For Immediate Release
CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF FISH & WILDLIFE (CDFW)
STILL DRAINING BALLONA WETLANDS ECOLOGICAL RESERVE
CDFW states it's an active participant on the Board of the Ballona Conservancy, Playa Vista's private business that is Dewatering, Diverting and Throwing Away Ballona's Freshwater.
Grassroots Coalition (GC) files suit against the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, the state agency entrusted with stewardship and protection of the rare seasonal, freshwater wetlands -- Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve in Los Angeles. GC seeks communications and records via the Public Record Act between CDFW and the Ballona Wetlands Conservancy, the development managers of Playa Vista, a mixed-use community built atop a portion of Ballona Wetlands that the public was unable to save.
Playa Vista maintains control of Public Trust habitat of Ballona that is used by Playa Vista as its flood control system. Grassroots Coalition believes that the PRA requests will uncover illegal collusion between CDFW, Playa Vista’s Ballona Wetlands Conservancy and California Coastal Commission staff that violates the express will and vote of the California Coastal Commissioners, crosses legal lines and violates California conflict of interest laws.
GC has previously prevailed in lawsuits against Playa Vista and CDFW pertaining to illegal drains within the Reserve. The litigation gave rise to the California Coastal Commission (CCC) ordering the developers and CDFW to stop violating the Coastal Act by harming the wetlands with their decades-long, unpermitted draining of ponding freshwater. CDFW was ordered to cap the drains and provide Commissioners with a
Coastal Development Permit application plan for the removal of the drains. CDFW capped the drains which resulted in ponding of freshwater again but CDFW is refusing to provide the application to remove the drains as an independent project outside CDFW’s intended plan to turn Ballona into a saltwater bay. A Plan that has not been approved.
There appears to be a highly conflicted relationship ongoing between California Coastal Commission staff,CDFW and the powerful Playa Vista--Wall Street development team Playa Capital LLC, and Brookfield Residential.
LA COUNTY court records (C525 826) show Ballona Conservancy to be a private entity, created to benefit the mega, mixed-use development known as Playa Vista. See members of the Ballona Conservancy: 2006 Stipulation update to 1990 CCC Settlement Agreement - No harm to Ballona
In 2019, CDFW, the very agency sworn to protect Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve, acknowledged itself as a Board Member of the Playa Vista, Ballona Wetlands Conservancy,
“The Department is an active participant on the Ballona Wetlands Conservancy Board.” (Rich Burg, Environmental Program Manager, from CDFW 2019 email to Ballona Wetlands Landtrust).
And, while the Ballona Wetlands Conservancy’s non-profit status, Mission Statement, acknowledges the importance of Ballona's freshwater:
“The Ballona Wetlands represents one of the last large fresh-water coastal wetlands and ecosystems in Los Angeles County, California.”
And despite its Mission Statement,“The preservation and maintenance of environmentally sensitive coastal wetlands.”Ballona Conservancy IRS Form 990 the Ballona Wetlands Conservancy has been, for decades, illegally draining ponding rainwater from Ballona Wetlands and continues to divert, dewater and throw away Ballona's freshwater into the sanitary sewers or out to sea as part of Playa Vista's self-interest policies.
CDFW’s assertion matters because the very state agency sworn to protect Ballona Wetlands, would be, instead covertly continuing to dry up and harm Ballona in order to promote their recently released restoration plan for Ballona based upon the false premise that only saltwater intrusion from the sea will benefit Ballona.
Playa Vista/Ballona Conservancy also depends upon dewatering to protect its methane mitigation systems and its ongoing construction in a liquefaction zone of wetland muck. Oilfield gases plague Playa Vista and dewatering is critical for keeping their gas mitigation systems from clogging with water and silt. Currently, the Ballona Conservancy has a leaking Playa Vista oil-well that is located in Ballona Wetlands. This well is labeled as 'dangerously leaking' by LA City’s former oil/gas experts Exploration Technologies Inc. and colleagues.
Adjacent, SoCalGas underground gas storage operations have also been under scrutiny by state legislators CCST Report. The SoCalGas/Playa del Rey operations have been declared dangerous due to their lack of containment of gases.
GC believes that the Ballona Conservancy is conflicted in its management of the Fresh Water Marsh Flood Control System located in Public Trust portions of Ballona Wetlands. The waters are being diverted away from Ballona, harming the wetland’s habitat as similarly cited by California Coastal Commissioners regarding the harmful effects of the unpermitted drains upon Ballona’s flora and fauna.
“We think that draining a wetland is about the most amazing violation that you could have." Lisa Haage, California Coastal Commission, Enforcement 12/14/17 CCC Meeting
SACRED NATIVE AMERICAN SITE-
The lands and waters of Ballona are part of the Tongva Village of Saangna.
"This is a SACRED SITE registered by the Tongva Ancestral Territorial Tribal Nation…", states TATTN spokesperson and tribal leader John Tommy Rosas,
"... that requires fresh water for tribal cultural and natural resources."
TATTN statements to the California Coastal Commission,
…”Playa Vista ruined and illegally diverted the fresh water pre-existing for millenniums by their illegal freshwater marsh and its illegal water discharges in the Ballona Creek Channel --at approximately 500,000 gallons per day… Playa Vista math-- my math has it way higher.”
The lawsuits coincide with the recently released CDFW so-called ‘restoration plan’ for Ballona, created by consultants and private interests associated with Playa Vista, and SoCalGas. The Plan (Final Environmental Impact Report) lays out their highly controversial, industrial scale bulldozing plans to dig out this rare, biologically diverse wetland. The Plan
spromote digging out and converting Ballona into a full tidal saltwater bay, that would pollute the underlying freshwater aquifers. And, inundate Ballona with inland toxins, trash and debris.
No onsite hydrology studies and no seasonal freshwater enhancement alternatives are included in CDFW's Plan, contrary to the explicit public bond requirement to restore Ballona. The public and all of the environmental groups that fought for the last 30 years and won Ballona are adamantly against the Plan, and are working to compel CDFW to include a Seasonal Freshwater Alternative.
The Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve is not an environmental Lego game for the Army Corps of Engineers and for private/fossil fuel/NGO interests to toy with. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife, State manager of this public land, is mounting a full, frontal attack on Ballona, one of coastal California’s last surviving seasonal freshwater wetlands. We call for an investigation into these abusive land management practices. Sierra Club Airport Marina Group
Margot Griswold, a leading California Restoration Ecologist, says,
"As a professional restoration ecologist, I argue against the proposed plan presented by the State to create what amounts to a tidal bathtub. Coastal resilience (to climate change) cannot be created by lowering the land below current sea level. The State’s proposed project would result in the loss of existing diversity, which can be enhanced and revitalized. And, important on a landscape scale, the State’s plan would result in the creation of one more homogenized tidal wetland creation, losing the last remaining diverse coastal wetland."
Griswold additionally commented on the 'restoration' process leading up to today,
"We should initiate public meetings with interested stakeholders, run by a professional facilitator, create a plan to enhance and revitalize the Ballona wetlands. This type of true public input has been missing from the process.”
Public struggle won these endangered wetlands after well over a decade of investigations and legal battles that finally produced a willing seller, Playa Vista, receiving over $140 million of public bond money. The State received another public donation of $25 million for restoration- upwards of $2 million for planning, the rest for actual restoration. With that process hijacked, CDFW expects the massive, environmentally damaging project to cost at least another $200 million and construction taking at least ten years.
In response to a recent LA Times newspaper op ed, Santa Monica’s Mayor said,
Massive reconfiguration of the human-degraded landscape might yield bicycle paths, but would that be "restoration"? Or should we pursue the less intrusive path toward wetlands recovery, "just add water"?
Serious decisions must be made about the recently released Environmental Impact Report, and it’s a mistake to dismiss dissident voices. Santa Monica Mayor Kevin McKeown serves on the state's Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission
Ballona Wetlands Ecosystem-Jonathan Coffin