Sunday, December 7, 2008

Our 2008 Year-End Progress Report:

The 10th Anniversary of a Major Scoop and the Start of Big Successes in the Battle to Save the Ballona Wetlands

This is the Tenth Anniversary of the release of the Playa Vista company's 1998 secret business plan. Insiders in the development firm gave us this 198 page document that contains political strategy, what the owners paid for the land and what our public opposition was costing them, and the frank admission of how "generous" the City Council had been to them.

To read the full plan, click here:

To read our analysis of the plan's contents, read here:

Soon after we published excerpts of this report, Playa Vista's key tenant DreamWorks Pictures backed out of the project, after 4 years of public protest at their film premieres and a loss at the local Water Board when they sought to be exempted from financial liability for groundwater contamination at Playa Vista;

Read more here:

A year later, Patricia McPherson and her group the Grassroots Coalition discovered high levels of explosive methane gas underneath the proposed community for 20,000 people.

also see:

By 2001, Playa Vista began negotiations with the State of California to sell the Ballona Wetlands, taking the development of all the land west of Lincoln Blvd. off the table.

With the State's purchase of the wetlands in 2003, fully 70% of the original 1087 acre Playa Vista project was permanently preserved from development. Approximately 300 acres of the site has been developed or is in the process of being developed as part of the project's Phase 1. We were successful in 2007 in overturning the development plans for the remaining 110 acre Phase 2 site and with the election of friends at City Hall in 2005, we have excellent working relationships with L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and City Councilman Bill Rosendahl.

Read more about our legal efforts here:

Above and Below--two views of the Ballona Wetlands State Preserve

BELOW: The condominium development at Playa Vista. In the background is the remaining Phase 2 site which totals 110 acres. Can we preserve this land? Maybe 2009 will bring us another big victory!
Excerpts of the 1998 Playa Vista Business Plan:

Here are some of the most interesting pages; CLICK ON THEM TO ENLARGE:

"The site has issues of...poor soil conditions".
"The entitlements received for Phase 1 are generous"

Tuesday, November 4, 2008



When we first began fighting the onslaught of mega-developments that out-of-town builders were planning here, the threatened traffic gridlock would have been staggering. City planners told us the traffic on Lincoln Blvd/Highway 1 would DOUBLE. Traffic on the 405 Freeway, which is now a virtual parking lot, would increase by 28% from Playa Vista alone!

By working with our partners and friendly elected officials, we have scaled back what would have been a disaster to much more manageable growth. We didn't get all that we wanted, but, for example, we saved 2/3rds of the Playa Vista/Ballona Wetlands. We still have a chance to save another 10% of this site. We preserved blufftop trails and the Cabora Road trail system. And we cut the size or eliminated many of the other major projects: Fully 60% of the new car trips per day that were on the books in 1989 have been cancelled!


(the traffic totals come from an L.A. City Planning department report from 1989)




LAX Northside and

Continental City



Both Not Built due to changed LAX plans

LAX 55 Million annual passengers Expansion


18,950 trips (more growth was proposed in the late 1990's that was cancelled)

Howard Hughes Center


Around 30,000 trips completed

Playa Vista


Cut to 79,000 trips due to State Parkland Purchase; Only around 25,000 trips completed so far

Marina Marketplace (Gelsons)



Marina Place Mall


Cut to around 10,000; now CostCo/Albertsons/Sav-On center

Corporate Pointe


Around 5,000 completed

Sepulveda/Slauson offices



Santa Monica Commons



Marina Del Rey redevelopment


Approved but mostly unbuilt



BUILT: 107,243






plus Hughes Center buildout of 4 remaining lots


In 1985, the City Council which was very-friendly with developers approved the "Big-4" super-sized developments which surrounded the communities of Westchester and Playa del Rey. The only concession offered by these developers was that they would pay to widen most of the major roads in this area to the width of a freeway--or 10 lanes across. What made the plan fall apart was the discovery in 1988, (after voters elected a new councilperson to represent us at city hall,) that the money promised to fix traffic problems was less than half of what was required. That meant that taxpayers would have to fork over $100 million to fix problems, while these developers stood to make billions in profits.

(Also, note that in the table above, traffic totals are for the entire day, while in the article below, traffic totals are for each rush hour. Normally, to convert rush hour car trips into daily trips, multiply by 10.)

City Cites 2 Highrise Projects Over Funding Shortfall

By Rex Frankel

(originally printed in the Westchester Journal September 29, 1988)

The traffic management plan created by former Councilwoman Pat Russell in 1985 was denounced by City officials and Russell's successor Ruth Galanter last Thursday as giving special favors to two local high rise projects, the Howard Hughes Center and Continental City. Galanter criticized the granting by Russell in 1986 of development agreements for the two projects which lock-in traffic improvement fees at one third that to be paid by all other new businesses.

Representing the City Dept. of Transportation, Haripal Vir said the Coastal Transportation Corridor Specific Plan (CTCSP) will come up about $100 million short of its target of raising $191 million for traffic improvements from developers of commercial and industrial projects in the area bounded by the San Diego Freeway, Santa Monica City limits, the Pacific Ocean and Imperial Highway. Vir told the approximately 50 audience members that "only a change in land use can ultimately balance the development and transportation infrastructure" in the area. Galanter agreed, stating that reducing densities of Westside building projects was the major issue in her successful campaign against Russell last year.

The traffic fund would pay for the widening of most non-residential streets in the area, including Lincoln and Sepulveda Blvds. The plan also recommends that Falmouth Avenue in Playa del Rey be continued north from the edge of the Bluffs to Admiralty Way in Marina Del Rey.

One audience member shouted that "the whole ordinance should be scrapped." Others didn't like the proposed continuation of Falmouth and the widening of Lincoln and Sepulveda, while others opposed elimination of parking along major streets and loss of local businesses to the proposed street widenings.

The $191 million figure was the estimated amount needed to widen local streets to accomodate the total buildout of all commercial and industrial property in the Westchester, Playa del Rey, Del Rey, Mar Vista and Venice areas to at least 3 to 1 density. (For comparison, building densities in Downtown L.A. average out to 3.5 to 1 density.) This buildout would have caused creation of 34,560 rush hour vehicle trips. The Hughes Center and Continental City projects will create 10,300 of these trips. Adding the 9800 trips planned by Playa Vista and the 7500 planned at the LAX Northside project--a total of 27,600 rush hour trips will be created by these 4 projects. High rise construction on Century Blvd. will add several thousand more trips.

Galanter criticized the approach used by Russell's CTCSP as saying that " 'any amount of growth is OK as long as we keep widening streets and improving intersections to handle it.' I don't accept it and I believe very few of my constituents do either."

Galanter told the crowd to expect more public hearings on the revisions to the CTCSP in early 1989.

The changes to the CTCSP recommended by the City Transportation Department are as follows:

1. Raise the Traffic Impact Assessment (TIA) fee charged developers of new commercial and industrial projects from $2112 to $5690 for each additional rush hour vehicle trip created. The 20-year development agreements enacted for the Hughes Center and Continental City by Russell lock in these fees at the lower level. The report recomends prohibiting the setting of these TIA fees in future development agreements.

2. Cut the amount of time to pay the fees from 20 to 10 years.

3. Make new local-serving commercial projects, such as markets and mini-malls, pay TIA fees at 30% of that charged the more-regional commercial projects, such as offices and hotels. The DOT report cites a study showing that 70% of the area's traffic passes through and only 30% is locally generated.

4. Require widening of streets or improvements to intersections before a building can be occupied.

5. Modify the concept of "in-lieu credits", which are traffic improvements paid for directly by the developer which theoretically benefit the surrounding community, too, and are credited against the TIA fee. Both the Howard Hughes Center and Continental City projects make extensive use of these credits, further cutting into the city's ability to raise the needed $191 million.

6. Find ways to make LAX pay TIA fees for its proposed expansion from handling 40 million annual passengers to 65 million.

7. The report also suggested making now-exempt residential developments pay TIA fees if they generate "significant" amounts of traffic.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

State Unveils Restoration Plan for Ballona Wetlands to Extreme Alarm of the Folks Who Fought For Years to Save It;

They would reduce the relatively balanced three native habitat communities at Ballona down to almost entirely one type

And here's the contradiction: While we are told there isn't money to buy the remaining open spaces next to the wetlands that are threatened by developers, there is over $200 million to pay for bulldozing the wetlands?

Restoration By Bulldozer Is Not The Way to Go...

Dear Friends,

We have been informed by the State officials in charge of the restoration planning for the Ballona Wetlands that they favor the most habitat-altering proposals of the 5 that were unveiled in September. Alternative 5 is the plan which proposes dredging out over 90% of the 600 acre wetland/wildflower property, and it would replace what is there now almost entirely with an arm of the ocean. Gone would be the hiking trails, the little league fields, and almost all of the uplands that are now covered with sage brush and trees and the freshwater habitats.

I have posted some of the State's maps. Look at the map legend for the phrase "new habitat to be created" compared to the areas labeled "existing habitat to remain"; this shows how much of the land is to be dredged/bulldozed under each proposal.

The director of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, Dr. Shelley Luce, informed me last week (Nov. 6th) that the EIR for the restoration will only consider Alternatives 4 and 5 and doing nothing at all. That ignores the more reasonable proposals that restored some of the wetlands while preserving existing trails and upland habitat.


OTHER: 11%

OTHER: 8.5%

To view the 5 alternatives, here is a link to the State's website:

(click on the "documents" link)







Here is our opinion of the Plan that was endorsed by the Restoration project's Science Advisory Committee:

Alternative 5 is an outlandish, over-reaching solution without a problem. There is very little that needs fixing at the Ballona Wetlands. We spent 20 years fighting to keep this land from being bulldozed and turned into condos and a yacht harbor. Now the State wants to bulldoze it and wipe out two of the three natural habitats at Ballona to turn it into an inland sea. The community loves Ballona because it is a remnant of the three habitats that were once common in Los Angeles: salt marsh, freshwater creeks and grass and wildflower-covered uplands ringed by hiking trails. All of these natural habitats are nearly extinct in L.A.

To massively bulldoze and dredge out 90% of this fragile nature preserve to create an almost exclusively saltwater-world-like amusement park ignores the needs of the community that has grown up around Ballona walking the trails and smelling the wildflowers. While it is essential to bring water back into the wetlands, it should not be done at the expense of our walking paths and the uplands which are the nesting areas for so many of the wetland wildlife. What might be a good plan for fish is bad for birds and lizards and butterflies. Alternative 5 is not a balanced plan but one that satisfies a very narrow interest. To preserve biological diversity and the remains of nature in L.A., we support a balanced habitat plan like in Alternatives 1 and 2.

Rex Frankel, the editor, and director of Ballona Ecosystem Education Project

Here is an account of the Science Advisory Panel meeting by Marcia Hanscom, who directs the Ballona Institute (NOTE: I have posted Hanscom's email so our readers can hear the variety of views on this issue. While I agree that the proposal circulated by the State planning team goes too far, I can not vouch for the accuracy nor necesarily agree with how Hanscom characterizes the events of this meeting since I was not there. I have heard from some that disagree with her account of the meeting. I have asked the State and Agency officials mentioned in her message to respond, and if they do, I will post them.):

Well, after the *majority* of the public (even Friends of Ballona Wetlands/Playa Vista attorneys - they are worried the birds at the freshwater marsh may not have enough upland habitat surrounding the area!) expressed grave dis-like for alternative #5, and expressed concern for the land to be PRESERVED and the wildlife RESPECTED at this Working Group meeting....The only ones who expressed strong support for this radical vision of #5 were Mark Abramson, formerly of Heal the Bay (who helped pick the Science Advisory Committee, which is mostly made up of former Rich Ambrose students - Ambrose being the one who has little clue about land and wetlands ecological processes, only marine ecology, which he focuses on without knowing the rest) and Isabelle Duvivier, who is on the payroll of the State Coastal Conservancy, so, of course, she supports what they are pushing.

The next day, after a 6-7 hour meeting of the "Science Advisory Committee" - which has long been stacked with those who John Hodder has described to well below (pro-engineering and ignorant of ecology) - voted unanimously to support Alternative #5. Sean Bergquist immediately turned to National Marine Fisheries Service rep, Bryant Chesney, with a "high 5" and a big smile for getting what they wanted, which is an extension of the Bay inland, instead of a respect of the wetlands ECOSYSTEM.There were a couple of good scientists who asked strong and valid questions, but they were pooh-poohed with non-answers by Rich Ambrose, Shelley Luce, Mary Small and Sean Bergquist, the leaders in what they are calling a "planning process." Even Michael Josselyn, who long worked for the Friends of Ballona Wetlands, said he could not support this plan without a lot of "caveats." In the end, he, Camm Swift and Wayne Ferren, while expressing grave concerns, agreed to go along, so they could stay involved with the process - which is clearly being taken over now by the Army Corps of Engineers.Bottom line? What is being touted as a more NATURAL, sinuous stream restoration, will be nothing of the kind. They will need to build curving levee WALLS around edges of their curvy, unnaturally-formed (but mimicking nature) tidal channels, and nearly all of the upland areas will be wiped out. At the end, there was a BIT of a concession made and it was said that MAYBE Area C will be "restored" to grasslands. It will still be good-bye to the Great Blue Heron as a nesting species at Ballona, good-bye to the White-tailed Kite and Northern Harrier, good-bye to California King Snake, California Ground Squirrel, Horned Lizard, and possibly even the endangered Belding's Savannah Sparrow - as the channel where they currently nest will also be dug up and re-made in the likeness of whatever these people think is best. Best for what? Seemingly it is water quality driving this project, even though we all voted and AGREED that Water Quality was NOT the consideration we wanted guiding this process, but rather ecological processes.When Rich Ambrose was asked by scientist Ken Schwartz - what will the impacts of these plans be on various species - Ambrose said "well, we don't have enough information on this. I've asked a student I have working on a list of species at Ballona, but it would just be he and I guessing" This is pathetic, both as an answer and as a huge mis- calculation and non-understanding of what is at stake here - and from the co-chair of this "Science Advisory Committee."

Roy, Edith Read, a woman from Heal the Bay, Kelly Rose (from Friends) and I were the only public members who attended this day-long SAC meeting. Sack the SAC! may be our rallying cry. The public was not allowed to talk until the very end of the meeting, well after the vote was taken. We had asked the night before to be able to speak BEFORE the vote, but we were denied by Mary Small, who is running this show for the State Coastal Conservancy.

If any of this disturbs you, I hope you will write to your Assemblymember, your State Senator, the LA City Councilmember for this area (Bill Rosendahl) and our LA Mayor, who helped buy this land to begin with. They would all be very disturbed to learn these things. And, send a copy to us, if you would.

take care, all ~~ Marcia Hanscom, Ballona Institute

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Playa Vista Condos Not Very Attractive to Buyers Compared to Nearby Marina Condo Developments.
Why? Because Playa Vista Never Built the promised mixed-use "live and shop in the same community" that they promised to their buyers.

Singles enclave harbors lofty ambitions

A former commercial area filling up with high-density housing attracts singles, artists and entertainment-industry workers.

By Diane Wedner, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer February 24, 2008,0,5319030.story

The loft-and-latte crowd is setting up house in the trendy Del Rey Arts District -- also known as the Marina Arts District. The tiny but flourishing neighborhood in Marina del Rey's old commercial hub is a hot spot for those with an artistic bent and is within walking distance of the beach and close to Venice's Abbot Kinney Boulevard.


This little slice of Marina del Rey -- roughly bounded by Beach Avenue to the north, Maxella Avenue to the south, Del Rey Avenue to the west and Redwood Avenue to the east -- once was farmland. By the 1940s, some commercial buildings had sprung up, and by the 1950s, a smattering of small residences had emerged amid the industrial and manufacturing complexes.The 1960s brought warehouses and food-processing plants, and in the 1990s, Internet companies and other "creative offices" opened in the grittier, less-pricey-than-Santa Monica community next to Marina del Rey's harbor.

By the early 2000s, developers saw a gold mine in this neighborhood whose manufacturing past was fading. Builders touted the area's proximity to beaches and bike paths, as well as the affordable prices, and buyers began purchasing the new condos and lofts, many of which still are going up.What it's aboutIf Hollywood's loft scene is about nightclubs and celebrities, and downtown's attracts young professionals, the Del Rey Arts District is all about the creative class.Artists and entertainment-industry workers are attracted to the high-density lofts and condos that feature flexible quarters for live/work arrangements.Tucked amid the auto-body shops, storage facilities and architectural offices are cutting-edge creative companies, such as advertising agency Ground Zero, which created the campaign for the Bijan cologne named after Michael Jordan. Some of the district's original brick buildings house a Pilates center and other trendy businesses.Not especially attractive to families, the district skews toward young, unattached buyers. At Element, John Laing Homes' 50-unit loft development, about 70% of the buyers are under 40 and 64% are single, said Kathy Kerr, director of sales for John Laing Homes Los Angeles/Ventura division. Prices range from about $569,000 for a 1,055-square-foot unit to $1.5 million for a 1,594-square-foot penthouse."Buyers in the district are hip, young, less mainstream," Kerr said. "They're TV writers, talent agents, they work for music companies and on film productions."

Insider's viewpoint

Lewis Lewis faced a choice two years ago: Buy a condo in neighboring residential giant Playa Vista or in the Marina's small arts district."It was an easy decision," the 55-year-old jewelry designer said. "I like walking, and here I'm near a bookstore, two movie theaters, supermarkets and Costco."Lewis works both from home and downtown, the latter commute requiring a 40-minute drive each way. So when she's in the district, she appreciates the five-minute stroll to the local shipping store, her herbal pharmacy and the beach. "I never have to leave the community when I'm home."

Home is an 800-square-foot, one-bedroom condo in Del Rey Terrace, in the heart of the district, that she purchased two years ago for under $500,000.The Mediterranean-style condo complex features a pool and spa, a screening room and lounge and a fitness center. One-bedrooms sell for $475,000 and up; a two-bedroom recently sold for $633,000. ...

Monday, March 17, 2008

Good News About Unpaving and Restoring Nature in L.A....

Up Your Alley: Chicago's 2,000 miles of alleys are being repaved with porous materials to allow rain to seep into the soil and restore the underground water table. The new pavement, made of recycled materials, also reflects heat rather than absorbing it, helping reduce energy costs during Chicago's hot summers. —Lea Hartog from Sierra Magazine,

Torrance may transform sumps for clean water, recreation

By Nick Green, Staff Writer, the Daily Breeze

Torrance could spend an estimated $134 million for a water treatment plant to comply with stiffer environmental regulations set to take full effect in 2021.

Or, city officials could spend just $4.5 million to build so-called "distributed treatment systems" - essentially wetlands and infiltration basins designed to clean water - at three of Torrance's sumps.

Not surprisingly, city officials are opting for the less expensive solution.

In addition to preventing bacteria-laden stormwater from entering the ocean during winter rains, improving the sumps will have the added benefit of creating new open spaces for public recreation and wildlife habitats.

Two other sumps - one near Bishop Montgomery High School and one called Ocean Basin near Sepulveda Boulevard - could also be improved to both help clean stormwater and provide recreational opportunities.

"We're uniquely positioned to take care of a major problem that larger cities are going to be facing," said Mayor Frank Scotto. "We're on the leading edge, and I am pretty excited we have this opportunity."

Torrance is "uniquely positioned" because of its legacy of the sumps that dot the once flood-prone city.

The sumps were constructed as subdivisions went in, but have not always been universally popular with residents.

In the late 1950s, Torrance was derided as the "city of sumps" by residents who opposed their creation of "Frankensteinian" proportions. Others disliked the skunks or other wildlife seen as nuisances the oases harbored.

Over the years some were filled in or sold, but the sumps are now seen as having practical value.
"The city of Torrance is very lucky to have these open spaces - it's not common," said John Dettle, public works engineering manager. "So we need to take full advantage of these open spaces."

The so-called Stormwater Basin Enhancement Program is part of an effort with neighboring cities to clean up urban runoff during winter months. Similar regulations - which the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board recently accused Torrance and 10 other South Bay cities of violating - are already in effect from April 1 to Oct. 31.

The program will be unveiled Tuesday when the City Council holds its regular meeting at 7 p.m. at the West High Library.

Three of the sumps in West Torrance - the Amie, Henrietta and Entradero basins, named for the nearby streets of the same name - flow into the Herondo drain along 190th Street.
Torrance contains 57 percent of the 2,745 acres that flow into the Herondo Drain, officials said.
Therefore, improving the health of those three basins is seen as the city's best opportunity to clean stormwater.

"That drain exceeds what's allowed in (pollutants) and so that's the one we need to address during wet weather," Dettle said.

Screens across drains would be installed to catch trash.

Wetlands would be constructed to naturally clean polluted urban runoff, while recharging groundwater and providing habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife.
Dettle foresees constructing "wildlife viewing platforms" in some areas.
In addition, the Ocean and Bishop Montgomery sumps would together account for another 26 acres of open space accessible to the public.

At the Bishop Montgomery Basin, three soccer fields - perhaps lighted - that the high school could use are proposed, with recycled water being used for irrigation.
Ocean Basin would offer more passive recreation with trails and infiltration basins to clean run-off.

Using sumps for recreation is not new - Entradero Basin boasts ball fields, for instance - and Scotto wants to see the others opened to the public to boost the city's park acreage. The mayor is a former national director with the Hawthorne-based American Youth Soccer Association.
"I'm excited about the possibility of using those sites in a different way," he said, noting the shortage of soccer fields for AYSO teams. "If people resist the lighting part I can understand that. We hope they're OK with using them as (soccer) fields.
"We're in a situation where these assets are really valuable to us."

What: The Torrance City Council will discuss installing treatment systems at its sumps to clean stormwater and expand recreational opportunities.
Where: West High School library, 20401 Victor St.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday 3/17/2008.

Bay Cleanup or Boondoggle? Sprawl-Ridden L.A. Cleans Up Its Act — or At Least Acts Like It's Cleaning Up

From the Southern Sierran, May 2006

By Rex Frankel

Undoing poor planning and fixing urban environmental problems is going to cost local taxpayers billions of dollars. Or it could pay for itself.

Certainly, the millions of dollars that various parks agencies have spent to purchase and save a ring of open spaces around the L.A. sprawl (and some scattered islands of wetlands and sagebrush) over the past 20 years have been a good investment. It’s good for residents, good for tourism, and good for air quality. It hasn’t even stopped housing construction as, instead, infill projects are taking up the slack. Why, we are even finally seeing the conversion of boarded-up downtown high-rises into high-quality housing.

And after a rocky beginning with the bank-breaking MetroRail subway, we are seeing a switch to more affordable above-ground public rail transit systems that will reach all corners of L.A.’s sprawl, giving commuters a reason to leave their cars at home.

This real-world economic analysis of our idealistic environmental goals is what helps to “sell” them to the general public. And a real-world, cost-benefit look at the latest mega-project that has come out of L.A. City’s planning agencies, the Santa Monica Bay cleanup plan, shows that if we’re not careful, the only “green” thing about this plan (officially titled the Integrated Resources Plan) is the enormous pile of money we could be shelling out for it.

Proponents claim that the first part of the plan will cost around $3 billion, with a monthly cost to each household of $96. A later part of the IRP could add $8 billion to the cost, meaning that the monthly cost could reach almost $400.

Every time it rains, huge amounts of trash, pet droppings, car brake dust, oil, grease, and smog run off the streets and into storm drains, which then pollute the ocean. This has led to unsafe water quality at several beaches for more than 30 days a year. After the federal government and clean water groups sued over violations of the federal Clean Water Act, local governments caved in and agreed to come up with a plan.

The local governments were ordered to cut the amount of pollution going into local waterways and the ocean in 10 years. But they complained about the cost, saying this compliance date would force them to build numerous expensive conventional water treatment plants. L.A. City’s engineers offered a new plan, which would clean up the Bay and also “integrate” how the city uses water resources. They promised a lot of “green” benefits, like maximizing capture and use of runoff.

Open spaces, specifically wetlands and natural streambeds, absorb these urban water pollutants at a fraction of the cost of conventional water treatment plants. And if the City can catch rainfall before it hits the streets, we might not have to continue taking water from the Owens Valley aqueduct.

For this idealistic plan, L.A. City was given 18 years by the State agency that administers the Clean Water Act, the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

But in the recently published detailed plans, largely written under the previous administration of Mayor James Hahn, it appears that this agreement could be unraveling. Instead of “green” goals, much of what this plan does is open the floodgates for more development, more pavement, and more pollution of our beaches.

The major component of the plan creates more drinking water and sewage treatment capacity, fixing one of the biggest impediments to more development of L.A. The plan heavily uses existing parks and schools as rainfall capture sites, but it has no specific plans to create new parks. The parts of the plan that would address new parks is put off to some unknown later date.
The plan mentions up to 21 major water treatment plants throughout the City, but doesn’t consider 21 less expensive treatment wetland parks.

And while this plan has been drafted, the City Council continues approving major development projects on the remaining vacant lands that could be used for treatment wetland parks, for example, 200 acres at the lowlands of Ballona Creek, which drains about a third of the City.
Economically, this plan doesn’t make sense; fortuantely, this is not our only available option. Our beaches could be cleaned up by creating a connected network of water-cleansing parks along the L.A River and Ballona, Compton, and Dominquez Creeks. The billions of dollars that would be spent on 21 huge water treatment plants could instead go toward re-greening the City that has been paved over in the last century, and at a much lower cost.

The economic boom brought by revitalized communities could be the same as in many other urban areas that have chosen to regreen the hearts of their city, (what urban planners call the “riverwalk concept”). Re-greening encourages businesses and neighborhoods to face the river instead of turning away and fencing them off. This plan could pay for itself in increased property values and tax revenues.

The bay could be cleaned up either way. The choice is between treatment plants and high taxes, or more parks and wetlands at a lower cost. The Regional Water Quality Control Board recognized this on April 6, when they rejected the City’s cleanup plans as inadequate and ordered revisions that strongly endorse “natural methods” to clean up runoff. The revised plans will be re-heard by the Water Board in July of 2007.

For more on the comparative costs of plans to cleanup Santa Monica Bay, please visit




HABITAT VALUE: The Baldwin Hills represent the largest contiguous open space in the western Los Angeles Basin. Significant swaths of intact coastal sage scrub still exist, and the Baldwin Hills may serve as the eventual source for many wildlife species that would use an enhanced wildlife connection as proposed by the Ballona Creek Parkway, such as coyote. Two projects would contribute significantly to biological connectivity: the "land bridge" proposed over La Cienega Boulevard and another bridge between the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook and Ballona Creek. The Baldwin Hills are also an essential source site for reintroduction of species to the Ballona Valley, such as desert woodrat or deer mouse.


HABITAT VALUE: Ballona Creek offers the only opportunity for a contiguous link between the coast and the Baldwin Hills. Greening along the channel could focus on connectivity for coyotes, because the presence of this species around the coastal wetlands will be critically important to restoring native bird diversity. Coyotes reduce the activity and abundance of other smaller predators, such as raccoons, skunks, and fox, which threaten native birds. Alterations to the channel to allow native vegetation, where feasible, would provide badly needed riparian habitat that would enhance connectivity and serve resident and foraging birds.


HABITAT VALUE: The eastern portion of the Playa Vista property is the site of historic wetlands, as shown by early 1900s collections of wetland species (Epilobium pygmaeum , Aster subulatus var. parviflorus ) near Mesmer Ave. This low plain would be ideal for the restoration of freshwater wetlands and vernal pools that could both support endangered species such as Riverside fairy shrimp and serve sto rmw ater treatment and infiltration functions. It is also an appropriate location for freshwater wetlands and riparian restoration.


HABITAT VALUE: The confluence of these two channels is a peninsula largely inaccessible by foot because of the Marina Freeway. It would make an excellent site for restoration of riparian vegetation that might continue up Centinela Creek between the channel and the freeway. This site is would be an ideal loafing spot for waterbirds, it could be greatly enhanced through restoration of riparian vegetation.


HABITAT VALUE: The property under the freeway extension under construction is contiguous with and should be hydrologically connected with the Ballona Wetlands. Restoration of the remainder of this parcel after freeway construction would provide stormwater treatment and valuable wildlife habitat for noise-tolerant species.


HABITAT VALUE: The location of this property along Ballona Channel offers opportunities for a treatment wetland and/or habitat restoration. The site has no current ecological value.

RECREATIONAL VALUE: The property presents an opportunity to lessen the burden on the heavily used parks of Westchester, West Los Angeles and Culver City. The creation of playing fields for soccer and other sports would greatly expand recreational opportunities for area youth. The stretch along the creek could be used as passive open space for strolling, picnicking and bird-watching. The site's proximity to bus routes and the Ballona Creek bike path would make it easily accessible to area residents.


HABITAT VALUE: The State Coastal Conservancy is currently developing a restoration plan for these parcels, now in State ownership. This plan should include restoration of the rarest of local wetland types, coastal saltmarsh, with significant and restored uplands necessary for pollinators and other ecotonal species. The State endangered Belding's savannah sparrow, which is found only salt marsh habitat, depends on the success of the restoration.


HABITAT VALUE: The top of the West Bluff site, now slated for development, represents the last best place to restore coastal prairie and vernal pools in the region. It is of sufficient size to help maintain some of the grassland birds that are under severe pressure from loss of habitat, such as loggerhead shrike, white-tailed kite, and western meadowlark. The restoration of vernal pool habitat would be similarly significant for local biodiversity and could be home to rare and endangered species such as Riverside fairy shrimp and spade-footed toad.


HABITAT VALUE: The Gas Company properties at the Ballona Wetlands and up the bluff would be an important part of a restored wetland ecosystem. The bluff faces are in need of restoration to replace iceplant, and the bluff top might support some coastal prairie vernal pool habitat if restored. Essential infrastructure should be assessed for how it might be more compatible with surrounding natural habitats, for instance by shielding and reducing intensity of nighttime lighting.


HABITAT VALUE: Historical maps show Del Rey Lagoon as the historic mouth of the Ballona Creek. Increasing the ecological value of this site will require better connection with Ballona Creek, through Lot C, which is currently threatened with development. This site would have a high value as part of a larger rehabilitation of the Del Rey Lagoon to increase/establish tidal flushing and replace the largely exotic landscaping with native species. This would enhance foraging opportunities for the endangered California Least Tern. Lot C is the ideal location for such an effort, so that restoration occurs at the northern end of the lagoon, leaving existing recreational uses intact at the southern end.


HABITAT VALUE: Toes Beach Dune is unique as the last undeveloped coastal dune contiguous with the beach between Ballona Creek and Palos Verdes. It shows typical dune development and vegetation, including beach burr and beach evening primrose. Minimal exotics removal and planting would be needed to transform it into a diverse strand and dune scrub community, with attendant wildlife, including endangered El Segundo blue butterflies.


HABITAT VALUE: At 300 acres, the dunes at LAX represent an internationally significant biodiversity hotspot. Many unique subspecies are found on the dunes, including the El Segundo dunes spineflower, El Segundo blue butterfly, four unique moths, a new species of crab spider, two rare weevil species, and the unique El Segundo dunes Jerusalem cricket. Approximately one hundred acres of the dunes are not included in the existing butterfly reserve and deserve protection. The dunes are also threatened by proliferation of invasive exotic species such as Myoporum that must be better controlled.
Backers of Playa Vista are Disappointed

A Glimpse of a More Vertical Los Angeles
Published: March 21, 2007

LOS ANGELES — Long before “the new urbanism” became a tired phrase, Playa Vista, the last remaining large tract of undeveloped land on this city’s traffic-choked West Side, was envisioned as a place where people could live, work, shop and play without leaving their neighborhood.
Now a community of 4,500 people, Playa Vista is situated between Westchester Bluffs and Marina del Rey, about a mile from the Pacific Ocean. It is dotted with small parks and made up of blocks of four-story buildings, mainly condominiums, in styles that include Spanish, Art Deco and contemporary, and will eventually contain nearly 6,000 units of housing.
With about 32 units to an acre, according to Steve Soboroff, the president of Playa Vista, it is one of the densest residential communities in Southern California and a harbinger, some say, of Los Angeles’s vertical future.
Though Playa Vista encourages its residents to travel around their new neighborhood in electric carts, it has yet to free them from their cars. Commercial development has been confined so far to a smattering of retail storefronts and a glassy complex at the intersection of Jefferson and Lincoln Boulevards that has been leased since 2003 by Electronic Arts, the video game manufacturer.
But a new stage in the community’s evolution is about to arrive. Two major developers are planning large Silicon Valley-style projects that they hope to lease to the type of new-media companies that have been flocking to the West Side.
In February, Tishman Speyer, the company that owns Rockefeller Center, and its financial partner, Walton Street Capital, acquired a 64-acre site near Jefferson and Centinela Avenue, on the eastern edge of Playa Vista, for $200 million. It is the same site where DreamWorks, the movie company, once intended to build a studio that would have been Playa Vista’s showpiece. But those plans were shelved in 1999. A couple of years later, the office market went into decline.
The timing is right for Tishman Speyer to begin developing a 1.1-million-square-foot campus of low-slung buildings, said John R. Miller, a senior managing director.“It’s only recently that this made economic sense,” Mr. Miller said. The complex will surround a nine-acre park with ball fields and tennis courts to be developed by Playa Vista.Symantec, the Internet security technology company, is building a campus on nine acres near Playa Vista in Fox Hills, and Yahoo took 256,000 square feet of space at the former Colorado Center in Santa Monica in 2005.
Though the vacancy rate on the West Side is less than 6 percent, new construction has been hindered by a scarcity of land and strong public resistance to development. Only 65,000 square feet of new space was added to the market in 2006, according to the CoStar Group, a real estate research company in Bethesda, Md.
Playa Vista sits on land once owned by Howard Hughes, the eccentric aviation pioneer and filmmaker. The Tishman site includes 16 structures that were built from 1941 to 1953 for the Hughes Aircraft Corporation, including the hangar where Mr. Hughes created the flying boat known as the Spruce Goose. Because of their role in the development of the aerospace industry in Southern California, most of these buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and must be preserved.
Mr. Miller acknowledged that it would have been easier to start with “a clean slate.” But he said his company was toying with the possibility of modernizing the Spruce Goose hangar, which has been used as a soundstage in recent years for movies, including “Titanic” and “World Trade Center.”
Near Tishman Speyer’s site, another national developer, the Lincoln Property Company of Dallas, has begun driving piles into the ground for the first phase of Horizon at Playa Vista, which will consist of two five-story buildings totaling about a million square feet of office space, also for prospective new-media tenants.Playa Vista has “a lot of things that are un-L.A. in a good way,” said David S. Binswanger, an executive vice president at Lincoln. “We looked at the Playa culture and we looked at the culture of the tenants, and we decided they matched awfully well.”
Another selling point, he said, was the Village at Playa Vista, the new town center that Rick J. Caruso, the developer of the Grove, the popular open-air retail-and-entertainment center near the Farmers Market on Third Street and Fairfax Avenue, plans to build on an 11-acre site near the office complexes.
Mr. Caruso said the new center would have a “beachier” atmosphere than the Grove and would be smaller and more locally focused, with an upscale supermarket, 175 luxury rental apartments and a movie theater. Construction has been delayed by a long-running environmental lawsuit concerning the cleanup of gases emitted at the former industrial site.
In 1978 a previous owner, the Summa Corporation, a company managed by the Hughes heirs, announced plans to develop Playa Vista, prompting one of the most protracted development battles in the history of Los Angeles. Opponents said the project would destroy the fragile Ballona Wetlands to the east of Lincoln Boulevard and would have devastating consequences involving traffic and air pollution.In the intervening years, the project has been vastly reduced in scale from the huge commercial development that Summa intended to build, and more than 600 acres of land have been preserved as open space.
In 1989, a new owner, Maguire Thomas, brought in a group of architects from the fledgling New Urbanist movement, including AndrĂ©s Duany and Stefanos Polyzoides, to design a mixed-use village inspired by pedestrian-friendly places like Santa Barbara. “Playa Vista was the beginning, of the recognition that planning standards from the post-World War II era were wrong and counterproductive,” said Nelson C. Rising, who managed the project for Maguire Thomas.
But litigation tied up the project for years, and Maguire Thomas lost control of it in 1997. The current owners, Playa Capital, a group led by Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, hired a management team from Orange County with a more suburban orientation than Mr. Rising, said Ruth Galanter, a former City Council member who was elected because of her opposition to Summa’s plans for Playa Vista. Land was sold to 15 separate builders and the design standards were sacrificed, she said.
Many design and planning specialists fault Playa Vista for its narrow sidewalks, the uniform height of its buildings and architecture they regard as uninspired. “It’s such a comedown from what Maguire Thomas initially proposed,” said Richard S. Weinstein, a professor of architecture and urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles. “It’s one of the biggest pieces of undeveloped land of any city in the U.S., and you build exactly what you would produce on any corner lot.”But Mr. Soboroff, a former president of the City Parks Commission, who joined Playa Vista in 2001 after the project was under way, dismissed such complaints as the grumbling of purists. “This is not a purebred, this is a Prius,” he said. “If we were doing pure, we’d still be an airport.”And Ms. Galanter, who was instrumental in forging a plan to save much of the wetlands from development, said there was still much to admire in Playa Vista, including a new fresh-water marsh, a first-rate water management system and housing discounts for police officers, firefighters, nurses and teachers.“Playa Vista fell short of what it could have been,” Ms. Galanter said. But, she said, it was “a lot better than any other development of the same size that I know of, certainly in Southern California
LAX Northside's 350 acres could be added to preserved Ballona open spaces....(November 21, 2006)

L.A.'s department of airports will post "preliminary concepts" for reuse of hundreds of acres of vacant land north and east of LAX ontheir website by November 28th. They will then hold public "outreach meetings" on December 6 and 9 to hear from us.The properties are known as LAX Northside and Manchester Square.The LAX Northside land is 350 acres spanning from Sepulveda Blvd. allthe way to Pershing Drive, around 2 1/2 miles long by 1/4 mile wide,that formerly contained 3500 homes that were removed due to airport noise during the 1970's. In the 1980s, a 4.5 million square foot commercial office and hotel project was approved by the City Council, although no developer chose to lease land from LAX to build anything. The extremely high commercial vacancy rate near the airport, which remains to this day, makes more commercial development there unlikely. Except for the construction of the six-lane Westchester Parkway down the middle of the land and a newly built fire station, the Northside land is almost completely vacant.Manchester Square is a 1/2 mile by 1/2 mile neighborhood of houses and apartment buildings which the airport department began purchasing inthe late 1990's. Most of the houses are gone, but the apartments which form the outer ring of the area remain. The land was acquired with varying purposes, first, to eliminate homes in the high-noise zone and to be replaced with airport-related. Later public parkland was the stated goal. However, neither of these has happened.Due to its location between sensitive natural areas such as the ElSegundo Dunes and the Ballona Wetlands, there is a lot of potential for open space restoration at the Northside site. Should the Northside property be reused as recreational fields, as native plant and wildlife habitat restoration, and as a treatment wetland for polluted stormwater in the LAX and Westchester areas? These are all possibilities which are needed by our communities, and in the case of stormwater treatment, required by the federal Clean Water Act. Being that expansion of the airport has not been an acceptable nor viable plan, now is the opportunity to plan for public needs on theseproperties.To read the concept plans posted by November 28th, go to info is available at 1-800-919-3766The meetings will be: Wed. December 6, 6 pm to 9 pm and Saturday December 9, 9 am to 12 noon both at the LAX Flight Path Learning Center 6661 w. Imperial Highway
August 18, 2006

More Housing Boom at Playa Vista

Yet another Channel 4 story on Playa Vista's explosive gas leakage problems aired Wednesday, August 16th... video shows a public hearing staged by the City of L.A. coverup department, ooops, Chief Legislative Analyst and Bureau of Engineering, to hear from the public about Playa Vista's toxic problems. In Tuesday night's, (August 15th) hearing held at Venice High School: When asked about apparently overlooked problem areas at Playa Vista, the City officer running the hearing, Jerry Miller, responded that "he doesn't know if the study covers all the problem areas." This is a good example of why last October the California Appellate Court ordered that a review of the methane mitigation systems at Playa Vista comply with the California Environmental Quality Act.NEWS FLASH: The City's website shows no timely response by the City to recent contempt charges filed by Grassroots Coalition and Dan Cohen:(1) The City failed to include the exact language of a court order to "proceed according to the California Environmental Quality Act"(2) The City has given approval to methane mitigation permits after the Appellate Court ordered the vacating of the methane mitigation measures. Thus it would appear that the City is not contesting our contempt charge! The tv report is the latest episode in a series of investigative reports about the potential health and safety hazards from toxic and explosive oil field gases at Playa Vista and to the surrounding areas as well - hazards exposed by Grassroots Coalition.More details:
PLAYA VISTA: development a bad investment for all involved
For details about the huge taxdollar giveaways and corporate welfare received by Playa Vista, read this report:

and to learn more about Playa Vista's pleading poverty to the tax collector while claiming huge land values to the State parks department, read this report:


Want to read more about how Playa Vista's "smart growth" promises didn't pan out? Read How Playa Vista's Promises Disappeared into the Swamp


Playa Vista has also been a crummy deal for their investors. Read the words of the head of their company from this L.A. Business Journal article..."Playa Vista President Steve Soboroff expects the return to be modest on what's estimated to be a $1.2 billion investment by the time construction wraps, probably no sooner than 2010."Would these guys get together in a room and do it again? They would say 'No,'" said Soboroff. "Will they get any sort of return on their money? De minimis, but that's because everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong."

This comes from a website run by several real estate's mostly propaganda...but there is some interesting stuff on how the other side thinks:

"Playa Vista: A friend had the chance to speak with some folks from Playa Vista who recounted the struggles to get stuff built at the site. She reported back to us on the state of development affairs that is squashing the development potential of many sites throughout the city. Our friend emails back the highlights of the conversation: "CEQA is now being abused by extremists to stop things from being built and it's too easy to hijack the process. The State tried streamlining CEQA but there were too many conditions. If there was no CEQA, [Playa Vista] would physically look the same, but there would be 8,000 dwelling units for $350k each instead of 2,000 dwelling units for $800k each as there is now. It costs too much time and money to make an EIR bullet proof."

La.Curbed's response is: "If there was no CEQA, [Playa Vista] would physically look the same, but there would be 8,000 dwelling units for $350k each instead of 2,000 dwelling units for $800k each as there is now."

BALONEY! As a litigant over development by Playa Vista, I can report that CEQA is mostly a toothless law that has little effect on housing prices. Rarely does CEQA ever stop a development. The reason that Playa Vista has approvals for 5800 homes, instead of 13,000 as was in their most recent plans, is because the TAXPAYERS paid $140 million for around 193 acres of the Ballona Wetlands. Playa Vista sold off their development rights in 2003 at top-dollar as appraised by the State. This 193 acres is land that Playa Vista swore to the County Tax Assessor merely 5 years before the sale was worth under $20 million, based on what they had paid for it. After receiving this huge profit from the taxpayers, yes Playa Vista COULD have sold their condos for $350K. But they didn't, because their business model has been to bribe politicians with campaign cash, spend millions on the biggest law firm in town to crush opponents, and fill the local press with propaganda about how much they care about the environment. They spend more money on advertising congratulating themselves for their charitable gifts, for example, then the amount of charitable gifts they make. They're in the business to make the maximum cash possible, then split town and move on to the next project.They could care little about providing affordable housing. In fact, one telling example is their latest billboards, with a "buyer" saying why buy a fixer-upper when you can buy a new condo at Playa Vista. Well, the answer is that existing homes with back yards are available near PV at the same prices. But the big difference is the HUGE property taxes and homeowner's association fees at Playa Vista. Because Playa Vista's developers didn't want to pay for their roads and parks and street lights, they saddle their condo-buyers with property tax rates that are double those of nearby residents. It's called MELLO-ROOS and what it means is that a buyer of a $700,000 home at Playa Vista pays $14,000 a year in property taxes, while nearby "fixer-up" homebuyers pay only $7000 a year. The difference is because Playa Vista could care less about their customers. They have the morals of oil company executives.
Playa Vista's toxics problems are heating up again...
Friday, July 14, 2006 - 6:00 pm
A group of activists asked a Los Angeles judge Friday to hold the city in contempt of court for failing to ensure the safety of methane-gas-mitigation measures at the enormous Playa Vista project


Bad Gas : Is city playing fast and loose with potential Playa disaster?
Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - 6:00 pm


Playa Vista management fires back at "professional opponents" of their project


Channel 4 Slams Playa Vista on nightly news, 7/27/06
Includes video and transcript of story featuring interviews with Bill Rosendahl, Antonio Villaraigosa and two City insiders whose identities are being shielded to protect their jobs.

July 13, 2006

The head of Playa Vista, Steve Soborrof says his project has lost $600 million for its investors...see the last paragraph

"Panel moderator David Abel put the key question: Can Playa Vista serve as a model for other developments? Can it be replicated? Soboroff said that the project had produced $600 million in losses to three companies and taken 20 years, all because people thought of it as a real estate project instead of a public policy project. “Take 15 years off of that, and yes, it can,” he said. “Real estate people are funny,” he added – they think neighbors are a nuisance, environmentalists are crazy, politicians are on the take, the press is biased, and so I’ll just duke it out. “They’ve got it upside down,” he concluded. "
The Three Options for Cleaning up the Bay--click here


Ballona News page

Calendar of Ballona Restoration Events and Meetings: (website owned by the State and a private foundation)




September 2007--Playa Vista loses huge lawsuit

Summary of our phase 2 lawsuit

8/2005 Phase 2 Brief

10/2006 Phase 2 lawsuit Opening brief to Appeals Court

SPECIAL REPORTS:Legal Problems with Playa Vista Freshwater/pollution treating marsh

PV Taxpayer subsidies

the Sale of Wetlands to the State


8/2006: channel 4 Exposes Gas cover-up by City

Refuting PV propaganda, and Why Buyers at PV are making a bad investment (just ask the Prez. Of PV himself!)

July 2006--PV Toxics problems heating up again

7/2006--Soboroff says PV has been a huge financial turkey, costing developers $600 million


Ballona History contents page
10/2001   25 Year Chronology of the Ballona Battle

4/1988 Republicans and Democrat Elected Officials Grease the Way for PV

5/1989 L.A. and Culver City Compete for Gridlock

8/1990 L.A. and Culver City Still Fighting for Right to Have Most Gridlocked Streets

11/95 L.A. Weekly publishes their First Expose of PV Controversy, Subdividing Paradise

5/1997 PV Meets their Match, their Bankers. Begins Campaign to Brand Opponents as Liars:

3/1998 Summary of the Ballona Battle

4/1999 PV Trade Secrets Fall into the Wrong, er, Right Hands

6/1999 PV Greenwashing Exposed

6/1999 DreamWorks runs into Toxics Troubles at Proposed PV Studio:

9/1999 DreamWorks Hits the Road; Ruth Galanter Now Wants to Save All Land West of Lincoln; Landowner Could Probably Never Build There Anyway thanks to Bolsa Chica case decision by California Appeals Court; Explosive Methane Leaks East of Lincoln Blvd. Put Entire Project at Risk; Santa Monica Baykeeper says PV not their friends:

8/2000 PV struggles to Justify City Bond Issue for Roads; the Fake Housing Shortage; the Full story on PV's Explosive Gas Problem:

1/2003 Coastal Commission rejects Lincoln Blvd. Widening; and more in BEEP newsletter

5/2003- PV Opens their Pollution Treating Marsh that they Located on top of Existing Wetlands

9/2004 Community Raises Hell Over Last Phase of Playa Vista

9/2006 Ballona Greenway Newsletter, page 1 Page 1 Page 2 Page 3



5/2006---L.A. City Plans for Cleaning Our Beaches Could be Thwarted by Developers:

7/2006--a detailed summary of L.A. City's runoff cleanup plans, how it is being done elsewhere, and a long weblinked bibliography

8/2006 L.A. County Study Finds that River Restoration is the Best and Cheapest Way to Clean Our Beaches: L.A. City plans hearings on their plan for water pollution

9/2006---What Creek Restoration in San Luis Obispo Looks Like: Restored Creeks Revitalize Our Cities

9/2006: How L.A. City Beach Clean-up Bond is Being Mis-Spent: Politics vs promises in quest for cleaner Bay



-1/2007 Are L.A. officials mis-spending Bay Cleanup Funds?

3/2007----The Two Competing Plans for Cleaning Up Santa Monica Bay



State Highway Department Threatens Wetlands in Middle of Marina Freeway

-Ballona Native Plants Main-Page and Summary Brochure


-Native Plants of the Ballona Wetlands/Playa Vista Parcels A, B, C, and D
-Unique Ballona Wetlands Plants
-Plants of the Westchester Bluffs
-Plants of the Ballona Westbluffs
-Plants of Playa del Rey Beach area
-Plants of the Marina Freeway Median
-Plants of the Baldwin Hills
-Text of Full Baldwin Hills Plants study
-Map of Baldwin Hills Land Ownership
-Plants of the El Segundo Dunes
-El Segundo Dunes Plants Poster

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