecosystem Education Project, counters that Soboroff is a “desperate man” who heads a project that’s “one of the biggest examples of corporate welfare in the history of Los Angeles.”

So when last week’s ruling was handed down, both sides grabbed for their glory. Playa Capital released a press statement touting the appellate court as having sided with “the city and Playa Capital on the vast majority of issues raised,” with Soboroff sniping, “Despite the professional project opponents, we remain confident that the Playa Vista vision will ultimately be realized.”

Frankel sent out a three-page missive the same day, declaring that “the court’s landmark ruling is a major victory for the citizens of Los Angeles, the environment, civil rights of Native Americans, and overall quality of life.” Frankel throws his own verbal jab, saying, “The court didn’t accept the developer’s masquerade about benefits to the public that didn’t actually exist.”

Indeed, the state appeals court was very specific in the three areas that went against Playa Capital and City Hall. Wrote the judges, “The misleading analysis of land use impacts, failure to discuss preservation in place of historical archeological resources, and failure to properly analyze wastewater impacts rendered the EIR as a whole deficient.” Those problems “collectively are not severable from the project as a whole. The City can achieve full compliance with CEQA [the California Environmental Quality Act] only by vacating the project approvals that were based on the certified EIR and revising the EIR to remedy these deficiencies. Only then can the City . . . grant the project approvals.”

“It’s a very thorough, well-supported opinion,” says Frank P. Angel, a highly regarded Santa Monica–based environmental lawyer, who is not involved in the case. “It requires definite measures that need to be followed up.”

Angel believes construction will be delayed several months, at a minimum, to fix the environmental-impact report and then guide it through a City Hall approval process that includes a public-comment period, planning-department hearings and council meetings — all potentially contentious and heavily lobbied. “A rush job on this EIR won’t do,” says Angel. “It’s not a matter of one or two months.”

Steve Soboroff, though, sounds like a man who doesn’t plan to satisfy the appellate court. “The idea of now going back and changing that plan is not good public policy,” he says, “and it’s not going to happen.” He ridiculed the appellate court as having merely “found some flint” — small issues in the EIR upon which to base their ruling.

Playa Capital, according to Soboroff, is looking at legal options that might release the project from construction limbo and push it forward. The developer is uncertain if he’ll seek an appeal with the California Supreme Court or request a rehearing with the appeals court. The city, according to City Attorney’s Office spokesman Nick Velasquez, is “still reviewing its options.”

Frank Angel and Doug Carstens, however, note that the state Supreme Court considers only 5 percent of the appeal requests it receives. And since the appellate court’s ruling was “not published,” meaning it doesn’t set any precedent for other cases, the Supreme Court will probably be even less interested in Playa Capital’s appeal. “It’s highly unlikely,” says Angel.

In the meantime, Soboroff says, Playa Vista workers will face job cutbacks, and Westside renters and buyers will have to wait longer for the Village’s new housing, slated to rise between the 405 freeway and what remains of the wetlands.

“[The Village] is for working people,” Soboroff says excitedly during a phone interview. “It’s work-force housing!” When Rex Frankel hears these things, he can only laugh. “For Soboroff to claim he’s for the workingman is ridiculous,” he says with a chuckle. “It’s a super-rich man’s community.”

It’s still unclear if the appellate court’s ruling means the end of development at Playa Vista. Frankel, of course, hopes so. Soboroff says no. Eric Sussman, a real estate expert and award-winning lecturer at UCLA’s Anderson Graduate School of Management, also thinks not, citing pressure for housing on the Westside and Playa Capital’s tenacity.

“There hasn’t been a roadblock they haven’t encountered,” says Sussman. “I doubt it would kill the project entirely. I would be very surprised.”

Then again, the environmentalists haven’t gone away either, and now they’ve had their first big victory in the court of appeals, following their more modest victory over methane control. Frankel, who’s been fighting the Ballona Wetlands battle for 22 years, calls it “karmic payback.” The momentum, so long on the side of Playa Capital, may be shifting.


Playa Vista Phase 2 construction halted

The appeals court overturned all city approvals for the project and revoked all the construction permits

A state appeals court in Los Angeles voted unanimously to halt construction on the second stage of commercial and residential development for Playa Vista, dealing the Playa Vista Capital real estate group a powerful and potentially costly legal setback.

The California Second District Court of Appeal found that the Los Angeles City Council violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) after it approved an environmental impact report that permitted construction for the development's second phase in 2005.

"The [environmental impact report on the project] was deficient in its analysis of land use impacts, mitigation of impacts on historical archaeological resources, and wastewater impacts," the court declared in its ruling.

The California Environmental Quality Act, a landmark state environmental statute, is the basis for environmental law and policy to protect environmental quality in California.

The judicial order covers two consolidated cases involving groups as diverse as the Ballona Wetlands Land Trust, the Tongva/Gabrieleno Tribal Council of San Gabriel, the City of Santa Monica, the Surfrider Foundation and the Ballona Ecosystem Education Project.

The verdict calls for the immediate stoppage of construction of the 111-acre Phase 2 project, which includes The Village at Playa Vista, the commercial linchpin of the development.

The appellate court overturned all city approvals for the project and revoked all of the permits acquired for the construction work.

Under the court ruling, Los Angeles City Council is mandated to comply with CEQA, write a new environmental impact report (EIR) and hold new public hearings.

Amenities for The Village include new public parks, a neighborhood retail center and 2,600 residential units. It was slated to have 175,000 square feet of office space, 150,000 square feet of retail space and 40,000 square feet of other uses.

As part of the second phase, traffic improvements have been added to increase the flow of traffic on Jefferson Boulevard.

"All construction activities on the project by any person are hereby ordered to be stayed effective immediately," the court ordered. "The Superior Court is directed to issue an order enjoining all project activities that it finds would prejudice the city's consideration or implementation of mitigation measures or alternatives and that could result in an adverse change to the physical environment, until the city fully complies with CEQA."

The legal action overturns a previous decision by a lower court that upheld the City Council's approval of the EIR on January 10th.

Environmental organizations that have opposed Playa Vista throughout its development wasted no time in cheering the court edict.

Rex Frankel, president of the Ballona Ecosystem Education Project stated, "This victory for the people of Los Angeles is a victory for telling the truth on development decisions. The court rejected the developer's masquerade about benefits to the public, which in fact did not actually exist.

"The Playa Vista developers threatened the public with a monster development to beat the public into submission to accept a slightly smaller, but still enormous, project. However, the court agreed with us that the developers never had the rights to build this monster project in the first place."

Joe Geever, the Surfrider Foundation's state policy director, also focused on the size and scope of the development project.

"We are ecstatic that the issue of questionable wastewater planning and associated environmental impacts is finally seeing the light of day," Geever said. "Our major concern was that the city was approving more pressure on outdated sewage treatment capacity and unabated urban runoff without fully understanding the additional adverse impacts on coastal and ocean water quality and human health risks."

Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose district includes Playa Vista, called the court's decision "a very significant judgment and important news for our community."

Rosendahl, who was not on the City Council when Phase 1 was approved, pointed out that he opposed the second stage of the development.

During the 2005 campaign for the council seat that he currently holds, Rosendahl believes that his opposition to the second stage of Playa Vista's development project was, in his words, "the defining moment of the campaign."

Anthony Morales, chief of the Tongva/Gabrieleno Tribal Council of San Gabriel, views the verdict as a victory for his tribe.

"We're hoping that a right can be done after enduring all of the wrongs that we've had to suffer during this case," he told The Argonaut.

Part of the recent construction project encompasses a Tongva/ Gabrieleno burial ground, which Native Americans consider to be sacred.

"The developer was desecrating our burial grounds," Morales alleged. "Building a development there was an atrocity."

The tribal chief is pleased that construction has been halted after his prior pleas in front of the council were rebuffed.

"Our message from the beginning has been that the council should have stepped in and stopped the developer from desecrating our sacred burial grounds," he said. "What the Los Angeles City Council did was shameful."

Typically, if a gravesite or burial ground is within a project of this magnitude, it would have been stopped earlier, says Robin Turner, an archeologist and paleontologist who works on EIR projects throughout California and is very familiar with CEQA regulations.

"(Los Angeles) should have stepped in and looked at this much more closely," Turner said.

Sabrina Venskus, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, feels that the decision to stop further construction of the project was not typical of the way most appellate decisions are handed down.

"This is somewhat unusual for a court to issue an immediate stay," Venskus said. "Usually an injunction is sent to the trial court where the injunction or remedy is implemented.

"I think that it was compelling to the court that we provided evidence that Playa Vista continued to do construction work in the face of litigation."

The subject of the Native American burial ground also has significance, Venskus said.

"The court gave the council the authority to have the remains of the Tongva/Gabrieleno tribe's ancestors re-interred on the hillside burial grounds," she said. "The question is, 'Will the council request that the developer bring those remains back to their burial ground?'"

Steven Sugerman, a Playa Vista spokesman, believes that there is a silver lining to the court's verdict. Despite the court siding with the plaintiffs on land use, the availability of wastewater and the preservation of archaeological resources, Playa Vista did prevail on the the analysis of methane gas mitigation and transportation impacts, he pointed out.

"The same opponent groups who have been alleging Playa Vista has not mitigated these issues were a part of the lawsuit and they were rejected," Sugerman noted.

Although the appellate court sided against the development company on the major issues of the case, Playa Vista president Steve Soboroff stated that several components of the residential and commercial complex would continue.

"The Playa Vista community continues to thrive, and this ruling will not in any way alter our plans to achieve the ultimate vision of this wonderful community that is now home to 5,000 residents and growing," Soboroff said. "Development of the commercial campus is proceeding with the best developers in America, and the Clippers [basketball team] training facility is expected to be completed next year.

"Despite the professional project opponents, we remain confident that the Playa Vista vision will ultimately be realized."

Venskus, an attorney who specializes in environmental law, acknowledged that the defendant's arguments regarding methane gas mitigation and transportation were upheld by the court, but she feels the ruling addressed the most important environmental aspects of the case.

"There are no other cases that I am aware of that address wastewater treatment and availability, and that was one of the key issues that the court ruled on in this case," Venskus said. She mentioned a recent California Supreme Court ruling where the plaintiffs in a land use case prevailed, and the appellate court touched on similar points in its verdict last week.

"That's why this case is so important," Venskus asserted. "It is a landmark decision in the sense that it applies Supreme Court reasoning to the process of availability of water treatment."

Morales, the Native American tribal chief, was primarily concerned about his tribe's ancestral burial grounds but also about the large swath of wetlands that was used to build Playa Vista.

"Part of our culture is respect for the land," he explained. "Our people used to camp near the wetlands, and when we see what the developer has done there, it's like part of our history and our culture has been destroyed."

Venskus believes that the appellate court edict can serve as a cautionary tale to agencies that are charged with reviewing environmental impact reports and the consequences of failing to take into account the definition of CEQA, the landmark state environmental statute.

"City councils need to read their EIRs very carefully and not rely on developers to interpret them," Venskus recommends. "They need to start listening to the public and do the right thing for all parties involved."

Turner agrees, adding, "If a city is smart, they should have a CEQA expert on staff so that they won't have to go through litigation. A lot of cities don't understand the law, but that's no excuse."

Rosendahl said that the next step for him would be to explore all of the legal possibilities and ramifications of the verdict and where he and his council colleagues go from here.

"Right now, we don't know what the immediate effects (of the judgment) are," said the councilman. "I will be meeting with our city attorney to see what the next course of action should be to fully digest and understand the implications of the ruling, and to get a better sense of what issues will return to the City Council for review."

Executives of Playa Vista Capital are contemplating whether or not to consider further litigation of the case. Their options include requesting another hearing in front of the appellate court or petitioning the California Supreme Court.

"Playa Vista is a model community for the nation," said Soboroff. "We look forward to completing the necessary legal steps and proceeding with the second and final phase that will deliver substantial community benefits, including workforce housing, open space, public parks, regional transportation improvements and neighborhood -serving retail."

Venskus is hopeful that the City Council will consider the wishes of her clients, the environmental community and the significance of the verdict if they decide to craft another EIR.

"This is an opportunity for the City Council to do the right thing by its constituents, and my clients are confident in Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who was against the second phase of Playa Vista, and councilmembers like Bill Rosendahl — we are optimistic that they will do what's right."

November 1995,


(The first major news article covering the Ballona battle from our perspective):

NOVEMBER 24, 1995

When you're driving south down Lincoln Boulevard toward LAX, and hit that open stretch between Marina del Rey and the Westchester Bluffs, you don't exactly feel that you're looking at a saltwater marsh. There is no water visible from the road. You have to get out of your car and climb over the fence to see the channels,the mud flats and marsh plants. In the winter, rain collects in the low areas, attracting cranes and ducks as they fly south. Even in the summer, when there is much less water, the marsh is home to a number of bird species as well as to rabbits, foxes and other animals.

The tract, called Playa Vista, is considered "degraded" wetlands; wetlands are defined as areas regularly flushed with water from tides or a river, and Playa Vista no longer is. Construction of the Ballona Creek channel, the Marina, and the houses in Playa del Rey cut the area off from access to Santa Monica Bay. But in a state that has destroyed 91 percent of its wetlands, Playa Vista just happens to contain the last large piece of coastal marsh left in Los Angeles County. The 1,087-acre parcel is also the last open space in West Los Angeles, the only space remaining where you can feel,for a minute, that you're out of the city.

For at least the past five years, Playa Vista also has been the proposed site of a truly massive, multibillion-dollar mixed-use development of stores, office buildings, hotels, homes, apartments and condos. What developer Maguire Thomas Partners now calls the Entertainment-Media-Technology District - the likely new home of Dreamworks SKG's new studio complex- is but the initial segment of that development (the first component of "Phase I," as it's called). If the full Playa Vista development is constructed according to the developer's current plan, some 29,000 people will live there. and another 20,000 office workers will arrive each day. Thousands more will come to shop. According to an environmental-impact report done for the proposal, these people will generate an estimated192,000 new car trips each day, adding 20,000 pounds of pollutants into the air. As a source of traffic, it will be about the same as building another LAX. Lincoln Boulevard will be stretched to 10 lanes in places, and on-street parking will be banned, not just on Lincoln, but on Jefferson Boulevard and Centinela Avenue too.

Over the years, the plans for Playa Vista have generated tremendous controversy involving multiple developers, government agencies and environmental groups deeply split about the best approach to preserving what's left of the Ballona Wetlands. The area takes its name from Ballona Creek, which was once a natural waterway meandering through the Los Angeles basin. Until 1884it was called the Los Angeles River, but that year, in an effort to reduce flooding along its banks, a new channel was cut that took the L.A. River to San Pedro, leaving the old riverbed with the name Ballona Creek. In&he late 1930s, the Army Corps of Engineers built a concrete channel for the creek, and the region became somewhat easier to drain, reducing the wetlands from what in 1868 had been delineated as 2,100 acres.The area took another hit in the early 1960s, when the county of Los Angeles built Marina del Rey and took a large chunk of the Ballona Wetlands. By the late1970s, Howard Hughes' Summa Corp. was gearing up to build a huge development next to the new fast-lane singles city of Marina del Rey. Summa wanted to cover virtually all its land with commercial and residential developments and a golf course. Under the plan, almost no wetlands would have been preserved.

But because of the newly created California Coastal Commission and a rising tide of ecological activism, the Summa Corp. could no longer unilaterally do what it wanted. Among the opponents to Summa's plan was a Playa del Rey resident named Ruth Lansford. Lansford had lived on the beach since 1959, and she and her family loved it there. She had grown up near Long Island wetlands that had been lost to a marina and a housing development, so to her, Playa del Rey was like reclaiming her childhood home. "My son used to go out in the wetlands all the time," says Lansford. "He'd bring back snakes and toads. I'd go out there with him."

Does the huge Playa Vista development represent a step forward in cooperation between environmentalists and builders, or is it just another blow to the state's dwindling wetlands?
When Summa made its big push for development in 1978, Lansford and six others formed Friends of Ballona Wetlands in an attempt to restrict the development and preserve as much of the wetlands as possible.

It was the beginning of a bitter struggle for Coastal Commission approval. To buttress its arguments, Summa brought in scientists from the-East Coast who, Lansford says, knew little about California wetlands. "[The area] doesn't look like an Eastern wet-land," she says. "In summer it's dry. That was a problem for us. A lot of the tests to determine if the area was really wetlands were performed at the wrong time of year." Summa won the first two rounds of the fight, getting a favorable ruling from the California Coastal Commission and then persuading the city of Los Angeles to annex Playa Vista land and rezone it from agricultural to high density mixed use. The Friends of Ballona Wetlands subsequently sued the Coastal Commission in California Superior Court, stopping Summa cold for five years.

In 1989, Hughes' heirs tried a radically different approach. Maguire Thomas Partners (MTP) was brought in to play "good cop," to create a new design for the property and negotiate a settlement with the Friends of Ballona Wetlands. (Summa didn't sell its land to MTP, but rather became a "silent" partner.)

Maguire Thomas quickly appointed ~ Nelson Rising- a charismatic man long active in higher circles of the Democratic Party - to head the Playa Vista development project. Rising and his associates at MTP took the Friends of Ballona Wetlands seriously, negotiating to come up with a project the group could accept.

In the fall of 1990, the Friends of Ballona Wetlands and MTP signed a settlement agreement to resolve the lawsuit. From the Friends' perspective, the deal's salient feature was a pledge to donate $10 million (later raised to $12.5 million) and approximately 226 acres of what used to be saltwater marsh to a trust, which would over-see restoration and maintenance of the wetlands. The salt water to flood these wetlands would not come directly from Santa Monica Bay - that was thought to be too expensive - but instead from a culvert dug to Ballona Creek, which contains salt water near its mouth at high tide. The plan also called for the creation of 59 acres of freshwater marsh connected to a restored creek bed.

In return for these concessions, Maguire Thomas extracted a price. The saltwater marsh, the freshwater marsh and the creek bed would cover 285 of PlayaVista's 1,087 acres - slightly more than one quarter of the company's total land. The Friends agreed that MTP could develop its remaining 802 acres as it saw fit. Moreover, the group relinquished its right to further protest the development save for continued negotiations on details of the marsh-restoration project. Finally, MTP made the restoration of both the salt- and the freshwater marshes contingent upon all local, state and federal regulatory agencies granting approval for the Revised Playa Vista Master Plan.

It's a well-known phenomenon that hostages often begin to identify with their captors. And the same phenomenon started to occur in West Los Angeles in the1990s. To Ruth Lansford, MTP was not just the lesser of two evils when compared to Summa Corp., but a morally superior force genuinely concerned about ecology. Everywhere she looked, it was others who stood in the way of restoring Ballona Wetlands - either the various government agencies that had to approve the environmental impact report or, later on, ecological organizations that did not approve of the settlement agreement.

In 1994, MTP demanded more. Friends of Ballona Wetlands were asked to sign a supplement to their 1990 settlement agreement. Under the new terms, MTP can require the Friends to appear before a public agency and disavow any statement (made by a group that has at least one current or former member of the Friends) that "criticizes the Wetlands Restoration Plan or states that the Revised Playa Vista Plan will have an adverse impact on the restoration of the Ballona Wetlands." After the Friends denounce the criticism, the supplement requires the group to say that its position is unequivocally to the contrary.

As the settlement agreement was being signed in1990, work was progressing on the massive Playa Vista Revised Master Plan Environmental Impact Report, a document that eventually totaled several thousand pages. The EIR presents an extraordinary vision of an urban village that is the antithesis of Los Angeles. Tired of driving everywhere? Not in Playa Vista. There'll be neighborhood stores every few blocks. And if you want to go to the community center or mall, there will be mass transit with environmentally sensitive vehicles.

Tired of the separation of work from home? Not in Playa Vista. There'll be a job-placement center to help residents find employment on site. Tired of class segregation? Not in Playa Vista. Besides upscale houses and condos, there will be two levels of low-cost housing for the working class. Worried about where your excrement goes? Playa Vista will have a wastewater reclamation facility and an organic-recycling facility. Don't worry about that telltale El Segundo smell, either -there's a mitigation plan for hydrogen sulfide gas.

Playa Vista sounded so wonderful that when MTP, as part of its public-relations program, conducted out-reach meetings with various community groups in the early 1990s, support for Playa Vista grew. Heal the Bay, while not formally supporting the Playa Vista project, was impressed when Maguire Thomas responded to its suggestion to install oil/water separators (of unspecified design) in the storm drains. After that, Heal the Bay representatives met regularly to work on the marsh-restoration plan outlined in the settlement agreement.

It was as if MTP was now a leading force of social responsibility. Doug Gardner, the current head of Playa Vista development, recently explained the project in terms of fulfilling the vision set forth by the Sierra Club in its Beyond Suburbia manifesto, a call for what is known as "urban-infill." Gardner explains: "Most of the open land that exists in this region is in the outlying areas, but the jobs are in the Los Angeles basin. We need to develop more efficient non-suburban patterns to help counterattack the trend evident since the end of World War II- the suburbanization of open land at increasing distance from our jobs."

But not all environmental groups agree. The Sierra Club itself disputes Gardner's interpretation of its thinking. Its "Sierra Club Policy - Urban Environment" document explicitly says that within urban areas, "parks, parklike lands, agricultural lands, and sensitive and hazardous areas" should be excluded from infill developments. Wetlands, says the Sierra Club, should be acquired by public and nonprofit agencies and landtrusts. Moreover, the Los Angeles chapter of the Sierra Club has consistently opposed any development on the Playa Vista site west of Lincoln Boulevard since 1988.

In fact, everywhere you look, there are flaws in the MTP package. Several proposed mitigations, actions promised by the company to compensate for environmental damage, vanished when the city of Los Angeles accepted the plan for Phase I of Playa Vista in September 1993. For instance, the letter of acceptance waived requirements that MTP build separate Playa Vista facilities for reclaiming wastewater, treating sewage and recycling solid waste. Two years later, in the summer of1995, it became clear that most of the other mitigations listed in the EIR weren't exactly what they appeared to be, either. The environmentally sensitive mass-transit system; *the on-site job-referral service; the parks, open land and bike paths; the riparian corridor and freshwater marsh; and especially the saltwater marsh - the millions for the Ballona Wetlands restoration - all appear in the EIR as compensation for the damages Playa Vista will inflict, and the implication is that the developer will pay for them.

Instead, in 1994 Maguire Thomas Partners, in coordination with the city of Los Angeles, decided that virtually all of the projects that had been discussed as mitigations were actually community facilities described as"extraordinary public benefits beyond Playa Vista. This designation will allow MTP to avoid paying for most of the mitigation. A special Mello-Roos "Community Facilities" tax district was voted into existence August 7,1995, by two voters - the city of Los Angeles and MTP - and authorized to issue up to $410 million in tax-exempt bonds to be paid for by special property taxes ( up to double the normal 1 percent of purchase price per year) on whoever buys into Playa Vista for the next 50 years or so. True, it's not MTP's money that's up-front," says MTP's Gardner, but "it's not free money in that it influences the cost of units. It changes your marketing plan."

Despite MTP's highly skilled public relations, extensive political lobbying and the tacit threat of Summa Corp. bulldozers, not everyone has gone along with the Revised Playa Vista Master Plan. In1993, local activists who opposed the settlement agreement founded Save Ballona Wetlands. "This mitigation game is a scam," says Kathy Knight, one of the group's founders. "It sounds like they're going to take care of negative environmental impact, but you're really creating the ability for the developer to destroy the environment."

Members of Save Ballona Wetlands (renamed Ballona Ecosystem Education Project in 1997) are outraged by the effects the Playa Vista development would have on L.A. Public financing makes the insult even worse. "The normal practice is for developers to give land to the public and form assessment districts for maintenance,"says Rex Frankel, the group's president."We the public shouldn't have to purchase that which is mitigation for a developer’s profit."

But as the name of the group suggests, Save Ballona Wetlands also thinks that there are fundamental flaws with the restoration plan negotiated by the Friends and Maguire Thomas. According to Save Ballona Wetlands' calculations, 517 acres of Playa Vista are either potential saltwater wetlands or presently existing freshwater wetlands called "vernal pools." The group vehemently objects to the idea of retaining only 226 out of 1,087 acres as a saltwater marsh, with another 59 acres for urban storm-water runoff. Nor should the non-wetlands open space or "uplands habitat" be sacrificed, the group insists. In Frankel's words, "The developer is trying to get people to sacrifice uplands to save part of the wetlands. They're pitting habitats against each other."

There are also grave doubts about whether a functioning marine ecosystem could be established with the226 acre plan currently being prepared. Rimmon C. Fay, Ph.D., is a 65-year-old marine biologist who grew up in Venice and has spent his professional life as marine-specimen collector in Southern California waters, principally Santa Monica Bay. Fay contributed to the 1975 California Coastal Plan, and served for several years on the California Coastal Commission. After having been removed from the Coastal Commission because of his strong opposition to coastal development, Fay joined Ruth Lansford's group, the Friends of Ballona Wetlands. But as the group's restoration plan took shape, Fay quit.

The problem, he says, has to do with the design of the marshes. The freshwater marsh would be the drainage basin for all the storm drains of Playa Vista.This urban runoff would be filtered a bit with various marsh plants. But in an average year of participation, runoff from the freshwater marsh would spill over at least once into the saltwater marsh, and in a rainy season like the one Los Angeles had in the winter of 1995, there would be continual storm-water runoff into the saltwater marsh. Moreover, in the current design, the saltwater marsh is supposed to get its salt water from Ballona Creek. The problem isn't just that Ballona Creek is quite often highly polluted. When it rains in the Los Angeles basin, storm water runs through Ballona Creek with enough force to push the ocean tides back. That polluted storm water will then enter the marsh as well. If the marsh had full tidal exchange -meaning that at least 90 percent of its water would be exchanged with the ocean every day - occasional storm-water flooding might not pose an immediate threat to the marine life.

But in the current tidal design, it will take about a week to clear the marsh, far too long. Fay complains,"This is not my understanding of the natural circumstances of how saltwater marshes operate in Southern California. In the winter it will be too cold, with too much freshwater runoff creating too low salinity. In the summer it will be too shallow and too hot, with not enough oxygen for the fish. Flood control is what has been proposed for Playa Vista, not a functional wetland. You're gonna build a fish trap." By a fish trap, Fay means that the marsh will kill the fish and other marine life because of its extreme variations in salinity and temperature.
If flood control is the fundamental natural function for the proposed storm-water and saltwater marshes, what are their main social functions? Selling the idea of the two marshes was the primary sales technique MTP developed to stop opposition to the development. Since the social function of the saltwater marsh was conceived as public relations and sales, it didn't have to be designed as a real, functioning coastal ecosystem.Instead if just had to look like a marsh, to have some plants and birds. The current plan for a few acres of Playa Vista is a wetlands theme park.

The Playa Vista project is by no means a done deal; more public hearings are scheduled for next year, and groups in opposition to the project are still hopeful they can stop the development. But when Maguire Thomas Partners announced that the office buildings and hotels planned for Phase I were now to become an Entertainment, Media and Technology District, they brought a fitting symbolic closure to their plans. How nice it would be if Hollywood came home to Playa Vista, where it could gaze upon a Swampworld themepark whose basic principles come from the commercial film industry, advertising and marketing.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Major Gas Station-Groundwater Polluters of the Lower Ballona Valley

Natural Treatment by River and Wetlands Restoration, or

At Least 20 Hyperion-Style Treatment Plants Throughout the City

(Click on maps to enlarge)

The above map can be found in the City's Integrated Resources Plan, located on the web at
(large 8.4 megabyte file)

By Rex Frankel/March 31, 2007

The Regional Water Quality Control Board has set deadlines for complying with the Clean Water Act for trash, bacteria, and other pollutants in our urban waterways and beaches.

The trash deadlines are very short, a matter of 2-3 years.

The bacteria deadlines are much longer, as compliance is much more complicated, and were set this way:

for the Santa Monica Bay watersheds including Pacific Palisades, Santa Monica, Venice, Westchester, Playa Del Rey and El Segundo, the deadline for full compliance is July 2013 if the Cities choose to merely treat the water and dump it back into the creek or ocean; this is called the standard approach.

the deadline is July 2021 if the cities not only clean up the pollution, but reuse the water, or replenish groundwater aquifers, and/or create wetlands, wildlife habitat and parks as part of the project. This is called the “integrated approach”. If the City chooses this approach, by the interim deadline of July 2013, the City must reduce health code violations at beaches by 25%, and reduce violations by 100% by 2021.

For the Ballona Creek Watershed, including Mar Vista, Del Rey, Culver City, east Santa Monica, Brentwood, Inglewood, Hollywood and West L.A., the final compliance deadline is July 2017 if the standard approach is used, or July 2021 if the integrated approach is used.

Either way, the City needs to get moving as these approaches will take a long time to construct and finance.

For the rest of the City, the water board has not yet adopted cleanup timetables for bacteria in the L.A. River and Compton and Dominguez Creeks.

How Much Water to Capture:

The City’s engineers have determined that in order to comply, they must capture and manage 25% of the City’s total runoff. This is based on the determination by the Water Board that before L.A. was developed, natural sources of bacteria led to high pollution levels on an average of 17 days a year. This is based on a reference watershed, the Arroyo Sequit in west Malibu, which is largely undeveloped and yet bacterial water standards are violated 17 days a year there. Therefore, the City has decided to capture and manage the runoff from all “rain days” except the largest 17 days of flow per year. That’s how the 25% number was arrived at. Since “rain days” include the day of a storm and the next three days (each storm creates 4 days of heavy amounts of runoff), this means that rain days in L.A per year have ranged from 30 in 2003 to 104 in the El Nino of 1998.

As anyone who has seen our creeks flowing on a rainy day knows, this 25% is still an enormous amount of water.

Current City Proposals to Comply with the TMDLS, (called Implementation Plans):
For the Santa Monica Bay watersheds, the Cities of L.A., Santa Monica and El Segundo made this “Integrated” proposal to the Water Board last year:

1. Storage and Reuse sites: use parks, government facilities and schools to capture clean rainfall in cisterns so that it can be reused on-site for landscape irrigation.
Potentially there are 62 acres of vacant urban sites available for this use, too, although 27 acres of this is at LAX Northside. The other acreage is not specified but the only site that comes to mind is at Playa Vista.

2. Divert dry weather runoff to the Hyperion treatment plant or to Santa Monica’s new urban runoff treatment plant. Most of these diversions have been constructed.

If #1 doesn’t work, the Cities proposed these additional “Standard Treatment” projects as a fallback:

3. Three Treatment Plants: at Temescal Canyon Park at Pulga Canyon (the ex-Oxy oil site); South Beach Park in Santa Monica; and LAX Northside (which could be either a treatment plant or a subsurface constructed wetland, which is effectively a gravel filter).

4. Operational Storage Sites: underground storage tanks under all existing beach parking lots would be needed to hold all the water so the treatment plants have more time to treat it; this allows treatment plants to be smaller.

5. Three potential subsurface flow constructed wetlands/gravel filters:
-Will Rogers State Historic Park, using 17 acres of native planted areas out of a total of 34 native planted areas in the park;
-Santa Inez Canyon Park, using 23 acres of native planted areas out of a total of 45 native planted areas in the park;
-El Segundo at Grand Ave and Illinois Street, using 1 acre of native planted areas out of a total of 2 native planted areas in the park;

The Cities’ proposed Implementation Plans proposed to only construct the projects in #1 above, which are projects in 25 parks and government sites, by the interim compliance deadline of July 2013, at which 25% of violations must be eliminated. These sites include 5 parks and street parkways in Venice, 2 parks in Westchester and Playa del Rey, 5 parks in Brentwood and the Palisades, 9 park and civic buildings in Santa Monica and 4 detention basins and the golf course in El Segundo. The problem with this plan is that these 25 projects would only capture around 2% of the Cities’ target runoff goal.

Proposals #3 and 5 could also curtail existing public use of these parks, or could be sited under a landslide (Pulga Canyon)

Based on this huge shortfall, the Water Board rejected this Implementation Plan in April 2006 and directed the cities to present a revised plan by January 2007, to allow the Water Board staff time to analyze it in time for the planned hearing in June 2007. So far, I have not seen nor heard of any revised plan being submitted.

For the 130 square mile Ballona Creek Watershed, City engineers have proposed some similar “integrated” facilities like in the Santa Monica Bay watersheds Plan:

-1. source reduction at schools and parks
-2. redirect dry season runoff to Hyperion sewage plant or to the existing North Outfall Treatment Facility in Culver City
-3. a possible Centinela Creek diversion to a constructed wetlands facility
-4. in-stream treatment by restoration or daylighting (uncovering a buried stream) for dry weather flows

However, because this approach doesn’t add up to managing enough runoff, the cities also proposed these “standard treatment” projects:

-including integrated projects #1 and 2, and eliminating a Centinela Creek treatment wetland and other creek restoration and in-stream cleanup projects; and
-building 3 wet weather treat and discharge (not reuse) plants at a cost of over $900 million in
the upper watershed, probably near La Brea and Venice Blvds., at the lower end of Westwood Creek/Sepulveda channel, and at the confluence of Centinela Creek and Ballona Creeks

Problems with the Cities’ Proposals:
In Neither of the 2 watershed Implementation Plans, or in the L.A. City IRP, is there any consideration of river restoration and removal of concrete or of a citywide network of greenways and treatment wetlands, except for mention in passing. No actual study that makes it possible to compare the merits of the natural treatment and restoration approach to either the source reduction or treatment plant approaches was done. This appears to violate the California Environmental Quality Act, which requires that project approval studies must consider a “reasonable range” of alternatives to the proposed project that could reduce the significant environmental impacts of the proposal. Natural river restoration and treatment wetlands have been documented as an effective and less expensive way to solve our water pollution problems, costing half as much as the “standard” methods. (See L.A. County Public Works Department study summary at this link:

To read the full final version of the study, click here: Adopted IRWMP, December 13, 2006

Why Go Natural? Alternate Natural Treatment Case Studies:
Natural treatment of water pollution is not some gleam in the eye of environmentalists. It is, in fact, being done right now in communities only a few miles from the Ballona Creek area. We have several examples of natural runoff capture and treatment methods available for us to evaluate their potential, showing that treatment plants are not the only possible pollution solution.

The Sun Valley Watershed project in the East San Fernando Valley ( has been launched in an area that does not have any storm drains and therefore, has severe flooding problems. The retrofit project includes construction of cisterns and infiltration basins, and in many cases using existing gravel pits to hold the stormwater. These pits will also serve as parkland on the upper terraces, while habitat and water storage will be in the lower elevations. The project’s goal is for no rainfall/runoff to run into the L.A. River. This means that any street pollution will be captured and kept from our rivers and beaches.

The South Bay Cities including Manhattan, Hermosa, & Redondo Beaches and Torrance have an equal level of concreting of the landscape as the rest of Los Angeles, in that there is very little open space left. But this region has dramatically less wet weather beach water violations than Ballona and the Santa Monica region. (See study of pollution problems at this link, especially on page 3-15. The study concludes
“In general, dry weather exceedances have been more problematic in Jurisdictional
Groups 5 and 6 (the South Bay Cities) than wet weather exceedances.”

The reason can be seen in the many open and unpaved water catch basins throughout the South Bay, which are in fact remnants of a system of vernal pool wetlands that once covered large areas of the sand dune system that the South Bay was built upon. Rainfall is now funneled from developed areas into “sumps” featuring wetland vegetation, as these natural basins are called, whereupon any overflow is carried by a storm drain to the ocean. Because the problematic dry season flows are very small compared to storm flows, they can easily be, and, in fact, are being diverted into the L.A. County sewage treatment plant in Carson. Therefore, the cleanup of the remaining water pollution problems in the South Bay is being accomplished much more easily than in the Ballona Watershed, because much of the natural drainage system was never paved over in the first place.


In the Ballona and Santa Monica Bay watershed of the City of Los Angeles, these natural treatment methods have a great potential to provide parks and habitat and they require very little maintenance compared to the “standard treatment” methods. Ultimately the taxpayers need to know the pros and cons of all three methods of compliance; until now, these choices have been made by City Engineers in relative isolation from the general public that will foot the bill.
Are L.A. officials mis-spending Bay Cleanup Funds?

From, January 15, 2007

Water bond projects flow slowly
Some L.A. officials and activists say public should be seeing more tangible results from the $500 million measure.

Staff Writer

More than two years after Los Angeles voters approved a $500 million water bond, only one project has been completed, others remain mired in bureaucracy and some environmentalists have begun to question city priorities.

Passed overwhelmingly in November 2004, Measure O raised property taxes to fund projects designed to keep trash and pollutants out of the Los Angeles River and Santa Monica Bay

In return, voters were promised solid engineering solutions to the city's water pollution and innovative projects to create parks and green space while cleaning up tainted urban runoff.

Since the measure has passed, the City Council has approved $70 million for 10 projects and recommended $28 million for four others.

But only one project has been completed and just a few others have broken ground, frustrating some city leaders who want voters to see the impact of their dollars faster.

"For people like me and (Councilwoman) Janice (Hahn), as well, we have portions of our districts that have really been mired in serious runoff contamination problems and needing more green space," said Councilwoman Jan Perry, who helped initiate the bond measure. "We have a real sense of urgency to get things proposed, funded and built because it takes so long to get public-funded projects built."

But some environmentalists on a Citizens Oversight Committee that reviews each bond project expressed satisfaction with the projects so far, but complained there is no master plan for spending or measuring projects' effectiveness.

And that has heightened concerns as the panel prepares to weigh two lake restorations that could suck up $200 million -- or 40 percent of the bond.

"The lack of a plan has been a real problem. They should have been working on a plan the day after the election," said Mark Gold, who is executive director of Heal the Bay and sits on the oversight committee.

Deputy Mayor Nancy Sutley has proposed an overhaul of the process, including the passage of a master plan and selection criteria to guide funding.

"We want to be sure the money we're spending is really going toward improving water quality," Sutley said. "In anything like this, it's OK once you've been through the first round to take a deep breath and see what parts worked and what parts didn't." But even as the city wrestles with spending the water bond money, there already is growing concern that it will soon run out if not managed carefully or leveraged with state funds.

While a half-billion dollars sounds like a lot of cash, the estimated cost of cleaning the city's dirty water and polluted bay is $8 billion. Shahram Kharaghani, the city's stormwater program manager who is responsible for implementing the bond measure, said the measure helped the city meet some water-quality regulations. But Kharaghani said he'll need $100 million more to comply with trash and bacteria pollution limits.

And to meet upcoming water quality regulations, Los Angeles will need another bond or two -- which could be hard to persuade voters to approve if money from the first water bond isn't spent well.

"When we spend this money it's literally a drop in the bucket," said Francine Diamond, a member of the oversight committee.

"We're very serious about making sure the money is well spent. We want to be able to say to the voters (the city) did a good job and we're ready for another water bond." But the bond itself may be making that difficult.

Previous bonds raised taxes to build fire stations, libraries and animal shelters -- straightforward projects the city has handled hundreds of times. But Measure O had a more intangible mandate: Clean the water.

Los Angeles is crisscrossed with 7,300 miles of paved streets, littered with trash, stained with motor oil and fouled with pet waste, fertilizers and toxic chemicals. Rain and irrigation wash the muck into concrete drainage channels that carry it into the river and ocean. Under a 1999 settlement between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and environmental groups, Los Angeles has 13 years to meet more than 60 water quality regulations on trash, bacteria, metals, salts and other pollutants. The measure was designed to raise money to meet those regulations -- and the owner of a $350,000 home will pay about $34 annually over 20 years to fund it. But the ballot measure was deliberately vague because many of the water regulations aren't even written yet.

And it took a year just to appoint the administrative oversight, citizen's oversight committee and create basic project-selection standards to administer the bond money.

"This is uncharted territory. We took a real leap of faith as a municipality," said Council President Eric Garcetti, who helped draft the measure.

"Part of the risk of being first is you have to learn the technology.

"Now that we have some of the lessons from that, we should be able to spend the money a little more quickly and with less guesswork."

City leaders also wanted the bond measure to address community desires. So in 2005, the city asked environmental groups, neighborhood councils, city departments and governmental agencies for project ideas. They submitted 52 ideas that were whittled down to 22.

But from the beginning, there was uncertainty about what would qualify as a water project. And then community groups and nonprofits were expected to prepare detailed, technical proposals -- for free -- and hand them over to the city agencies for implementation.

Eventually, the city hired a consultant, CH2M Hill, to help groups develop concept reports -- at a cost of roughly $30,000 a piece -- with technical water quality analysis.

Stephanie Pincetl with UCLA's Institute of the Environment recently critiqued the first phase of the water bond measure and found a lack of order and unclear guidelines risk "increasing disillusionment with city government" and could hurt future water bonds.

"We don't want to use this money helter skelter, because this project seemed good and that project seemed good, but they didn't have the cumulative effect we need."


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Dear Friends,

Our campaign to save the rest of the open spaces in the Los Angeles
area got a big boost with the publication of a huge, extremely
favorable story by Judith Lewis in the November 9th edition of the L.A.
Weekly. To read it, click on this link:

The article explains how our beaches and rivers which have serious
water pollution problems can be cleaned up while at the same time
unpaving some of our concrete-covered metropolis, creating more parks
and wildlife habitat and linking together the parks we have.
The article explains how the project to clean up the Bay is mandated
under Federal law and thus presents a great opportunity to restore
natural rivers and wetlands which can help clean up this polluted water
that now runs down our streets, gutters and storm drains straight into
the ocean.

Longtime Ballona advocates were interviewed for the story and we are
very pleased with the result! (We are featured starting in the middle
of the article.)

Also, with the passage by the voters of Proposition 84 last week, more
money is available to buy and preserve parks. The last park bond
approved by voters in 2002 led to public acquisition of 600 acres of the
Ballona Wetlands and the 3000 acre Ahmanson Ranch, two long-fought-over
nearby open spaces.

more on river restoration from Judith Lewis' blog:
Prop 84: Dig up the culverts!

by Judith Lewis, L.A. Weekly

California voters on Tuesday approved Proposition 84, a $5.4 billion
bond measure for clean water and coastal protection that I would have
pushed hard for were I not playing journalist these days. And I was
worried about it-- 84 had been polling inauspiciously.

Coincidentally, the story I wrote about Jessica Hall and her search for
L.A.ís buried streams is on the cover this week. Money from 84 could go
to some of the projects discussed in this story: It’s been earmarked
for projects that prevent toxic runoff from entering the ocean--which
in many ways means returning natural waterways to as close to their
natural state as possible. Nature already did what infrastructure
continually fails to do. I began researching this story thinking that
Hall’s ambitions were sort of far off and visionary, but over the six
months I spent figuring it out, daylighting streams began to seem like
an utterly sensible way to fix our urban water problems. I’m hoping
people get that from the story.

L.A.'s Water Board voted unanimously (9/14/06) to enforce Clean Beaches laws; Polluters not happy...

Restored Creeks Can Revitalize Our Cities



Includes sidewalks and dining areas on walkways elevated above the creekside on stilts; a big difference from the concreted-over and the vertical-concrete-walled creeks in Los Angeles

Politics vs promises in quest for cleaner Bay

Monday, September 11, 2006
L.A. Weekly's Judith Lewis exposes the politics behind cleaning up Santa Monica Bay and how the promise of Proposition O and Cleaning up the Bay is being compromised by politicians' pork-barrel pet projects.

An excerpt from the voter information pamphlet describing Proposition O:

Development, and purchase, of land to create water-cleansing landscapes and parkways along and surrounding the Los Angeles River and Ballona Creek to reduce storm water pollution and bacteria that wash into these waterways, through natural filtration and treatment. These parkways provide multiple benefits such as controlling storm water runoff and flooding through increasing percolation areas and by creating open space for habitat preservation and recreation."
River Restoration is least expensive Santa Monica Bay Cleanup plan; L.A. City plans hearings on their plan for water pollution

Thursday, August 10, 2006

This is Scenario three, which creates connected parks and wetlands throughout L.A. County to help clean up our beaches and rivers.


A great study has just come out of the L.A County Public Works Department (August 2, 2006) that analyzes three scenarios
for cleaning up the County's polluted runoff that now fouls our beaches.

The results are: natural river restoration is the least expensive and has the most benefits!

Scenario three is strictly river restoration with treatment wetlands and parks along the rivers, a plan
which we support, and which could include the remaining 200 acres of unpaved private land at the
Playa Vista development site in the Ballona Creek floodplain.

Scenario one is similar to the plan L.A. City has been pushing as part of their TMDL and integrated resources
plan with small mechanized runoff treatment plants throughout the city and minimal land purchases.

Scenario two is a hybrid of #1 and river restoration concepts with large basins and treatment wetlands
scattered throughout the county, but not along the major waterways, and would require a lot of land

The results are that scenario 1 costs $47 billion and has $7.5 billion in benefits; scenario 2 costs $53
billion and has $8.1 billion in benefits.

Scenario 3, however, only costs $27 billion and has $12.5 billion in benefits. The experts have now
spoken: river restoration and natural treatment of urban runoff is not only the best plan, it's also
least expensive.

The full report is available at,%202006%20Workshop%20Materials/IRWMP%20Workshop%20Presentation.pdf

To See the three plans:

And to learn more, go to and click on the "Documents" tab at the top of the page.