DEPARTMENT OF FINANCE (DOF) 2022 COMPLAINT BY GRASSROOTS COALITION
RE: State Coastal Conservancy’s misleading and inaccurate Staff Recommendation to approve a Proposition 12 Grant for Project No. 04-088-02. (May 27, 2021 Coastal Conservancy approval)
This complaint is regarding California State Coastal Conservancy funding (up to 1.7 Million Dollars) for the California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) to correct errors in hydraulic calculations of Ballona Flood Control Channel studies presented in the CDFW’s 2020 Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) for Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve project, certified with the preferred alternative to convert the wetlands into a full tidal saltwater estuary.
And, for use in formulating plans to promote saltwater intrusion upon a predominantly seasonal freshwater wetland—Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve when the hydrology of Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve, has not been evaluated within the FEIR. And, promoting full tidal inundation that is inconsistent with the Purpose and Goals approved by the Ca. Fish & Game Commission under Title 14, Terrestrial, NonMarine Section 630 Ecological Reserve specifics of Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve as Registered with the Ca. Office of Administrative Law in 2005.
This includes the current RFQ put forth by CDFW to implement planning and permitting for the inconsistent Alternative 1 of the Final Environmental Impact Report)
According to Ca. Coastal Conservancy’s response to Public Record Act requests of Grassroots Coalition, no Applications were submitted by CDFW to the Conservancy for the grant funding awarded on May 27, 2021.
Grassroots Coalition believes the following comments and documentation demonstrate that the California State Coastal Conservancy’s (Conservancy) Project Manager for Ballona Wetlands Project, Mary Small, has provided misleading and inaccurate information in the Staff Recommendation of May 27, 2021 for a grant from the Conservancy to CDFW (& Prevention Institute). Grassroots Coalition requests the Department of Finance (DOF) review and investigate the allegations set forth in this DOF Complaint and report their conclusions, inclusive of their basis for rendering such conclusions.
The key points at issue are the inaccuracies of the statements made, as well as Ms. Small’s use of PR Codes in the Staff Recommendation, which are inconsistent with the Purpose for which Ballona was acquired as a Title 14, Section 630 Terrestrial, Non-Marine Ecological Reserve having its own specific Purpose and Goals as cited in the Office of Administrative Law (AOL) 2005 Registry with the State of California. Use of such inconsistent codes upon which the Project Plan hinges as reasoning for the project to take place, provide the reason that the grant for the Project Plan would not or should not be approved. Several of these key issues are highlighted below for sake of brevity in an already lengthy and very misleading and inaccurate Conservancy Staff Recommendation.
This complaint, as well as previous audits by the County of Los Angeles which cite to numerous years of failure to garner County Board of Supervisory approval for use of funding via the Conservancy, and DOF’s own scathing audits (2010-11) of the Conservancy’s improper conduct, show a pattern and practice of improper behavior by the Conservancy’s Ballona Wetlands Restoration Project Manager, Mary Small. regarding the Ballona Wetlands Project. Misleading and inaccurate staff recommendations have resulted in the improper disbursement of public bond funds.
Key legal issues are:
This Staff Recommendation, as virtually all past Staff Recommendations, fails to inform Conservancy Board Members of several legal parameters of offering a grant namely:
- Ca. Dept. of Fish & Game Code 1745 assures that any/all agreements, with agencies and/or nonprofits, shall adhere to the Purpose for which the Ecological Reserve was acquired. The Staff recommendation fails to inform Coastal Conservancy Board Members that the funding to promote conversion of Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve into a fully tidal saltwater bay, is inconsistent with the Purpose for which Ballona was approved under Title 14, as a Terrestrial, NonMarine Ecological Reserve. And that the purpose is to protect its freshwater resources and salt-marsh habitat (which does not connote full tidal and which FEIR modeling of the conversion demonstrates a near term through long term destruction of salt marsh to open water and mudflats.). The Purpose of Ballona is also to protect its endangered species and the habitat upon which it relies and to protect the wildlife corridors of Ballona within the wildlife corridor setting outside the Ballona Ecological Reserve.
- The Staff Recommendation fails to alert Board Members that Ballona is a Title 14, Section 630 Terrestrial/ Non-Marine Ecological Reserve having its specific Purpose and Goals for acquisition. The Staff Recommendation fails to point out the need for adherence to what the Wildlife Conservation Board and the Ca. Fish and Game Commission acquired with $140 million and then codified as Ballona’s Ecological Reserve status under Title 14, Section 630 Non-Marine Ecological Reserve respectively. The Grant is inconsistent with the Title 14, Section 630 Terrestrial/ Non-Marine nature and purpose for which the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve (BWER) was acquired.
- The grant described in the Staff Recommendation promotes a study of Ballona Channel hydraulics, with the intent to pursue the preferred alternative of the Conservancy, namely converting the terrestrial, predominantly seasonal freshwater nature of Ballona into a fully tidal saltwater bay. Such intent of conversion into an estuarine, marine outcome would require a revocation request to the Ca. Fish and Game Commission to revoke its status as a Title 14, Section 630 Terrestrial, NON- MARINE RESERVE. Into a Title 14, Section 632 Marine Preserve. The Ballona Channel is also outside the Ecological Reserve boundaries.
California Regulatory Notice Register 2005, Volume No. 20-Z, Starting on page 663 Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve
- The Conservancy has failed to consult with CDFW and provide this available Prop 12 funding for the Fish & Game Commission’s Section 1019, required Land Management Plan (LMP) for Ballona as an inducted Ecological Reserve as Registered in 2005 with the OFFICE OF ADMINISTRATIVE LAW. The LMP leading language per CDFW protocol IS THE TITLE 14 SECTION 630 PURPOSE AND GOALS OF BALLONA’S ACQUISITION. There is currently no LMP for the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve. Any and all subsequent Environmental Impact Report done for Ballona is to lead with the Title 14, Section 630 Purpose and Goals of its acquisition, and should be based on an LMP.
- The Conservancy, instead of leading with (or including anywhere in the Staff Recommendation) the Title 14 Section 630 language of Purpose and Goals, as required for the lead agency’s engagement, inappropriately inserts again its own preferred outcome of creating a full tidal bay. “The proposed project will replace the concrete levees of the Ballona Creek flood control channel with setback earthen levees to re-establish the creek’s floodplain and return the daily ebb and flow of tidal waters where feasible”. P. 8 of 20 Conservancy Staff Recommendation, May 27,2021 .
- Further, the Conservancy Project Manager, inserted in 2005, in a letter with contractual language for a Conservancy grant to the Southern California Coastal Waters Research Program (SCCWRP), and its attendant Science Advisory Committee (SAC), an unapproved Preferred Alternative Outcome for Ballona Wetlands restoration that improperly narrowed the scope of alternatives for SCCWRP & SAC to evaluate thereby causing the removal of all reasonable alternatives and creating inconsistency with the Title 14, Section 630 NONMARINE STATUS OF BALLONA WETLANDS ECOLOGICAL RESERVE as approved and registered with the State of California. See the SCCWRP contractual letter, pertinent slides 9, 10 of 12.
- The California Coastal Conservancy managed the studies for the restoration of Ballona Wetlands project utilizing Prop 12 funding.
Slide 10 of 12-
“The Coastal Conservancy will fund and manage the restoration planning.”
The Prop. 12 funding did not envision removal of the Ballona Channel levees and/or the conversion of Ballona Wetlands into a full tidal, saltwater estuary. As seen in slide 1 of 12, the August 13, 2004 Coastal Conservancy Memo to CDFW and State Lands Commission, gave no indication of ever contradicting the Title 14, Terrestrial/ Non Marine Ballona Ecological Reserve Purpose and Goal language. The Conservancy language-
“Restoration planning is expected to take 3 years and cost up to two million dollars.”
-obviously is for a project that does not envision or entail such extraordinary, industrial-scale conversion, costing another $100 million or more. The Ballona Channel is outside the Ecological Reserve’s boundaries. The Proposition 12 funds were for the Ecological Reserve itself as stipulated in the bond approvals.
Therefore, the use of the Prop. 12 funds for studies that eliminated the advancement of the Ca. Fish & Game Commission approved and registered Title 14, Terrestrial, NonMarine Ecological Reserve with its specific Purpose and Goals stipulated for a CDFW Land Management Plan was improper at best. Conservancy use of Prop. 12 funds which excluded basic hydrology studies of Ballona itself was improper at best. Use of Prop. 12 funds to promote a Coastal Conservancy preferred alternative cited by Ms. Small to SCCWRP privately and without consultation with, and/or garnering a revocation request and a potential approval of another Preserve status from the Ca. Fish & Game Commission was improper action on the part of the Coastal Conservancy and its use of public Prop. 12 funds.
The Conservancy was not the agency to choose alternatives and certainly not to confine Ballona studies to evaluations promoting its own preferred alternative. The Conservancy action was improper at best as it was inconsistent with the Fish & Game Commission approved and state registered (Office of Administrative Law) Title 14,Terrestrial, NonMarine Section 630 Ballona Ecological Reserve.
Conservancy letter per SCCWRP & SAC-
“The SAC will contribute to the development and analysis of the preferred alternative.” Emphasis added.
“Restore and enhance saltwater influenced wetland habitats…:
“Restoration of seasonal ponds, riparian and freshwater wetlands and upland habitats will be considered where beneficial to another project goal or biological and habitat diversity.”
Summary of Key Points:
A summary of key legal points described above in relation to the Conservancy Staff Report is set forth immediately below. The type face in black is the Conservancy’s Staff Recommendation language, and the red type face is Grassroots Coalition comments per the Staff Recommendation language.
‘RECOMMENDED ACTION: Authorization to disburse up to $1,692,360 to the California
Department of Fish and Wildlife for design and permitting of the restoration of the Ballona
Wetlands Ecological Reserve in Los Angeles County.
- The term ‘restoration’ is improperly used by the Coastal Conservancy. (Ecological Restoration is defined as “…assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been damaged.”; …seeks to initiate or accelerate ecosystem recovery following damage, degradation, or destruction.”; “return a degraded ecosystem to its historic trajectory.”; “history plays an important role in restoration, but contemporary conditions must be accounted for in planning” Society for Ecological Restoration 2021).
The Conservancy seeks to promote its own non-historically oriented outcome for Ballona, namely to “restore the ebb and flow of the ocean” via industrial scale excavation to convert Ballona into a saltwater bay--something it never was. The Conservancy ‘s promotion is inconsistent with the Ca. Fish & Game Commission’s approval and registration of Ballona as a Terrestrial, NonMarine Ecological Reserve under Title 14, Section 630.
The approved language clearly addresses the protection of Ballona’s freshwater resources which, the Conservancy as an advisory agency, has failed to provide the Prop.12 funding for CDFW to fulfill its Section 1019 Land Management Plan(LMP) in 2005 and since. Under CDFW protocol, the LMP leads with the Purpose and Goals of the Ca. Fish & Game Commission’s approved language for Ballona’s purpose of acquisition. Any/all subsequent EIR is to lead the evaluations based upon this language as well. Instead, the Conservancy has promoted its own end goals of conversion of Ballona into a fully tidal saltwater bay and excluding hydrology studies on behalf of the Ecological Reserve’s natural freshwater resources, including its multiple underlying freshwater aquifers that are currently classified by the LARWQCB as Drinking Water and/or Potential Drinking Water.
Per Fish and Game Code 1745, any and all agreements between CDFW and other agencies and non-profits, shall comport with the purpose for which the Ecological Reserve was acquired. The Conservancy fails to comport with/ adhere to the purpose for which the Ballona Ecological Reserve was acquired under Title 14, Section 630 Ballona ER.
- This grant proposal is, as we have been led to believe, in part, for a third hydraulics study of a proposed conversion/creation project, not restoration, of the Ballona Wetlands into a full tidal (saltwater) estuary. The first two hydraulics studies, costing $4 million dollars, for the changes required to the Ballona Channel (which is outside the ER boundaries) for the proposed project were rejected by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). The former Water Resource Development Act (WRDA) agreements with the USACE and the Los Angeles County Flood Control District have long since expired. No new agreements are provided in the Staff Recommendation that would signal any support from the County of LA or USACE for the Conservancy’s plan of conversion of Ballona Wetlands into a saltwater estuary. In fact, the Ballona Wetlands Land Manager has acknowledged to organizations that the County of LA is stalled in any furtherance of the Conservancy plan.
- Neither the California Department of Fish & Wildlife nor the outreach organization in the Staff Recommendation provided an application to the Coastal Conservancy for the public’s Proposition 12 funds. (2022 Public Record Act response from Ca. Coastal Conservancy).
- The Proposition 12 bond funds at issue were not publicly approved for conversion of Ballona Wetlands into a full tidal, saltwater estuary. The Proposition 12 funds were approved for the restoration of the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve itself, and did not envision the removal of the existing levees. The Ballona Flood Control Channel and its levees were not and are not a part of the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve. In order for an industrial scale excavation of Ballona Wetlands to be converted it into a ful tidal, saltwater estuary, hydraulics and hydrology studies would have been necessary in 2004, and the public would/ should have been made aware of the concept to create immense new perimeter levees to contain an extremely risky, industrial scale excavation of the wetlands to create a fully tidal saltwater bay & estuary.
- In 2005, the California Fish & Game Commission approved entry of Ballona Wetlands into the Title 14, Section 630 Terrestrial Ecological Reserve system of California with its specific Purpose and Goals of acquisition as set forth in the legal Registry (Office of Administrative Law (OAL)). (August 19, 2005 Fish & Game Commission hearing videotape starting at 3:39:33). The language of the official State designation of the BWER as an Ecological Reserve is helpful to understand this specific wetlands system. Quoting from the 2005 California Code of Regulations: “Ballona Wetlands consisting of 553 acres in Los Angeles County is proposed for designation as an ecological reserve for the protection and enhancement of coastal salt marsh and freshwater marsh habitats, and associated species, including the state listed endangered Belding’s savannah sparrow. The area is also an important wildlife movement corridor to other public lands in the vicinity of the wetlands. The reasons for listing this property in Title 14 are to regulate public use and provide the best available protection for the species and habitats the property was acquired to protect.” Section 630, Title 14, California Code of Regulations, relating to Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve, 2005.
- Images of the proposed embayment were displayed to the public by The Bay Foundation’s Director, Shelly Luce in the 2008 timeframe during upper Ballona Creek Watershed meetings held in Culver City. (Ms. Small was also a board member of the private business, The Bay Foundation). Such a huge plan obviously would have cost a great deal more than what was written by the Conservancy in the 2004 Coastal Conservancy Memorandum of Understanding wherein the “restoration planning is expected to take three years and cost up to $2 million dollars.” https://saveballona.org/president.presentations/ballona-wetlands.legal.review.2006.html )
- In 2006, a Bay Foundation 2004 grant from the Conservancy, was amended to include, “unanticipated hydraulics studies”. The ‘unanticipated hydraulics studies” were part of an inconsistent use of the Prop. 12 funds to initiate a plan of converting Ballona Wetlands into a saltwater bay. The hydraulics studies were aimed at water conveyance dynamics of the Ballona Channel which was outside the Ecological Reserve at issue of restoration. The location of the Project, as stated in the Staff Recommendation was both south of Marina del Rey and south of the Oxford Lagoon. Therefore, any nexus stated later in the Staff Recommendation with the USACE studies of the area, was misleading at best. As we now know, the initial hydraulics study was faulty and cost $2 million which led to a follow-up hydraulics study which was also a failure, costing $2 million dollars which then leads to this current Staff Recommendation for another over one million dollars for the same hydraulics study. The Coastal Conservancy’s Ballona Project Manager’s role as a Responsible Agency appears to have been ignored as a duty. In a 2017 email exchange between Ms. Small and the US Army Corps of Engineers, the correspondence is vacant of inclusion of the lead agency, CDFW. The topic of the email, was the water conveyance of the Ballona Channel, which is outside the Ecological Reserve boundaries. (See attachment - Mary Small, 2017 email with USACE staff per Ballona Channel studies of water conveyance)
- The May 27, 2021 Staff Recommendation is inconsistent with the CCR Title 14, Section 630 nonmarine Ecological Reserve –Ballona specific Purpose and Goals registered with the State of CA. via the Office of Administrative Law (OAL).
See also Department of Finance (DOF) Complaints filed by Grassroots Coalition and John Davis (2012, 2015, all on file with DOF).
- Additionally, the Conservancy 2005 contract with SSCWRP/SAC provides the Coastal Conservancy’s ‘preferred alternative’, estuarine/ marine which is inconsistent with the 2005 (CCR) Title 14, Section 630 nonmarine Ecological Reserve—Ballona specific Purpose and Goals approved by the Fish & Commission and set forth in the Secretary of State’s Registry (Office of Administrative Law, (OAL)).
- CDFW was and is the lead agency for Ballona Wetlands restoration. CDFW’s legal requirements of action affecting Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve are to adhere to the purposes for which the Ecological Reserve (ER) was acquired CCR Title 14, Section 630 nonmarine Ecological Reserve. This requirement extends to any/all agreements and Memorandum’s of Understanding per Fish & Game Code 1745, which recites that any/all agreements shall adhere to the purpose for which the Ecological Reserve was acquired. The same legal requirements for Ballona ER, required the Coastal Conservancy’s adherence. Instead, the Coastal Conservancy, without engaging in revocation proceedings via the Fish & Game Commission to change Ballona’s purpose and goals of acquisition, arbitrarily and capriciously inserted their own ‘preferred alternative’ in 2005 contractual agreements with the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP) and its Science Advisory Council (SAC) and proceeded to direct public bond funds towards their own goal thereby improperly narrowing and contradicting the lead agency and the Fish and Game Commission approved and OAL registered CCR Title 14, Section 630, Ballona specific Purpose and Goals.
- The Ballona California Code of Regulations, Section 630 Ecological non marine status is the jurisdiction of the California Fish & Game Commission, not the Ca. Department of Fish & Wildlife, which provides only the recommendation to the California Fish & Game Commission for a requested entry into the Ecological Reserves system in California. CDFW also has a Fish and Game Code regulation (Fish & Game Code Section 1580) that provides general code regulations for the 100 plus ecological reserves in California. Only the California Fish & Game Commission has the authority to create and/or amend/revoke regulations.
- The Conservancy is overstepping its authority as the Responsible Agency and is instead acting as the Lead Agency. In so doing, the Conservancy is writing up Staff Recommendations without having an application request for this grant and others. (PRA responses from Coastal Conservancy that no application was provided by CDFW; and for the Feb. 2022 Staff Recommendation, no application was provided by the Bay Foundation.)
- In 2011, the Dept. of Finance Audit, called out the Conservancy for improperly not garnering applications. Here again, the Conservancy continues to not garner applications for grants and instead acts a lead agency to promote an outcome for Ballona Wetlands for which it does not have the jurisdiction to do so and for which it provides inaccurate and misleading information to Conservancy Board members for approval of the Staff Recommendations.
(slides: 1, 2 of 12; 9,10 of 12)
- In 2003/4 the Wildlife Conservation Board acquired Ballona Wetlands for $140 million to protect the natural resources of Ballona Wetlands.
- In 2005, the Fish & Game Commission officially approved the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve as a ‘terrestrial’ Title 14, Section 630 Ecological Reserve and registered Ballona under Title 14, Non-Marine, Section 630 (Ecological Reserve) with specific language that stated the reasons for which it was acquired via the Fish & Game Commission approved Purpose and Goals.
California Regulatory Notice Register 2005, Volume No. 20-Z, Starting on page 663 Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve
2005, August 19, Fish & Game Commission hearing. Executive Director Treanor recites per Item 21, inclusion of Ballona Wetlands into Title 14, Section 630, terrestrial ecological reserve at 3:39:33.
- This current Conservancy Recommended Action for the disbursal of up to $1,692,360 to CDFW is inconsistent with the Purpose and Goals of the Title 14, Non Marine, Section 630 (Ecological Reserve) specific Purposes and Goals established and approved for Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve. The grant is inconsistent and fails to alert the reader to the state registered purpose and goals which carry the force of law.
- The Project Plan at issue in this grant is not sequestered to the Ecological Reserve boundaries but instead requests funding for the Ballona Channel area, which is outside the Ecological Reserve’s boundaries. Exhibit 1 is very misleading as it assigns the title—Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve to the image provided and delineates in yellow outline, not just the Reserve area but also includes the Ballona Channel as though it is part of the Reserve when it is not.
- The LA County Board of Supervisors and the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) have jurisdiction over the Ballona Channel. The Staff Recommendation fails to inform readers that any/all former agreements vis a vis the Water Resource Development Act (WRDA) with the LA County and the USACE have expired and/or been extinguished. No new agreements with either USACE or LA County have been documented by the Coastal Conservancy (Conservancy) or the California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) as part of this Conservancy recommended action.
- Furthermore, the Staff Recommendation fails to inform the reader of the serious liability concerns for implementation of this Project Plan by the LA County Flood Control District and USACE. Instead, Staff provides an inaccurate appearance of close and ongoing working relationships between all parties necessary to forward this project plan, without any substantiation. Even the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Authority (Authority = Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission & LA County Flood Control District) has been extinguished as receiver of funding for this project plan which is ostensibly why the Conservancy is extending this grant directly to CDFW. However, inconsistent with Dept. of Finance regulations and Public Resource Codes, the Conservancy provides no evidence of a CDFW Application for this grant and no non-profit application for this grant.
Currently, it appears that only the Conservancy and possibly CDFW, are continuing to promote this project plan. Any and all information to the contrary, should have been included in the Staff Report in order to provide for honest disclosure.
- Fill issues. The Staff Recommendation relies upon hearsay for Public Resource Code fulfillment as a premise for approval of the grant. Grassroots Coalition and others provided documentation of the inaccuracy of Ms. Small’s statements of fill being placed in Area A at up to 20’ across the site.. Division 21, Chapter 6, Sect. 31251-31270, essentially discusses indiscriminate use of fill and Staff utilizes this PRC (code) as justification for targeting Area A for excavation to below sea level to remove the hypothetical fill.. SCC cannot verify with any actual documentation that any fill was placed in Area A. The Staff has also been nonresponsive to multiple documents and studies Grassroots Coalition and LA Audubon and others have provided to the Coastal Conservancy, which demonstrate no fill was placed in Area A. (USEPA Wetland Delineation report by T. Huffman 1985; 1990 Playa Vista EIR/Archaeology HOUSE DOCUMENT 389 cites where Marina del Rey fill was placed for beach enhancement and the foundation for the marina moles and the marina’s land areas; this Congressional document also provides discussion of communication with the landowner of Area A (Howard Hughes estate) that also assures that their private property will not be affected; Poland et al Report; Historical Photography). See study images on page 18.
b. 1954 Congressional House Doc 389 and 780 establish Marina del Rey
Complete 47 pages MDR House Document No. 389 SMB - Public Law 389 5:11:1954 47 page pdf
Annotated House Document No. 780 SMB - Public Law 780 9-3-1954 Rivers and Harbors Act 2 page pdf
- This issue has been pivotal as a Coastal Conservancy/Bay Foundation reason for need of excavation to remove the fill yet no data has been put forward by either to validate their inaccurate claims. Ms. Small was also a Board Member of the Bay Foundation approximately during the 2006, 2007 timeframe, while also the Coastal Conservancy project manager for Ballona Wetlands. During this timeframe, the Coastal Conservancy Project Manager acted contrary to adherence of the Fish and Game Commission’s approval and registration of Ballona as a Title 14, Terrestrial, NonMarine Section 630 with its own specific purpose and goals. Instead, of alerting the public and guiding CDFW through potential grants to pursue Ballona as a Title 14, NonMarine Section 630 Ecological Reserve and guiding grant management for studies, including hydrology studies to protect the freshwater resources of Ballona—a key purpose of acquisition, the Project Manager pursued with the Bay Foundation, often without any grant applications, grants to the Bay Foundation to promote the idea of excavating Ballona, removal of the Ballona Channel levees to convert Ballona Wetlands into a fully tidal saltwater bay. (See 2010-11 DOF Audit of the Coastal Conservancy citing failure of the Coastal Conservancy to adhere to proper application process with giving out grants. See also the earlier Complaints filed to DOF per Coastal Conservancy by John Davis and Grassroots Coalition that are on file at DOF).
- SGMA, GDE, LMP. The grant is inconsistent with the Non-Marine, Section 630 (Ecological Reserve) Ballona specific language and also fails to alert the reader to the absence of the required (Fish & Game Code 1019) Land Management Plan that would necessitate hydrology studies of Ballona which are currently absent in the FEIR. And, the Recommendation fails to address the absence of discussion of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act and its attendant Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem protective requirements for the natural, freshwater hydrology of Ballona. Ballona is acknowledged by the state as a Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem within the Santa Monica Subbasin. Adherence to the SGMA would necessitate cumulative hydrology studies of the Ballona site itself in order to plan for protection of its freshwater resources. Multiple underlying freshwater aquifers classified by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board as Drinking Water and Potential Drinking Water underlie all of Ballona Wetlands and Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve. The SGMA studies of Ballona as a GDE have only just begun.
- The Staff Recommendation promotes approval of the Project Plan which promotes the creation of a fully tidal saltwater bay which, according to historical documentation, will contaminate the freshwater aquifers both near surface and deeper as well as surface water. (Congressional House Document 389 & other supporting documents of the creation of Marina del Rey); Poland et al Report) .
- This Staff Recommendation is inconsistent with adherence to the Porter-Cologne Act, the Clean Water Act, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act and its attendant Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems. Staff fails to alert the reader to the fact that none of these issues are addressed in the FEIR and are not addressed in the Staff Recommendation.
- The Staff Recommendation fails to alert or address to the reader(s), the force of legal standing of Title 14, Non Marine Section 630 (Ecological Reserve) specific Purpose and Goals for Ballona’s acquisition.
- The Conservancy fails to address its Public Resource Code role as the Responsible Agency whose role is to consult and advise regarding data gaps that need address including the Conservancy’s apparent approval of changing the status of Ballona as a Non Marine Ecological Reserve into a Title 14, Section 632 (Marine Preserve). The Conservancy fails to inform that any change in the approved state status of Ballona would require a Fish & Game Commission Petition to revoke the current status of Ballona as a Non Marine Ecological Reserve with its registered specific Purpose and Goals and require approval of a request for new status as a Section 632 Marine Preserve which aligns with the creation of a full tidal saltwater estuary.
California Regulatory Notice Register 2005, Volume No. 20-Z, Starting on page 663 Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve https://www.dhcs.ca.gov/services/medi-cal/Documents/AB1629/ZREG/ZREG 20-Z_5.20.05_notice.pdf
- Access. Division 2, Chapter 9, Sect. 31400 et seq. Conservancy consultation as a Responsible Agency has been inconsistent with the code’s use in providing access. The Conservancy has been supporting CDFW’s withholding of public access, including upon areas already having had hundreds of thousands of dollars in Ballona specific Prop 12 funds utilized to create pathways, kiosks, benches, overlooks, artwork/gated entrances, UNTIL the project plan is allowed to be implemented. The behavior of holding hostage the educational areas that are available for access now, and in areas that have been successfully used during the Interim Management period is inconsistent with the code.
(Note: The Fish & Game Commission has supported opening these Prop 12 funded access areas now, as of Spring, 2022, after repeatedly hearing from the public)
- Public Response. The Staff Report fails to provide accurate information as to the voluminous DEIR public response against this project plan. Staff claims it is divided, ostensibly meaning equally divided, which is inaccurate.
Staff has been made aware of the over 40 organizations and groups that stand against this project plan including numerous national organizations including the Sierra Club, local and county democratic clubs and homeowner associations. The Draft EIR, received many thousands of letters against the Project Plan. The following is a list of some of the organizations that are against the Conservancy/CDFW Project.
- Los Angeles Audubon Society
The following comments on the Conservancy’s Staff Recommendation provides additional detail of the ‘pattern & practice’ of presenting misleading and inaccurate information on the Ballona Wetlands Project by the Conservancy staff. The following provides more of the Conservancy Staff Recommendations in Black with Grassroots Coalition responses in Red. (The link to the complete May 27, 2021 Staff Recommendation is attached in the cover email of this complaint.)
BALLONA WETLANDS RESTORATION PROJECT—Staff Recommendation Page 4 of 20
Why is Ballona Important?
The Ballona Wetlands Restoration Project is a large-scale restoration project proposed by California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to enhance native habitats and increase compatible public outdoor recreational opportunities within its Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve (Ballona Reserve).
- The ‘restoration project‘ at issue has been managed by the Conservancy’s Ballona Wetlands Project Manager, Mary Small. The Conservancy and its grantee, the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation (Bay Foundation) electronically handed over their completed biological studies for the EIR studies, described as legally defensible, to the County of Los Angeles and the USACE in 2012.
- The former joint EIR/EIS was considered ended in 2012 as the Conservancy and the Bay Foundation entered into the new process of permitting the project under the Water Resource Development Act (WRDA), but still utilizing the studies from the 2005-2012 timeframe.
- At this time the Conservancy, acting as Responsible Agency, declared publicly that CDFW was now the lead agency and that an Environmental Impact Report would be provided via the new lead, the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, as part of a ‘new EIR process’. And, SCC now states that SCC did not ‘manage the EIR process’ of studies that are the overwhelming bulk of the studies of the CDFW Final EIR.
- The Conservancy as the Responsible Agency failed to inform and clarify to the public that CDFW had been the lead agency since 2005, when the Title 14, Section 630 (Ecological Reserve) status with its specific Purpose and Goals as reason for Ballona’s acquisition were established.
- The Conservancy failed to inform the public and the Fish & Game Commission and the Wildlife Conservation Board that the Conservancy would continue to ‘manage’ the new EIR and promote an outcome for Ballona Wetlands that would be inconsistent with the established 2005 Registry approvals and instead promote the excavation and conversion of the NonMarine Ecological Reserve, into a full tidal, saltwater estuary that had no state approvals.
- These changes occurred when the 2005-12 Joint EIR/EIS process was extinguished due to the US Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) belief that they were asked to end the Joint EIR/EIS process by their local sponsor, the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission (SMBRC). The SMBRC was not informed of the Water Resource Development Act (WRDA) process while the Director of the (private) Bay Foundation (who was also the Executive Director of the SMBRC) attended the LA County Supervisors meeting in 2012 to claim that the SMBRC wanted an end to the former Joint EIR/S process and had approved entering the WRDA process with the County and the USACE. (The SMBRC, per PRAs for their vote on WRDA process, had no such documentation. And, upon queries made by Grassroots Coalition to the Commission, had no awareness of the WRDA process.) Ms. Luce was ostensibly acting on behalf of SMBRC without SMBRC approval)
- The Conservancy EIR studies from 2005-12 are the studies that comprise the CDFW draft and FEIR (2017 -2020).
- The WRDA process with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors brought about new Memorandums of Agreements with various entities. The Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission and LA County Flood Control jointly became the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Authority (Authority). The Authority was the financial manager for funding to the USACE and for LA County Flood Control District’s work on the Ballona ‘restoration project’.
- The Authority no longer exists as it was extinguished in 2021. The WRDA agreements between USACE and the County have been extinguished, as well, according to USACE.
- The Conservancy’s Recommendation provides no evidence of any new agreements or working relationships with the County or USACE.
- The Conservancy, today has been attempting to distance itself from any involvement in the creation of the current Final Environmental Impact Report (2020), instead portraying the California Department of Fish & Wildlife as the creators of the Project Plan and having leadership control over the environmental studies of the FEIR.
- The Project Description and Project Alternatives as defined in the Final Environmental Impact Report demonstrates the conversion of the existing habitat for a wholly different and non- historical habitat. The Project Plan is inconsistent with the Fish & Game Commission’s Registry (See #’s 4 & 5 previously citing the F&G Commission Registry).
- The Staff Recommendation fails to address that the Prop. 12 bond monies existed due to the public’s approval of taxpayer dollars to be utilized for acquisition of certain properties that are within the Ballona Ecological Reserve boundaries and to provide money for restoration studies for the parcels purchased with this funding. The funding DID NOT purchase the Ballona Flood Control Channel and its levees because these areas are not part of the Ecological Reserve but are property of the Army Corps of Engineers and managed by the Los Angeles County Flood Control District.
- The Conservancy fails to inform the reader/public of the reasoning and legal, Purpose and Goals of the acquisition of Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve, as legally registered into the State of California’s Registry. The Coastal Conservancy’s absence of disclosure of, and use of the Title 14, NonMarine, Section 630 specific Purpose and Goals for the acquisition of Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve has given rise to an unprecedented change in process and procedure.
- The Registry, Title 14 NonMarine, Section 630 Purpose and Goals provide the premise of the preparation of a Land Management Plan and any/all projects and subsequent Environmental Impact Reports. The Recommendation fails to identify the Ca. Fish & Game Commission’s approved legal reason for the acquisition of Ballona and instead, improperly inserts its own inaccurate reasoning:
“to restore the ebb and flow of the ocean” and create a full tidal saltwater estuary, both of which are inconsistent with the Fish & Game Commission’s Registry language. And, both of which are contrary to the Prop. 12 fund approvals which occurred prior to any envisioning of excavating the Ballona Channel and removing the Channel levees to destroy Ballona Wetlands and create a saltwater tidal estuary.
- No Land Management Plan has been performed for Ballona ER which would have been the initial studies of the Ecological Reserve itself. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has protocols for hydrological studies for the natural resources of wetland ER. These studies would have provided for the cumulative hydrological conditions in the immediate region of the ER.
- Conservancy, essentially acting as the lead agency during the 2008 timeframe, proposed to eliminate the Ballona Channel levees that are outside the Ecological Reserve, and recreate new perimeter levees for within the ER. There was a lack of follow through with Ecological Reserve studies under CDFW protocol of Fish and Game Code 1019, the Land Management Plan, and the ensuing Environmental Impact Report did not contain the legal premise within the State’s Registry for Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve.
- The Coastal Conservancy has failed to acknowledge and abide by the approvals of the Wildlife Conservation Board and the Fish and Game Commission. In 2005, Ballona was approved as an Ecological Reserve. During the 2005 hearing, Ballona was approved as an ER with CDFW citing that the Land Management Plan would then follow. (see 2005 Fish & Game Commission Aug. 19, 2005 starting at 3:39:33). At the hearing, CDFW explained that $15 million was available for Ballona environmental studies.
- The oversimplification cited by Conservancy Staff, including its historic oversimplified use of only the generic Fish and Game Code 1580 (Ecological Reserves) is part of a lengthy pattern and practice of straying from the CDFW process and protocol required by Fish and Game Code Section 1019 and California Code of Regulations Title14 NonMarine Section 630 (Ecological Reserve) with its specific language of Purpose and Goals for the both the acquisition and designation of Ballona as an Ecological Reserve.
- This straying from CDFW protocol occurred as the Conservancy improperly acted as the lead agency, providing Ballona specific, public bond funds, to entities for performance of the Conservancy’s Project Manager’s choice of studies. The grant funds were often provided to the Project Manager’s entity of choice without applications. This type of failure to garner applications is noted in the Department of Finance audit (2010) of improper Conservancy conduct. This lack of garnering applications occurred throughout the 2005-12 joint EIR/EIS process. It appears to continue today.
- One of the Registry Goals is the protection of Ballona’s freshwater resources and the habitat reliant upon that freshwater. A Land Management Plan has specific protocol for fulfillment of wetland hydrologic and ecological evaluation and reasoning as to why it is required according to CDFW regulations.
- For Ballona, an LMP requires evaluation of the Ecological Reserve’s natural resources which necessitates inclusion of its freshwater resources.
- Instead of acting as Responsible Agency to consult and assist CDFW with its required Section 1019 Land Management Planning studies (required for all ecological reserves acquired after 2002, in a public forum within 18 months after acquisition), and provide the very available public funding for the LMP( $15 million cited by CDFW at the 2005 ER approval hearing), the Conservancy’s focus, by 2007-08 became the hydraulics studies within the Ballona Flood Control Channel which is outside the Ecological Reserve’s boundaries (noted in the 2006 grant for over 6 million dollars that would also provide funding for the ‘unanticipated hydraulics studies’). These studies were noted by the Project Manager as ‘unanticipated’ in 2006. The Prop.12 bond funds, designated specifically for Ballona were approved years prior to the Conservancy’s use of the concept to include areas outside the Ecological Reserve. The ‘unanticipated’ hydraulics studies were unanticipated as they are studies for hydraulics of an area outside the Ecological Reserve boundaries, within the Ballona Flood Control Channel, only. https://scc.ca.gov/webmaster/ftp/pdf/sccbb/2006/0603/0603Board10b_Ballona_Wetlandspdf 2006 Staff Recommendation for ‘unanticipated hydraulic modeling’.
- The Conservancy in roughly 2008 began to publicly utilize of the concept to eliminate theBallona levees and create new perimeter levees on the Ecological Reserve itself.
- The failure to perform a LMP to assess the Ballona Wetlands prior to determining a ‘restoration’ project has had numerous deleterious effects. Most significantly, for the Groundwater Sustainability Plan, an unknown quantity of fresh water is being extracted from the groundwater at the Playa Vista development to the east of the BWER. The purpose of such extraction includes pumping and treating contaminated groundwater, and the pumping for the methane mitigation system. Such extraction, which is lowering the groundwater table, is either being sent to the freshwater marsh (a lined marsh), then diverted to the Pacific Ocean (by way of the Ballona flood control Channel), or is being dumped into the sanitary sewer system, which then goes to Hyperion Wastewater Treatment Plant, then dumped into the ocean.
- And, two unpermitted, public discoveries of CDFW/ Playa Vista surface/subsurface drains in the wetlands, not addressed in the Draft EIR have harmed the hydrology and ecosystem of Ballona according the California Coastal Commission (2014 CCC Letter to CDFW/Playa Vista). It took litigation against CDFW to stop the illegal drainage and have the drains sealed. As a result, winter rains and ponding water has restored large swaths of the endangered Belding’s Savannah Sparrow’s foraging and nesting habitat, namely pickleweed regrowth throughout the areas.
- As cited in the California Coastal Commission (CCC) Letter (4/11/14) to Playa Vista and CDFWthat states draining Ballona is harmful to the ecosystem.
- The Coastal Conservancy’s actions reinforced the introduction of the never before approved concept of removing the levees, to excavate Ballona, destroying hundreds of acres of diverse ecosystems having endangered and rare flora and fauna, for conversion into a fully tidal saltwater bay surrounded by fill.
- This objective is contrary to the State Register’s Title 14, NonMarine Section 630 (Ecological Reserve) specific Purpose and Goals for the acquisition of Ballona Wetlands and inconsistent with the Prop. 12 bond approvals.
- The plan would create immense, 200 foot wide levees on the perimeter of the Reserve. The new levees would replace rare and necessary habitat to become vector-controlled miles of kill zones for widened,perimeter levees that would never be allowed to exist as wildlife habitat under USACE rules of animal abatement for levee management.
Grassroots Coalition believes the afore cited was and is still, misuse of the Prop. 12 bond funds. The Conservancy exercised inappropriate influence over the 2005-2012 EIR/EIS studies and, excluded the legally required Purpose and Goals of Ballona’s acquisition –namely the LMP funding to CDFW, thereby excluding hydrology evaluation of the Reserve’s natural resources of freshwater, both surface and groundwater. All of the studies and proposal have been conducted to promote the conversion of Ballona into a saltwater estuary without considering the purpose for which Ballona specifically was designated as an Ecological Reserve. There needs to be acknowledgement of and attendance to the Title 14, NonMarine Section 630 specific purpose and goals of the legal registry of Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve. A Title 14, Section 632 Marine Preserve was, and is not, approved by the Wildlife Conservation Board; Fish & Game Commission for the Ballona Wetlands as an Ecological Reserve.
The freshwater resources of Ballona were well known due to the Playa Vista EIR documents from 1990 and the Clean Up and Abatement Order (98-125) of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board. In short, it was well understood that the freshwater resources of Ballona wetlands and adjacent areas existed at and near the surface, including multiple underlying freshwater aquifers that are classified as Potential Drinking Water and Drinking Water.
An LMP for the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve still has not been conducted. The Conservancy did not provide for hydrology studies of the Ecological Reserve itself, and the DEIR and FEIR do not discuss the existing freshwater resources of Ballona and/or discuss the freshwater resources in context of the preferred alternative’s potential to contaminate the freshwater resources with full tidal influence and toxic flow from Ballona Channel. This huge data gap still exists. The GSP for the Santa Monica Sub Basin identifies the data gap for the area and the inability of the GSP to forecast saltwater intrusion until the data gap is filled by gathering information from monitoring wells that do not yet exist (Appendix F GSP, Technical Memo).
The failure to inform the public of the Ballona Wetlands specific, Title 14, Non-Marine, Section 630 Purpose and Goals, cleared the way for a purposeful effort to narrow the scope of review and mislead Conservancy Board Members, other agencies, and the public as to why Ballona is important and the truthful reasons for its acquisition via public bond dollars. This behavior has led to a non-approved Purpose and Goals for Ballona’s conversion into what is essentially a Title 14, Section 632 Marine Preserve which was never approved by the Wildlife Conservation Board or the California Fish and Game Commission who are the parties of authority for acquisition and entry into the Ecological Reserve system of California. They are also responsible for approving Section 632 Marine Preserves, as which Ballona was has never been designated.
The 600-acre Ballona Reserve is one of the largest open spaces in the City of Los Angeles and it is one of the largest remaining opportunities for coastal habitat restoration in Los Angeles County (Exhibit 1). The state of California spent $140 million to acquire the Ballona Reserve in 2003. The property was considered significant because of its potential for habitat enhancement and the opportunity to create a nature reserve in urban LosAngeles
The fact that Ballona is uniquely a predominantly seasonal freshwater coastal wetland, underlain by multiple freshwater aquifers classified as Potential Drinking Water and Drinking Water, and currently continues to have exceedingly rare habitat, including salt pans with numerous species of rare and endangered wildlife is cause for proceeding with great caution and due diligence led by truthful science and transparency. The site is also a Registered Sacred Site by John Tommy Rosas (TATTN- Tongva Ancestral Territorial Tribal Nation) Scrutiny of all the factors included in this Complaint can hardly be considered frivolous when there is so much at stake and protection of wildlife and habitat is paramount.
The mechanisms that created the freshwater nature of the Ballona Wetlands was discussed in a scientific paper prepared pursuant to the National Sea Grant Program (Grant #NA 060AR4170012). (Jacobs, Stein and Longcore “Classification of California Estuaries Based on Natural Closure Patterns: Templates for Restoration and Management” Southern California Coastal Water Research Project, Technical Report 619 a.(August 2011 revised)). In the paper, Jacobs et. Al. opine that:
Jacobs et. Al., conclude that the Ballona Wetlands is not historically a saltwater marsh subject to tidal influence on a daily basis, but a freshwater wetlands (often a lake) that is intermittently open to the ocean after large storm events. (id. At 25.) In fact, based on narrative histories, it appears that after a flood event in 1825, where the Los Angeles River shifted away from Ballona Creek, the estuary mouth was increasingly closed. In fact, evidence suggests that a double berm would from, with one berm at the mouth of Ballona Creek (or Los Angeles River), separating the Ballona Wetlands from the elongated freshwater lake, along what is now Marina del Rey, and another between the lake and the ocean, further insulating the Ballona Wetlands from salt water intrusion. (id. At 28)
“The Ballona Reserve is a heavily impacted remnant of a much larger historical wetland complex. A once-meandering Ballona Creek was cemented into a straight, concrete channel in the 1920s.
The Ballona Creek did not exit to the Santa Monica Bay, except during exceptional storm years when the water flow broke through the double dune system on the beach area. Thereafter, siltation restored Ballona to a predominantly closed system. When the City of Los Angeles began experiencing flooding due to hardscaping that disallowed percolation of rainwater, the Ballona Channel was created as a meandering channel. However, the meandering nature of the channel caused a slowing of water flow which overtopped the banks of the channel causing flooding. USACE and the County were sued which gave rise to further studies that determined the need to straighten the channel for a fast flow and ultimately the channel was extended into the Santa Monica Bay for delivery of the high volumes of freshwater.
Ballona Wetlands Preservation and Restoration: California Coastal Commission Hearing June 2013 See slide 3 of 48 Ballona Channel
Approximately 3 million cubic yards of dirt was dumped on top of the wetlands during the construction of Marina del Rey in the 1950s, transforming what had been wetlands abundant with fish and waterfowl into upland and degraded wetlands.
Marina del Rey was not constructed in the 1950s. Marina del Rey was constructed in the 1960s.
Approximately 3 million cubic yards of dirt was dumped on top of the wetlands during the construction of Marina del Rey
Staff does not cite where, or provide evidence of where any ‘dirt was dumped’ that transformed a specific area. This unsubstantiated claim is also key to the reasoning for which the Coastal Conservancy has promoted the removal of the current levees in favor of excavating Ballona to create a fully tidal, saltwater bay with new levees located on the perimeter of the Ballona Ecological Reserve. To the contrary, there are multiple data sources that establish this comment to be erroneous. Neither, the Ca. Coastal Conservancy Staff nor CDFW has refuted the data that demonstrates this comment to be in error.
(LA City Beach Enhancement Program; Congressional House Document 389; Playa Vista EIR, Archaeology Report; photographic evidence; Area A , SoCalGas oil/gaswells & previous ownership-DOGGR records)
Below are images from the Groundwater Sustainability Agency Meeting of Santa Monica Subbasin, August 2021. Presentation starts at 1:04:54. Meeting Video
Above is from the USEPA 1986 HUFFMAN Report which also aligns with the Playa Vista Archaeology Study above
Los Angeles Beach Enhancement Program resulting in wide beach creation both north and south of the Ballona Channel.
The Staff statement, “transforming what had been wetlands abundant with fish and waterfowl into upland and degraded wetlands.” provides no substantive support for this claim. Ballona Wetlands is historically established as being a predominantly seasonal freshwater wetland area with multiple ecosystem types, inclusive of uplands that contained then and still do, rare upland grasses (USEPA, T. Huffman Report 1986, 2011 Historical Ecology of Ballona Floodplain) . Rare and sensitive habitat areas remain at Ballona that have numerous rare and endangered and other native species reliant upon that habitat. Degradation is nonspecifically discussed which leads to vague and unreliable narrative provided in this area of the Staff Report.
- Staff provides no supportive data to suggest where and how many fish were ‘abundant’ in any portion of the Ecological Reserve boundaries. To the contrary, historic data and photos demonstrates that the current Area A was not an area of ‘abundant fish’, as it was, in the main, a higher elevation with seasonal freshwater ponding. Other areas of Ballona ie. Area C was also of higher elevation having seasonal ponding. Records do demonstrate manmade saltwater channels into these areas that currently still provide for saltwater fish entry and use.
In some places the deposited dirt layer is up to 20 feet thick.
Deposited dirt layers do exist at Ballona Wetlands that are part of the current levees and roadways to oil platforms however, the Staff Report does not cite specifics but improperly provides a vague narrative of hearsay.
What once were more than 2, 100-acres of marshes, mud flats, salt pans, and sand dunes currently provides approximately 153 acres of wetland habitat.
Staff again provides a vague narrative ostensibly arguing out-of-existence, the native and now rare native grasslands on the uplands that exist and existed in Ballona Wetlands. Sand dunes are also not ‘wetlands’ by definition. Staff appears to be mixing apples and oranges as the acre figures provided would not correlate to a loss of ‘wetland’ habitat, if that is what is ostensibly being opined.
All aquatic resources within the Reserve are degraded.
Any and all saltwater entry channels into Ballona are impaired waterways as they originate in Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board and Cal EPA noted impaired waterways—namely the Santa Monica Bay, Marina del Rey and the Ballona Channel.
However, and to the contrary of Staff’s statement that ‘all aquatic resources within the Reserve are degraded’, aquatic resources that are derived from seasonal rainwater ponding are not degraded. And, also not classified as impaired, are fresh groundwater resources of Ballona that are either already clean freshwater or it is cleansed freshwater (via the Clean Up and Abatement Order / Playa Vista) that is pumped into the Ballona Reserve via the freshwater marsh system. Staff also does not acknowledge and/or allow the reader to know that the multiple underlying freshwater aquifers of Ballona are both Drinking Water and/or Potential Drinking Water classification by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board and that all of the Ecological Reserve’s land areas have been given NO FURTHER ACTION classification by LARWQCB which connotes that no further clean up action needs to occur in the soils/ water of the parcels of the Ecological Reserve.
Any impaired status is also protected from further degradation under Porter-Cologne Act and SGMA. The Conservancy led Project is inconsistent with the Ca. State Registry and the Prop.12 funds were not approved for the Conservancy’s recommended use herein.
Non-native, invasive plants now crowd out native plants and provide less support for native wildlife, including some listed species that continue to occupy the Reserve.
Contrary to the Staff statement above, the Wildlife Conservation Board states:
Property 2, Ballona Wetlands ER (BWER): lies within the city and county of Los Angeles, near the communities of Marina del Rey and Culver City. It is a historic wetland formally owned by private parties until WCB began acquisitions in 2003. BWER is surrounded by and subjected to urban influences; however, listed species and wetland habitats have persisted over the centuries. (Nov. 21, 2019 Wildlife Conservation Board Meeting. 3.3 CDFW So.Coast Region)
And, from a previous Conservancy Staff Recommendation that garnered approval for its funding for Ballona:
As can be seen in the attached imagery and write-up by restoration ecologist, Dr. Margot Griswold, native plants are making a strong come-back in areas where the natural seasonal ponding is not drained, diverted, and sent into either the sanitary sewer system and/ or the ocean. CDFW and Playa Vista were noticed by the California Coastal Commission that their unpermitted drains were a violation of the Coastal Act and were harming the hydrology and ecosystems of Ballona Wetlands. (2014 CCC Letter). After repeated letters of request to both CDFW and Playa Vista to seal the unpermitted groundwater and surface water drains, CDFW and Playa Vista were nonresponsive. Grassroots Coalition litigated, over the illegal drains, against both CDFW and Playa Vista and prevailed. Our Settlement Agreement brought the issue back to the California Coastal Commission for enforcement and the drains were finally sealed. The unpermitted drains had been draining the freshwater of Ballona for approximately 20 years, unbeknownst to the public and were not disclosed in the Draft Environmental Impact Report. Since the sealing of the illegal drains, freshwater ponding has been restored, resulting in the wide expanse of pickleweed growth which is the type of habitat used by the endangered Belding’s Savannah Sparrow for nesting and foraging.
The Coastal Conservancy’s management of the restoration studies of Ballona fail(ed) to disclose and adhere to the specific reasons for Ballona’s acquisition, the Title 14 Section 630 (NonMarine Ecological Reserve) Purpose and Goals as approved and registered by the Fish & Game Commission. (2005 Register) Instead, the Coastal Conservancy inserted an outcome of their own design, ’estuarine’ and ‘full tidal’ by 2008. (2004 MOU/ 2008 MOU) Neither the Prop. 12 bonds nor the Title 14, Section 630 specific reasons for the acquisition of Ballona were included in their management of studies or the Memorandum of Agreement language. Acting as a lead agency, rather than a responsible agency, the Coastal Conservancy improperly focused and narrowed the environmental studies of Ballona to exclude hydrology studies of the Ecological Reserve itself thereby excluding freshwater hydrology evaluation. The Conservancy either contracted directly for and/or provided grants (Prop. 12) to The Bay Foundation for studies directed by the Conservancy—often with no application from the Bay Foundation. (Audit DOF 2011 and DOF Complaints-Grassroots Coalition; John Davis) This Staff Recommendation continues the problematical path of lack of disclosure and promotes nonconformance with Ballona’s acquisition purpose and goals.
https://saveballona.org/president.presentations/ballona-wetlands.legal.review.2006.html Pgs 1 & 2 of 12 and p.5 of 12 -2004/2008 MOUs
The Conservancy and CDFW have evaded hydrology studies of Ballona’s own freshwater natural resources and have instead been performing actions that preclude the disclosure of the unpermitted and permitted dewatering of Ballona Wetlands. The Conservancy’s failure to perform as a Responsible Agency, to help guide CDFW and provide available Prop. 12 money for required CDFW studies of its Reserve, has precluded fulfillment of the Fish & Game Code Section 1019 (Land Management Plan/ LMP) which, by design protocol, would have provided for evaluation of the freshwater natural resources of Ballona Wetlands and the Ecological Reserve itself. To date, there continues to be a failure to perform hydrology studies of the freshwater natural resources of Ballona either within the FEIR, within a required (Fish & Game Code Section 1019) Land Management Plan evaluation or, as a Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem (GDE) for which Ballona is acknowledged as a GDE.
Numerous Playa Vista groundwater extraction systems having disposal to either the sanitary sewer system and/or the ocean have been diverting Ballona’s natural freshwater away from Ballona. Grassroots Coalition recently challenged, as a wasteful use of freshwater, a Playa Vista requested National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, for disposal of clean, pumped freshwater, into the sanitary sewer system. The LARWQCB did not approve the Playa Vista request. The NPDES permit now stipulates sending the pumped, clean, fresh groundwater to a riparian corridor. The riparian corridor is part of a freshwater marsh system that, in part, allows for the freshwater to overflow into Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve. This freshwater provides for clean freshwater year-round. The watershed to Ballona, after the creation of the Ballona Channel, persists, leaving the water table at or near the surface, providing freshwater for vegetation’s root systems year-round. (Playa Vista EIR). Neither the DEIR nor the FEIR discuss the available fresh watershed of Ballona Wetlands or the CDFW and Playa Vista unpermitted and permitted drainage of this natural resource away from Ballona. There is no discussion of the ongoing pumping and throwaway of clean freshwater from under the Playa Vista development project and its wasteful discharge into the sanitary sewer system or the ocean via the Playa Vista catch-basin’s (aka freshwater marsh system) Main Drain to the Ballona Channel.
The Coastal Conservancy has failed to adhere to the specific State Registry’s protection of Ballona’s natural resources including freshwater and the habitat (pickleweed) and endangered species (Belding’s Savannah Sparrow) historically reliant upon it.
Other areas of Ballona, such as the west end of Area D have had many years of hand weeding to protect native species growth which has resulted in riparian and dune acreage that has been a successfully accomplished restoration. The riparian areas, including trees are also reliant upon the fresh groundwater. https://www.ballonafriends.org/restoration
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that all wetland habitats
within the Ballona Reserve are impaired.
USEPA’s use of the language ‘wetland habitats… impaired’ is applied loosely pertaining to everything from water sources to habitat vegetation per ‘wetlands’. 2012 USEPA/ TMDL.
The Ballona Reserve consists of multiple habitat types inclusive of dunes, uplands/riparian, salt pans and wetlands with transition habitat that provides for a varied ecosystem within relatively small acreage. The habitat of BWER is predominantly land habitat parcels that have been evaluated by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (LARWQCB) and given the status of No Further Action (NFA), necessary for decontamination. The aquifers underlying the ER are classified by the LARWQCB as Potential Drinking Water & Drinking Water sources. Careful planning to protect, restore and enhance these natural resources per the Governor’s Orders pertaining to natural restoration, biodiversity protection and the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act including Ballona as a Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem, are either not adequately evaluated or not evaluated within the FEIR.
( See the EPA Impaired Waterway list which does not include the habitat areas of the Reserve)
EPA has determined that the waterways OUTSIDE the Reserve and/or the entering saltwater and Ballona Channel waters that enter the Reserve through manmade entry channels are impaired. Therefore, any of the manmade channels in the Reserve, that contain this water would be classified as impaired.
The Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve boundaries exclude the Ballona Channel area. The impaired waters within the Ballona Channel are under the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers and the LA County Flood Control District and relative agencies handling these impaired waters.
Today, much of the habitat onsite is severely degraded and the Bay Foundation identified a portion of the Ballona Reserve as “among the most degraded wetlands in California” using standardized wetland condition protocols.”
Public Record Act responses from the Coastal Conservancy provided Grassroots Coalition with
the following internal discussions between the Coastal Conservancy Project Manager and leadership of the Bay Foundation and biological staff of the Bay Foundation pertaining to how to portray the habitat at Ballona. The less than scientific sentiment attached to the email discussion is alarming.
A recent (April 2022) Public Record Act response from the Ocean Protection Council (California Natural Resources) demonstrates the leadership of the Bay Foundation, during its tenure of creation of the EIR studies with the Coastal Conservancy for Ballona, was ostensibly unaware of the Fish & Game Commission’s ruling and induction of Ballona into the California Ecological Reserve System as a Title 14, NonMarine Section 630 Ecological Reserve having Ballona specific Purpose and Goals. Ms. Luce, in an email (2022) requests information from others as to awareness of what McPherson addressed in a Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission meeting (2022) of Ballona’s Ecological Reserve approved status. (Below is the email portion of the PRA. The full PRA response is available and has been sent to the Conservancy Board members and staff, among others)
Furthmore, the Bay Foundation’s analysis of the Reserve is contradicted by onsite video and photographs which area by area provide actual native vegetation growth not documented by the Bay Foundation.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/stonebird/2389712523 Naturalist Jonathan Coffin photography of Ballona.
Why is Ballona Important?
The Ballona Wetlands Restoration Project is a large-scale restoration project proposed byCalifornia Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to enhance native habitats and increasecompatible public outdoor recreational opportunities within its Ballona Wetlands EcologicalReserve (Ballona Reserve). The 600-acre Ballona Reserve is one of the largest open spaces in the City of Los Angeles and it is one of the largest remaining opportunities for coastal habitat restoration in Los Angeles County (Exhibit 1). The state of California spent $140 million to acquire the Ballona Reserve in 2003. The property was considered significant because of its potential for habitat enhancement and the opportunity to create a nature reserve in urban Los Angeles.
The current FEIR Project, is an enormous industrial scale conversion project not a restoration project.
The current Project will not enhance native habitat but instead destroy the existing habitat, to convert the area into a fully tidal saltwater bay surrounded by miles of vector controlled, non-habitable roadway levees. The FEIR Project is challenged by multiple CEQA lawsuits for inadequacy under CEQA and failure to adhere to the state approved Title 14, NonMarine Ecological Reserve (Section 630) specified Purpose and Goals for which the site was acquired for $140 million.
The proposed project seeks to NOT enhance the natural resources of the Ballona Reserve which would necessitate protection of the year-round freshwater resources of Ballona as dictated by the 2005 Fish & Game Commission state approvals. The Coastal Conservancy promotes the conversion of the natural habitat into something it never was, namely a fully tidal saltwater bay. The Staff Recommendation supports a conversion of the Section 630 NonMarine Ecological Reserve into a fully tidal saltwater bay. A conversion into a Title 14, Section 632 Marine Preserve has not been approved by the Fish & Game Commissioners. Such change would require a Fish & Game Commission Petition for revocation proceedings to change the currently approved status into a Section 632 Marine Preserve.
The failure of the Coastal Conservancy to provide funding for a complete Land Management Plan precludes a reasonable evaluation of the freshwater natural resources that are already available to Ballona but are being diverted, wasted as the freshwater is either discharged into the sanitary sewer system and/or the ocean. This Staff Recommendation cannot claim that its use of the remaining Prop 12 funds will be used to enhance the natural resources of the Ballona Reserve as there isn’t evaluation of the freshwater natural resources of Ballona contained in the FEIR. In other words, Staff cannot assert such without knowing what already exists and what will be lost.
The failure of the Coastal Conservancy’s management services to provide funding for a complete Land Management Plan demonstrates the failure of the Conservancy to act as a Responsible Agency and provide consultation to CDFW for adherence to CDFW policies and code (Section 1019 LMP) and adherence to the Title 14 NonMarine, Section 630 Purpose and Goals. (PRC duties of responsible agency, MOU 2004)
“The proposed project is a long-term, science-based plan to restore wetland and their ecological functions by re-establishing connections among the land, the creek and the ocean (Exhibit 4). The project is consistent with the Southern Ca Wetland Recovery Project’s 2018 Regional Strategy recommended best practices for the restoration of today’s coastal wetlands and enhancement of wetland-upland transition zones to accommodate sea level rise.
Staff fails to inform the Coastal Conservancy Board members and the public of the actual Purpose and Goals for which Ballona was acquired. https://saveballona.org/president.presentations/ballona-wetlands.legal.r...(slide 1, 4; Section 630 Register link) CDFW protocol utilizes the Registry language of purpose and goals as the guiding language for implementation of the required (Section 1019) Land Management Plan and any/all subsequent EIR. The Conservancy in its management of the Ballona environmental studies and overall project management failed to utilize or alert the public to the Title 14, Section 630 Purpose and Goals as the basis of a science-based plan to restore Ballona. Instead, Staff utilizes known inaccuracies, inserting goals that are not approved by the state, namely, ‘re-establishing connections among the land, the creek and the ocean.’And, “…to reestablish the creek’s flood plain and return the daily ebb and flow of tidal waters where feasible.” This is language asserting a goal to convert the Ballona Wetlands into a fully tidal, saltwater bay, a goal not approved under Ballona’s registry Title 14, NonMarine Section 630 specific Purpose and Goals. Ballona Wetlands is a predominantly seasonal freshwater wetland closed to the ocean, but for extreme storm events that temporarily opened the ocean to Ballona.
ballona creek watershed historical ecology project | ... Stein, E.D., S. Dark, T. Longcore, R. Grossinger, N. Hall, and M. Beland. 2010. Historical ecology.
The Conservancy improperly ‘manages’ Ballona by restricting potential alternatives, inclusive of restoration of its current freshwater resources, by contracting the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP) in 2005 to focus upon a goal that is not the approved and 2005 state registered Title 14 NonMarine Section 630 (Ecological Reserve) goal to protect Ballona’s freshwater and salt marsh and endangered Belding’s Savannah Sparrow and its habitat. Inconsistently, the Conservancy contracts SCCWRP to focus efforts to convert Ballona into an estuarine environment. (2008 MOU Switch; Bond ppt slides 9,10 of 12) https://saveballona.org/president.presentations/ballona-wetlands.legal.r...
The Coastal Conservancy contracted for an outcome that precluded full environmental review of Ballona’s natural resources that would allow for all reasonable alternatives to be considered. Thereby, disallowing for consideration of enhancement of Ballona’s natural resources.
The relationship between the Conservancy’s Project Manager, simultaneously as a board member of the Bay Foundation during the timeframe of the contracts negotiating the switch to an ‘estuarine’ outcome for Ballona precluded reasonable evaluation of the Reserve’s own natural resources. While, claiming that Ballona was ‘drying out’ the Project Manager and the Bay Foundation were actively engaged in nondisclosure of the ongoing drainage of Ballona’s surface and groundwater via unpermitted Drains.
(Legal ppt pgs 9,10)
The illegal drains were not disclosed in the Draft EIR. The California Coastal Commission made multiple requests for cooperation to seal the unpermitted drains that the CCC cited as a Coastal Act Violation and harming the hydrology and habitat of Ballona Wetlands. No attempt was made by the Coastal Conservancy, The Bay Foundation or CDFW to disclose the unpermitted drainage of the previous 20 plus years. The so-called ‘baseline’ studies performed via Conservancy grants, via the Bay Foundation, for vegetation did not disclose the dewatering or the overall negative effects upon the habitat of Ballona. Only after prevailing litigation by Grassroots Coalition against CDFW were the illegal drains sealed via compliance ordered by the Coastal Commission. (CCC 2014 Letter to CDFW; Stop Drying Out Ballona link)
As cited in the California Coastal Commission (CCC) Letter (4/11/14) to Playa Vista and CDFW … draining Ballona is harmful to the ecosystem:
This failure to disclose, the lack of science in having no hydrological evaluations performed of Ballona’s own natural resources, provides evidence to the undermining of true scientific evaluation of Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve.
Absent any project, the Ballona Reserve will lose existing habitat function when sea levels rise because the tide gates that support the existing wetlands and salt pans will have to be permanently closed to prevent flooding of adjacent roadways. At that time, the site will no longer drain and those existing habitat areas are expected to convert to stagnant, flooded ponds. The proposed project is designed to accommodate sea level rise by creating broad areas with gradual slopes that will allow wetlands to migrate across transition areas, “.
The statement above is without merit as demonstrated by the lack of a Land Management Plan which would have provided a baseline for hydrological information of the Reserve itself. The statement does not understand the function and formation of the salt pans are the result of freshwater from surface and groundwater that evaporates, leaving a saline soil. This process will continue without the tide gates as the tidal channels do not contribute tidal flow to the salt pans under current conditions.
Ballona Ecological Reserve is now acknowledged as a Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. (Santa Monica Subbasin, Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP). However, as yet no hydrological studies have occurred that would evaluate the natural freshwater resources of Ballona inclusive of surface and groundwater, and the current/past and ongoing pumping, diversion and throwaway of Ballona’s clean, fresh groundwater into both the sanitary sewer system and the ocean by Playa Vista. CDFW claims itself to be an active board member of Playa Vista’s private Ballona Conservancy which also manages the dewatering occurring at Playa Vista. The Conservancy Staff Recommendation does not address Ballona as a Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem and does not address the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act and the environmental harm that will occur to the aquifers and habitat from the CDFW approved contaminated saltwater intrusion, and toxic Ballona Channel waters into the Reserve.
In approving this funding to CDFW, the Conservancy provides public funding to perform studies for property not a part of the Ecological Reserve boundaries, mainly the Ballona Flood Control Channel, and for which there are no current agreements with authority of ownership of the property, namely the LA County Flood Control District and the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). The Coastal Conservancy’s approval of this funding is contrary to the purpose and goals for which the Ecological Reserve was acquired.
Further, none are opining that no project should occur. Numerous other plan pathways exist.
The Reserve is not at risk of sea level rise. Salt pan destruction in Area B will occur as cited in the Plan as it requires much of the levee construction over the salt pan. The salt pan in Area A, per the Plan is intended to be destroyed as part of the area to be excavated for the conversion into a fully tidal saltwater bay.
Should there be a need or desire to raise the levees that currently exist, no exploration of the cost and the smaller construction process has been evaluated. And, no evaluation has been considered for the Ballona Reserve, as has occurred and been implemented on other Ecological Reserves, for active systems to move the tide waters or freshwater. Should there come a time to restrict saltwater intrusion through the current tide gates (which have yet to have a 408 evaluation by the USACE), the FEIR does not provide evaluation of this scenario.
The so-called ‘supporting tide gates’ were created without 408 studies that would have provided important hydrologic evaluation of Ballona Wetlands. (Hanlon letter). The effects upon Ballona’s hydrology from these tide gates is still a part of study that was required but has yet to be performed. (TATTN)
Since there have not been hydrology studies of the Ecological Reserve itself in the FEIR, and no Land Management Plan performed that necessarily would have included hydrology evaluation of Ballona’s freshwater natural resources, such a claim as cited above is hearsay. No studies have been performed that would demonstrate that, if the natural watershed and seasonal rain ponding were allowed to naturally occur and not be hindered by the ongoing and past 20 years of pumping, dewatering and diversion of Ballona’s freshwater to the ocean and the sanitary sewer system—that Ballona would not be able to sustain itself as a flourishing combination of historically accurate, predominantly freshwater ecosystems. The Governor’s Order for natural restoration should be contemplated under scientifically performed scrutiny.
What is known, is that the Staff statement above pertaining to habitat migration is inconsistent with CDFW’s modeling. According to CDFW’s own modeling, the rare salt pans and endangered species’ nesting/ foraging habitat of the Belding’s Savannah Sparrow (pickleweed) will be destroyed. The CDFW modeled destruction of the pickleweed habitat of the Belding’s Savannah Sparrow directly contradicts the Title 14, NonMarine, Section 630 Purpose and Goals of protecting the endangered Beldings and their year- round foraging and nesting habitat. The project is inconsistent with the very Purpose and Goals for which Ballona was acquired. (Register Notice; Presentation map)
There is nothing in the FEIR that discusses raising the levees that currently exist, in order to maintain the utilization of the 2 current culverts. Hydrology studies are lacking in the FEIR. The hydrology of Ballona and its existing freshwater resources, including its multiple underlying freshwater aquifers will, undoubtably be contaminated with saltwater intrusion should a fully tidal bay be created and allow the toxic Ballona Channel runoff to invade the Reserve. These aquifers, the Ballona, Bellflower and Silverado have no studies in the FEIR that would demonstrate that the Plan’s creation of a fully tidal saltwater bay, would not contaminate these aquifers, classified by LARWQCB as drinking water and /or potential drinking water.
Issues not addressed by Conservancy Staff:
Should the water quality change in the area of SoCalGas underground gas storage operations, which would happen if the area is converted into a fully tidal saltwater bay, the Settlement Agreement of SoCalGas in a Proposition 65 litigation, states that SoCalGas will no longer have to remediate the groundwater that it has contaminated, to a Drinking Water Standard which is the standard the court has ordered. There are very likely, other areas of contamination that are acknowledged by SoCalGas in its internal Demolition Studies. Should SoCalGas be allowed to not remediate its contamination in the near surface aquifers to a Drinking Water quality when the Conservancy’s promotion of a full tidal saltwater bay becomes a reality? Where is the evaluation or disclosure of this by the Conservancy to the public and its Board? The Coastal Conservancy does not provide consideration of this issue. (Prop. 65 lawsuit..court case )
California Regulatory Notice Register 2005, Volume No. 20-Z, Starting on page 663 Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve
Terminology differences are not addressed by the Coastal Conservancy for converting Ballona into a fully tidal saltwater bay, a Marine Preserve (Title 14, Section 632 Marine Preserve) The Coastal Conservancy has not addressed these different meanings of significant impact while utilizing the terms.
Terminology for Marine Reserves have intrinsically different definitions of meaning that do not apply to Section 630 Non Marine Ecological Reserves—which is Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve.
Terms such as:
- Fish & Game Code 90.1, ‘adaptive management’ has distinctive meaning that is different for Marine Preserves than for Ecological Reserves. Therefore, any and all use of the term ‘adaptive management’ use in the EIR becomes confusing and even inappropriate for use within the discussion of restoration of an Ecological Reserve.
- Fish & Game Code 99.5, address sustainability of the habitat. “Sustainability’ of a Marine Preserve has different connotations than sustainability of an Ecological Reserve.
RESOLUTION AND FINDINGS
Staff recommends that the State Coastal Conservancy adopt the following resolution and findings.
Resolution: The State Coastal Conservancy hereby authorizes disbursement of up to one million six hundred ninety two thousand three hundred and sixty dollars ($1,692,360) to the California Department of Fish & Wildlife
(CDFW) for design and permitting for the restoration of the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve.
This project does not meet the definition of ‘restoration’ but is instead a conversion project not authorized by the public’s Prop. 12 funding agreements and is inconsistent with Title 14, NonMarine Section 630 (Ecological Reserve) Purpose and Goals set forth in the Registry Notice 2005.
Grassroots Coalition has Public Record Act requested the Application(s), if any, provided to the Coastal Conservancy from CDFW for this funding. No application was provided by CDFW for the Staff Recommended funding. The Coastal Conservancy, has on multiple occasions in the past, improperly provided funding without first receiving an application for the funding. (DOF Audit 2011)
The State Coastal Conservancy further authorizes an amount not to exceed five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000) to Prevention Institute for community engagement in planning the restoration of the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve in Los Angeles County.
The Prevention Institute has since dropped out of its participation in this venture. Hence, the funding is moot. However, Public Record Act responses from the Coastal Conservancy to Grassroots Coalition, witness the lack of application to the Coastal Conservancy by the Prevention Institute for the funding.
Prior to commencement of the community engagement project, Prevention Institute shall submit for the review and written approval of the Executive Officer of the Conservancy (Executive Officer) the following:
1. A detailed work program, schedule, and budget.
2. Names and qualifications of any contractors to be retained in carrying out the project.
Based on the accompanying staff recommendation and attached exhibits, the State Coastal Conservancy hereby finds that:
1. The proposed authorization is consistent with Chapter 9 of Division 21 of Public Resources Code, regarding a system of public accessways; and with Chapter 6 of Division 21 of the Public Resources Code, regarding the enhancement of natural resources.
PRC 31251- The Coastal Conservancy improperly invokes this code as neither CDFW nor the Conservancy have provided data support for the claim used in the approved grant/Staff Recommendation. Namely, the fill purported by the Conservancy.
There are numerous evidential documents that contradict the hearsay claim of the Conservancy regarding fill placement in Ballona Reserve from the construction of Marina del Rey.
PRC 31400.1 discusses the need to serve more than local access needs. The area is an Ecological Reserve (ER) which has the highest level of protection the state offers. Access ways must be compatible with the ER. Creation of miles of new levees (the access roads) is inconsistent with protection of the ER habitat as the miles of new levees will be under USACE rules of Vector Control, which essentially removes the levees from a habitat function to instead become a ‘kill zone’ area for any burrowing creatures including via vector control’s commonly utilized poison control methods the proposed accessways (levee roadways) may include secondary kill effects inconsistent with protection of wildlife in an Ecological Reserve. None of this is addressed by the Coastal Conservancy.
The Coastal Conservancy ignores the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act and the Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem –BWER ; and ignores its role in utilizing the Prop 12 funds publicly dedicated for Ballona studies—for both GDE studies that CDFW has protocol and for the missing Land Management Plan of Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve that would fill the huge hydrologic data gap of Ballona’s own freshwater natural resources and protection to these resources.
Instead, the Coastal Conservancy reaches to give CDFW the remaining Prop. 12 funds for a project that is inconsistent with the protection of water quality and is inconsistent with protection from wasting freshwater into both the sanitary sewer system and the ocean.
Thus, ignoring PRC 31251.2 (a) which is available as a strategic planning tool available to the Coastal Conservancy and Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve.
31257. ; the Conservancy may fund up to $300,000 of the cost of preparing coastal resource enhancement plans. This appears to be more funding, outside of the Prop.12 funds which have always been available for Ballona studies but never discussed by the Conservancy as Responsible Agency to CDFW.
31251.2 (a) In order to enhance the natural or scenic character of coastal resources within the coastal zone, the conservancy may undertake a project or award a grant, consistent with subdivision (a) of Section 30200 and pursuant to this chapter, to enhance a watershed resource that is partly outside of the coastal zone. Any of these projects or grants which involve the management of fish shall be approved by the Department of Fish and Game.
Neither the conservancy nor any other state agency shall undertake a project affecting an area partly inside and partly outside the coastal zone under this chapter, except at the request of the local public agency or agencies having jurisdiction over the entire project area.
31263. If a local public agency or state agency is unable or unwilling to undertake improvement of a deteriorating area, the conservancy may undertake the coastal resource enhancement or authorize a nonprofit organization to do so after notification to the local public agency, if a coastal resource enhancement plan for the area has been prepared by the conservancy and approved as provided in Section 31258.
- The proposed project is consistent with the current Conservancy Project Selection Criteria and Guidelines.
For reasons cited earlier, Grassroots Coalition believes that this proposed project is inconsistent with current Conservancy Project Selection Criteria and Guidelines.
And, it is unknown if the SCC selection criteria was fulfilled per the need of first having had an application provided. If no applications for the funding were given to the SCC, then the comment by Staff above, is inaccurate.
‘The Conservancy has adopted Project Selection Criteria, which set forth the evaluation criteria that the Conservancy uses for all of its grant programs. To be eligible for Conservancy funding, a project must address the Solicitation Priorities, above, and the Conservancy’s required project selection criteria:
• Promotion of the Conservancy’s statutory programs and purposes (Division 21 of the Public
The grant is inconsistent with Division 21 of the Public Resource Code for reasons cited herein.
• Consistency with purposes of the funding source
Ballona Ecological Reserve must be consistent with the Title 14, NonMarine Ecological Reserve(Section 630) Purposes and Goals as set forth in the state Registry-2005. The approval of the CDFW project and the grant here at issue, is inconsistent with the Purpose and Goals for which Ballona was acquired and is inconsistent with the Prop. 12 funding parameters of approval.
• Promotion and implementation of state plans and policies (specific plans and policies and the
specific goals or objectives within those plans and polices that would be furthered by the
The grant is inconsistent with the purposes for which the ER was acquired. And is inconsistent with Prop. 12 parameters of approval.
• Support from the public.
The public organizations are overwhelmingly against this proposed project and grant funding for another Ballona Channel hydraulics study. $4million of public bond dollars have already been wasted on the incompetent studies done thus far. The studies are inclusive of an area outside the boundaries of the Ecological Reserve, the Ballona Channel. The Ballona Channel is owned and operated by the USACE and Los Angeles Flood Control. Neither of these entities have current agreements in place to forward the proposed CDFW project as the former agreements have expired. The County Board of Supervisors control decision making for the Channel and there are no current agreements or data to demonstrate any District support for removing and replacing the current levees.
• Location must benefit coastal area, ocean resources.
The proposed Project cannot demonstrate it provides benefit to the coastal area, or ocean resources. To the contrary, the potential and expected negative environmental consequences of implementation of the Project are provided in the FEIR. (sea level rise harm). No address is provided within the FEIR to demonstrate that the approved Project will not negatively impact the natural watershed and the underlying freshwater aquifers and habitat. The proposed Project is risky, at best, with no ability to restore what is destroyed, once started.
• Need (desired project or result will not occur without Conservancy participation).
• Greater-than-local interest’
Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve is a critically endangered type of wetland habitat that has been lost along the southern California coastline. The predominantly seasonal freshwater nature of Ballona with its attendant underlying freshwater aquifers have become critically rare along the coast of California due to the homogenization of coastal wetlands into full tidal saltwater wetlands, as exemplified by the 2014 study of northern San Diego County wetlands conducted by the San Francisco Estuary Institute.
3. Prevention Institute is a nonprofit organization organized under section 501(c)(3) of the U.S.Internal Revenue Code.
The Prevention Institute is no longer a part of this project.
4. The Conservancy has independently reviewed and considered the Ballona Wetlands Restoration Project Environmental Impact Report (EIR) adopted by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) on December 30, 2020 pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) and attached to the accompanying staff recommendation as Exhibit 2.
The Conservancy is currently being litigated against by Grassroots Coalition for its approval of the FEIR as a CEQA competent document. And, numerous organizations have ongoing CEQA lawsuits against CDFW for the FEIR failures and inadequacies per fulfillment of proper CEQA review.
5. The Conservancy has reviewed CDFW’s CEQA Findings, attached to the accompanying staff recommendation as Exhibit 3, and the Conservancy hereby determines and concludes all of the following:
a. CDFW has identified, disclosed, and adopted the mitigation measures recommended in the EIR by means of a Mitigation Monitoring and Reporting Program, which mitigation measures are not within the Conservancy’s jurisdiction;
(See comment above this paragraph)
Pg 5 of 20
Los Angeles County Department of Public Works-Flood Control District (LACFCD) owns and operates the Ballona Creek channel and levee system, which are features of the Federally-authorized flood control project. CDFW will work with LACFCD to obtain a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to modify the Ballona Creek channel. The Corps typically charges project applicants for its staff time to review and process these kinds of permits. CDFW may use some of these funds to pay for the Corps’ review.
The earlier County Board of Supervisors approval of an agreement to ‘work together’ to obtain a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, has expired and no new agreement for such ‘working together’ has since been created or approved by the County Board of Supervisors.
New Supervisors have since been elected and have had oversight for Ballona issues. The Supervisors having direct jurisdiction over the Ballona area have provided public positions that are negative towards the CDFW Plan for conversion of Ballona into a full tidal bay. (video(now LA County Supervisor) Holly Mitchell https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ymMeSFLLKNc at 1: 57seconds)
There is no indication from the County that there will be any approval for the County to work with CDFW towards obtaining the permits for the proposed embayment plan.
Additionally, USACE no longer has any priority emphasis agreements (including the expired Water Resource Development Act (WRDA) agreement for the flood control project as promoted by CDFW.
The Staff Recommendation fails to provide key Tribal response that is directly adverse to the CDFW Plan to create a fully tidal saltwater bay. The Conservancy and CDFW are fully aware of the contradictory position taken by the Tongva Ancestral Territorial Tribal Nation (TATTN) and its representative, John Tommy Rosas. Ms. Small and CDFW worked directly with Mr. Rosas as a key Tribal representative and yet fail to notify the public of his strong stance against the CDFW Plan. https://saveballona.org/water/johntommy-rosas-tattn-videos-ballona-wetlands-ecological-reserve-draft-environmental-impact-report.html
Currently, Mr. Rosas’ work has been taken up by Chief Anthony Morales who had attended numerous meetings regarding Ballona and is working to further Mr. Rosas’ work and his own kindred beliefs as Chief of the Mission Band of Gabrieleno Tongva.
· 8.6.2020 CCC ANTHONY MORALES (I have standing as Chief of the Gabrieleno - Tongva San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians)
... McPherson Subject: Power Point submitted for ANTHONY MORALES ( I have standing as Chief of the Gabrieleno - Tongva San Gabriel ...
TATTN, John Tommy Rosas (Most Likely Descendent (MLD)) website
(click on the mast headlines at left)
An extensive planning and public process for the restoration of the Ballona Reserve began in 2004. CDFW, the Conservancy, The Bay Foundation, the Corps, and many others have spent years working with the public, scientists, and other agencies to develop this proposed project to revitalize Ballona Reserve. The Conservancy, CDFW and The Bay Foundation held or attended more than 40 public meetings between 2004 and 2012. In 2006, the Conservancy established a Science Advisory Committee composed of nationally recognized experts. Seven Science Advisory Committee meetings were held between 2006 and 2012, all of them open to the public. In 2006, the project team held a Saturday design charrette with more than 100 members of the public in facilitated discussion with the Science Advisory Committee to develop
project alternative concepts.
The Bay Foundation and CDFW staff have made presentations or responded to questions at approximately 75 meetings of various groups since 2006. Four on-site open house days occurred between 2010-2013 that allowed the public access to the Reserve and provided information about the proposed project. Between 2010 –2015, The Bay Foundation held five public one day conferences presenting scientific information about Ballona. Two EIR-specific meetings occurred consisting of a scoping meeting in 2012 and a public comment meeting in 2017. In conjunction with these public process opportunities, CDFW has continued interaction with neighbors, stakeholders, and other public and private entities
The characterization provided above is grossly misleading and inaccurate. Meetings that occurred in the first few years that included the working groups and the ‘Interim Stewardship Program’ was a good start of inclusion of the stakeholders and public; however, this was short lived and during this timeframe comments from stakeholders and the public were also ignored.
Finding the itinerary of the meetings would demonstrate that most meetings were not specific to Ballona (the ‘Symposiums’) instead discussing sites in CA and in eastern reaches of the Ballona Channel and areas not specific to BWER. The stakeholders were shut out of significant meetings including the ‘Science Advisory Meetings’ most of which were telephonic and the public was excluded. The meetings that the public was allowed expression in writing and verbally were provided with no meaningful response to issues of concern and requests for ie. Hydrology studies being performed for the Ecological Reserve itself.
The Watershed Committee meetings that were also supposed to allow subcommittees to deal with specific issues of concern was nonexistent until stakeholders utilizing PRAs demonstrated what was supposed to be occurring but was not. Afterward the state refused to maintain regular meetings and instead allowed for only 1 meeting a year while still refusing to allow the subcommittees and refused to be responsive to comments and queries.
Such a lineup of false narrative speaks to the deliberate obfuscation that has been ongoing to manipulate a process of exclusion and a process to have an end goal that is contrary to the Title 14 Section 630 Purpose and Goals as stated in the Registry of Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve. The SCC has been nonresponsive to the public and hostile in response to Public Record Act requests which have been the main source of any truthful information within this closed-door process. The DOF has yet to process earlier Complaints that include documents that support what is stated above. The previously supplied Complaint regarding the SCC and other entities working with the SCC include supportive documents demonstrating extensive use of quid pro quo as well as intimidation to secure support for the conversion plan. (DOF Complaints; Request for Review and Investigation of Grassroots Coalition and John Davis, on file with the Dept. of Finance)
Page 12 of 20-
Also during this period, The Bay Foundation conducted extensive baseline data collection about the existing conditions on site.
A Land Management Plan (LMP) was required to be performed, which has specific protocol and requirements from CDFW. The LMP, per CDFW protocol requires adherence to and use of the language of the Purpose and Goals of the Ecological Reserve’s acquisition as established in the state registry. The LMP was never performed and its requirement for hydrology evaluation for wetland resources was never performed. No baseline evaluation could be properly assessed without such data of resources of the Ecological Reserve. Any and all subsequent EIRs or EISs are to lead with the Registry language of the Purpose and Goals for the Ballona ER’s acquisition. (Title 14, Section 630 non marine Purpose and Goals) This language was not used or made known to the public by SCC or the Bay Foundation and/or CDFW which has given rise to an unapproved conversion plan of switching a Section 630 non marine ecological reserve into a Section 632 Marine Preserve.
Proof of such deliberate refusal to evaluate the freshwater resources of Ballona by CDFW, Conservancy and the Bay Foundation is obvious. The unpermitted drains, for the past 20 years on Ballona, have harmed the hydrology of Ballona and its habitat as cited by the California Coastal Commission. (CCC 2014 Letter). Had a baseline evaluation actually been done it would have included the presence of the environmentally harmful and illegal drains in the Draft EIR. The Draft EIR fails to mention Ballona’s hydrology and fails to mention the illegal drains and their harmful effects to the hydrology and habitat of Ballona. No cumulative studies exist of the ongoing pumping, dewatering and diversion of Ballona’s freshwater resources into either the Santa Monica Bay and/or the sanitary sewer system. All of which is also contrary to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act and multiple anti-wasting of freshwater laws.
The Annenberg skewed narrative is further obfuscation of truth in this Staff Report. The Annenberg desire of having a dog and cat rescue center on Ballona was at issue which is not mentioned in this Staff Report. The later concession of creation of a ‘visitor center’ as a bargaining chip to allow for the rescue center on an ecological reserve and utilize Annenberg funding for the CDFW fill plans was inappropriate and ultimately stopped due to public outcry. (Annenberg ppt; )
Proposed Restoration Project: (page 8 of 20)
Habitat Enhancement. - The Ballona Wetlands Restoration Project is a long-term, science-based plan to enhance habitat at the Ballona Reserve.
Stakeholders and the public that gave rise to the sale and acquisition of Ballona wish that Ballona would be an honest, best available science, stakeholder inclusive process. We continue to work for this to occur, including having to defend Ballona via litigation in order to bring CDFW and the Conservancy to the table to discuss the pertinent issues of true restoration for Ballona. This can still be achieved.
However, Staff Reports, such as this must be scrutinized and evaluated based upon evidence that is readily available and not simply approved without substantiating evidence of accuracy.
The project’s habitat objectives focus on restoring wetland and other ecological functions within the reserve.
The Conservancy/ CDFW objective of creating a full tidal embayment via exclusion of any other alternative planning or evaluation for sustainability is an inconsistent goal with the Fish & Game Commission registered Title 14, NonMarine, Section 630 specific Purpose and Goals for Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve. The Conservancy acting as lead on the Project, managing the production of EIR documents, failed to utilize the State Registry Title 14, NonMarine Section 630 (Ecological Reserve) Purposes and Goals as the leading language for the Environmental Impact Report’s responsibilities of fulfillment as is done under CDFW Ecological Reserve protocol.
The changed objective was not Petitioned for Revocation to the Fish & Game Commission and there is currently no approval for a Title 14, Section 632 Marine Preserve designation with the changed purpose and goal of conversion into a fully tidal saltwater bay. This is inconsistent with the approved status of Ballona as a NonMarine Ecological Reserve ( Title 14, Section 630) Purpose and Goals approved and Registered with the State of California.
The loss of the wetlands’ historic connections to the creek and the ocean means that many native species no longer thrive there.
Ballona Wetlands continues to have historic watershed connections as its freshwater resources are documented via the Playa Vista Environmental Impact Reports as at or near the surface. There is year-round accessability to fresh groundwater that the Coastal Conservancy in its use of Prop 12 grants for studies has failed to include address via hydrology studies of Ballona’s own natural freshwater resources. CDFW inherited the EIR studies contracted by the Coastal Conservancy. The Coastal Conservancy and the Bay Foundation, the recipient of Conservancy approved funding for EIR studies, have failed to include hydrology studies of Ballona’s freshwater resources and failed to adhere to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act and its attendant requirements of evaluation of Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems, namely Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve. The Bay Foundation and the Conservancy failed to alert the California Coastal Commission and the public to the roughly 20 years of unpermitted dewatering of Ballona via unpermitted drains in the wetlands.
This also provides evidence that there has been a deliberate obfuscation of the natural resources of Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve.
Repairing the basic structure and function of Ballona Reserve will bring back and provide additional habitat fornative plants, birds, and other wildlife, some of which are imperiled and clinging to existence in the region due to loss of habitat.
The SCC/CDFW Plan will not provide for restoration of Ballona but will instead provide for destruction of currently functioning habitat that has multiple rare and endangered species. Staff fails to acknowledge the inherent risks associated with such industrial scale destruction and recreation that has not been performed elsewhere. Staff fails to discuss the contamination of Ballona’s freshwater aquifers that will most certainly happen with toxic saltwater and LA City runoff from the contaminated Ballona Channel. Terms used by Staff such as ‘sustainable’ and ‘ adaptive management’ as covering for the safety of their Plan’s success—have entirely different definitions for marine preserves and nonmarine ecological reserves. However, Staff explains none of this to the reader as to which they are actually using for Ballona. The DEIR and FEIR do not explain which is which or which is being applied to Ballona.
The project will reconnect the land and the sea, so freshwater
stream flows and tidal waters can both support a healthy ecosystem.
SCC and CDFW have done no LMP and no hydrology evaluations of Ballona Reserve itself within EIR studies in order to make such a statement. And, this land was not connected to the sea in a regular fashion. There has been no discussion of the freshwater resources of Ballona. In fact, only further obfuscation has occurred via SCC, CDFW and the Bay Foundation as they failed to include any mention of the 20 plus years of drainage via unpermitted drains in the wetlands that have harmed the hydrology and habitat of Ballona. (CCC Letter) Additional pumping, draining and wasting of Ballona’s freshwater resources is still ongoing and is not addressed in either the DEIR or FEIR and Staff here also ignores the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, and Ballona as a Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem.
Rejuvenating these habitats will allow wetland plants to flourish and attract the insects, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, birds, and mammals.
SCC, CDFW and Playa Vista ignored the requests by the California Coastal Commission to stop the unpermitted drainage that was harming Ballona’s hydrology, habitat and wildlife (CCC letters). Grassroots Coalition (GC) was compelled to litigate against CDFW to end this portion of the wasting and throwaway of Ballona’s freshwater. GC prevailed in the litigation which gave rise to the CCC implementing orders to CDFW to seal the unpermitted drains. CDFW, utilizing Playa Vista consultants, argued that if the drains were sealed, no ponding would occur in these areas of drainage—both surface and subsurface. Physical evidence documents the great ponding throughout the area once the drains were sealed. Playa Vista/CDFW consultants were once again proven wrong. The area now ponds again with fresh rainwater and allows for percolation downward to the underlying aquifers. The area has also become rife with renewed pickleweed growth. Pickleweed is the nesting/ foraging habitat for the endangered Belding’s Savannah Sparrow—a key purpose and goal for acquisition and protection of Ballona as an Ecological Reserve, as is written into the State Registry for Ballona as a NonMarine, Section 630 Ecological Reserve. This language carries the force of law for its enforcement to which the SCC and CDFW have not adhered. It is arguable that the Grassroots Coalition’s lawsuit against CDFW and its victory in replenishing Ballona with ponding rainwater has been the most restorative action on Ballona. It follows also that ending other wasteful practices of diversion of Ballona’s ground and surface freshwaters will restore Ballona without implementing the risky, harmful, destructive processes SCC and CDFW have contemplated in their ‘Plan”. The SCC and CDFW attempt to implement this ‘Plan’ without ever evaluating Ballona’s own restorative capacities, without ever allowing Ballona’s freshwater to remain in and on Ballona. Instead CDFW/ Playa Vista and SCC continue in their unscientific waste and throw away of Ballona’s freshwater into the ocean and sanitary sewer systems.
A restored Ballona Reserve will be a refuge for millions of migratory birds and an important nursery area for coastal fish. The proposed project will replace the concrete levees of the Ballona Creek flood control channel with set back earthen levees to re-establish the creek’s floodplain and return the daily ebb and flow of tidal waters where feasible.
Ballona as an historic floodplain never had to eliminate all of the waters flowing from inland rainfall prior to all the buildout of Los Angeles which gave rise to vast amounts of rainwater shedding off its hardscaped landscape to flow into the manmade Ballona Channel.
There was not an ‘ebb and flow of tidal waters’ to restore. This line is
fantasy and was used before any historic studies of Ballona were included or performed by Dark et al. 2010. The line stems from the Ca. Coastal Commission litigation with the Friends of Ballona over the Land Use Plans in the late 1980’s. During this timeframe, leadership of the CCC (Peter Douglas) set aside environmental investigation in order to fast forward a Settlement Agreement. Slides 2 (Peter Douglas) and …
The proposed project will re-arrange about 2 million cubic yards of the soil dumped on the Ballona Reserve when Marina Del Rey was dredged in the 1950s
The CDFW/ SCC PLAN hinges upon this false and undocumented narrative as an excuse to both dig out Ballona and to dump this dirt as fill upon other current wetland habitat, and upland habitat with rare flora (Lewis’ Evening Primrose) on Ballona. Even the US Fish and Wildlife Service has stated in the DEIR response comments, that such use, constitutes ‘fill’ and does not ‘create uplands’. Filling of wetlands is illegal.
and use that dirt to construct levees and broad transition habitats on either side of Ballona Creek. Habitats in the area north of the creek and east of Lincoln Blvd. will be enhanced uplands.
Ms Small continues use of this narrative despite US Fish & Wildlife’s direct contradiction of the improper use of soils from Area A as ‘fill’ only and that it is a flimsy excuse of pretense for use as ‘enhanced uplands’. (USFWS DEIR) It is likely correct, that no SCC board member will read the DEIR for comments contrary to SCC Staff. Hence, Ms. Small is free to continue writeups that do not provide an accurate narrative.
Habitats in the most southern area of the Ballona Reserve will be enhanced by installing culverts with tide gates to return tidal flow to an isolated salt marsh to create a dynamic tidal habitat supporting a greater diversity of native salt marsh plants and
animals over time, see Exhibit 4.
SCC Staff again creates its own convenient version of history of Ballona and does not provide accurate history.
BALLONA WETLANDS RESTORATION PROJECT
Page 9 of 20
The area south of the Ballona Creek levee in the western portion of the Ballona Reserve currently has wetlands and salt pan habitats where ecological functions are supported through muted tidal exchange via two tide gates.
The two tide gates were never evaluated under a USACE 408 permit study. John Tommy Rosas -TATTN expressly stressed the need for a 408 permit, citing study still needed to be performed as the culverts were not legitimately installed. (TATTN; Hanlon USFWS Letter to USACE re: failure to consult)
The proposed project envisions that this area of the Ballona Reserve will be the final portion to be restored once habitat is established elsewhere.
The tide gates in this area close when tides reach the height of 3.4 feet, to prevent flooding of adjacent roadways. If the Reserve remains in its current condition when sea levels rise these tidegates will need to be kept closed to prevent flooding and the habitat in this area will
convert to ponds.
Restoration of Ballona’s freshwater resources may alleviate any need for the saltwater intrusive channels. And/or elevation of the levee and repositioning of the tide gates would also readily alleviate this concern should the tide gates be decided to be helpful to Ballona.
The proposed project will enhance habitat immediately and has been designed to increase the Reserve’s resilience to sea level rise. Consistent with the Southern CA Wetland Recovery Project’s 2018 Regional Strategy, the proposed restoration seeks to restore large contiguous areas with gentle sloping topography to allow for wetland habitat when constructed and wetland migration as sea level rises.
It would appear that Ms Small has not reviewed the sea level modeling contained in the FEIR. Grassroots Coalition does believe the modeling was difficult to find. However, the modeling directly contradicts what Staff recites here. The proposed Plan will not enhance habitat but will cause the loss of extensive areas of rare salt pans and cause the loss of pickleweed growth, hence driving out the very species, the endangered Belding’s Savannah Sparrow, that the Ecological Reserve was acquired to protect. Hence, the ‘Plan’ works against the Registry Goals and even the goals cited by the Conservancy and CDFW. (Presentation and CDFW/FEIR modeling graph on saltwater intrusion/ Belding’s Savannah Sparrow habitat loss and salt pan destruction, Walter Lamb, Ballona Wetlands Landtrust starting at 1:30:26-1:31:22)
The following comments are from expert, Margot Griswold, PhD, Restoration Ecologist with over 27 years of experience in habitat restoration. Soils, landscape position, and hydrology, coupled with existing and historic vegetation guide her work in restoration. She participated in consensus planning for plant and wildlife habitat within the Habitat Work Group of the Owens Lake Dust Control Project, Inyo County, California. She is past president of the Society for Ecological Restoration California and the Los Angeles Audubon Society. Her integrity and work speaks for itself. Here are her conclusions pertaining to the Conservancy’s and CDFW’s approach to climate change at Ballona:
- The current proposed Plan results in outcomes that are inconsistent with Governor Newsom’s goals for the state.
- The proposed (CDFW) Plan will:
Make the wetlands less resilient to sea-level rise, losing existing rare coastal habitats almost from the outset. It is the only project on the Pacific coast that proposes to lower a coastal wetland and open it to full tidal influence and existing sea level, to protect the wetland from future sea level rise.
- There will be a loss of existing species diversity both in terms of the soil ecosystem and the above ground ecosystem, from the start of the project, including the loss of increasingly rare regional coastal wetland habitats.
- The removal of 3.2 million cubic yards of soil will result in the loss of carbon currently sequestered in the soil (which was not considered in the Final EIR) as well as loss through the massive operations to move that much soil which is acknowledged as an impact in the Final EIR. It is unlikely that the project, as described, can replace the carbon loss through sequestration.
Regarding the contractual agreements between the Southern California Coastal Water Research Projects (SCCWRP) the Conservancy in 2005, the same year as the Fish & Game Commission’s approval and registry of the Title 14, Section 630 (NonMarine Ecological Reserve) specific Purpose and Goals for Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve, the Conservancy contracted with SCCWRP to ‘contribute to the development and analysis of the preferred restoration alternative.” The contractual letter states the, “Project Goal- To restore and enhance saltwater influenced wetland habitats.” This ‘preferred restoration alternative’ was inconsistent with the Title 14, Section 630 NonMarine Ecological Reserve reasons for acquisition. The contract continues and states, “Restoration of seasonal ponds, riparian and freshwater wetlands and upland habitats will be considered where beneficial to another project goal or biological and habitat diversity.” ( Slides 9,10 Bond PPT) In short, the Goal was independently changed by the Conservancy to result in its marine, estuarine ‘preferred alternative’ which is inconsistent with the Title 14, Section 630 Purpose and Goals as approved and registered by the Fish & Game Commission in 2005.
During the Fish & Game Commission meeting which approved Ballona as an Ecological Reserve as Title 14, Section 630 NonMarine Ecological Reserve (ER), CDFW stated that once the ER was approved, the Land Management Plan would then follow and also recited that there was $15 million available for Ballona studies. (video-Fish & Game Commission Aug. 19, 2005)
The proposed project was designed to increase the acreage of transition and upland habitats to allow a broad area for wetland habitat transgression over time. As with all coastal wetlands, extreme sea level rise will convert habitats and other adaptive management strategies may be needed. Further development of sea level rise adaptation strategies will be part of the next phase of design refinement.
The proposed project fails to provide supportive data to assume the comment about increasing acreage above can be achieved. Contradictory data has already been provided by the CDFW sea level modeling. FEIR, APPENDIX Pages 271-275, which demonstrates the destruction of saltmarsh acreage to the undesired mudflats and open water (image below). The Coastal Conservancy is also aware of the Dec. 2021 Bolsa Chica Sustainability report which opines the need TO CLOSE the engineered tidal opening to the sea as the 15 year experiment of full tidal inundation has proven to have destroyed the targeted, endangered salt marsh habitat to open water and mudflats. Hence, the targeted species -Belding’s Savannah Sparrow has dangerously declined due to habitat (pickleweed) loss that has been destroyed by the full tidal inundation. This report serves as an additional RED FLAG warning as the recommendation for the Bolsa Chica salt marsh survival now entails the closure of the engineered opening (which also gave rise to unsustainable and yearly dredging events) and reliance upon freshwater.
Despite years of requests by stakeholders for hydrology evaluation of the Ballona Reserve itself, the Coastal Conservancy failed to advise and work with the CDFW to create Grant Applications for garnering the available Prop.12 funding for performance of its required Section 1019, Land Management Plan (since 2005 to the present) and failed to advise CDFW regarding an Application for CDFW funding for a Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem Study under the Groundwater Sustainability Act (SGMA 2014). Hence, contrary to common sense and SGMA, the Conservancy has failed to act as a responsible agency and has instead squandered Prop. 12 funding in performance of unacceptable to USACE, Ballona Channel water conveyance studies wasting $ 4 million dollars (each study costing $2million).
The very far western portion of the Ballona Reserve has about four acres of southern dunes that have been restored and maintained by the Friends of the Ballona Wetlands over several decades. The proposed project does not impact these dunes.
The restoration of the western portion of the Ballona Reserve which includes dune and riparian habitat on the flats of Ballona, serves to demonstrate the resilency of Ballona to natural and here, hand-hewn restoration that abides by the same principles as Governor Newsom has promoted, namely natural restoration working with the available natural resources. This same approach is not considered in the Final EIR for the rest of the Ballona Reserve and needs to be considered as a more beneficial approach. There is no information in the Final EIR that considers the effects of introducing full tidal inundation for the creation of a saltwater bay, that supports this action will not negatively impact this area of restoration. The underlying freshwater aquifers that currently support this area of restoration may well be negatively impacted by saltwater intrusion that negatively affects the vegetation of this area reliant upon freshwater resources. And, according to the imagery of FEIR pages271-275, the ‘dune area’ appears to be replaced with BERM/LEVEE construction, which also destroys habitat per what is allowed to grow upon the Berms/Levees- namely nothing with a deeper root system than grasses as is cited by USACE LEVEE MANAGEMENT which includes VECTOR CONTROL.
Public Access Improvements
A core goal of the proposed project is to create equitable access and allow visitors the chance to experience healthy wetlands and wildlife in a way that provides both educational experiences and maximizes the opportunities for wildlife to thrive. The project will realign the
existing bike trails and construct a new bike path atop the project's levees around much of the Ballona Reserve perimeter. The proposed project will also result in approximately 5.5 miles of new pedestrian-only trails and a half-mile elevated boardwalk to allow visitors to walk adjacent to the wetlands. The proposed project will construct two bike and pedestrian bridges to better, and more safely, provide access to the Reserve. Conceptual designs of the proposed access
improvements are provided in Exhibit 5.
The proposed new miles of levees will serve to extinguish available habitat and become areas of vector- controlled kill zones to fulfill USACE levee regulations.
The current public access areas are already plentiful and can be maintained without the intrusive and destructive plans cited above.
USFWS in DEIR comments their concerns of added fragmentation due to the ‘Plan’ and the added exposure to wildlife as not adhering to the goals of an Ecological Reserve (F&G Code 1580).
Nearly 10,000 school children (approximately half from Title 1 schools) come to the Ballona Reserve annually through environmental education programs. The Ballona Creek multi-use trail also runs along the north levee of Ballona Creek and is open to the public. However, most of Ballona Reserve is currently closed to the public because of its degraded state.
The comment above pertaining to closure due to degradation is an uncorroborated conclusion. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in public bond funds have been utilized for artistic gates, signage, park benches and kiosk areas in Ballona that are kept off limits to the public even in controlled – educational programs that have a proven track record of safety. Stakeholder continued demonstration of the fallacy of this argument has garnered support from the Fish & Game Commissioners at recent hearings and very recently CDFW has capitulated finally and opened ie Area A to the public on a weekly basis with protective rules of visitation. LA Audubon, and other groups have maintained educational tour permits with CDFW for many years and will be continuing with their programs for school children (including Title 1) and adults per Covid allowances. The red herring of ‘closure to the public because of its degraded state’ is false. The Conservancy, staff leadership, here perpetuates its own intent of fulfillment of its ‘management of the EIR’, ‘preferred goal’ of full tidal construction start, in an apparent attempt to hold hostage the access to Ballona vis a vis use of such language and promotion to CDFW. Such behavior has recently been averted through public outcry during Conservancy meetings vis a vis the Coastal Conservancy Board Members’ written request to CDFW for resuming opening areas for access to the public. CDFW has capitulated.
While some members of the public enjoy walking the existing trails in Ballona, the enhanced habitats and wildlife viewing resulting from the proposed project are expected to attract more visitors from around the County.
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This authorization will provide funding for Prevention Institute to conduct robust community engagement to ensure that access improvements are designed with a focus on equity; to refine
the public access concepts into more detailed design; and to plan for the management issues associated with increased public access.
The Prevention Institute is no longer a part of this grant proposal.
Neither the Conservancy nor CDFW have provided any supportive documentation for the conclusion offered above. Conservancy grants have already given hundreds of thousands of dollars for trail improvements at Ballona that have gone largely unused, especially in Area A, which until very recently, CDFW had held hostage to its use from organizations providing educational tours per CDFW permit protocol, pending actual restoration go ahead for CDFW.
This approach has been found to be inappropriate at best.
South of Ballona Channel, LA Audubon has yearly serviced thousands of people and children to managed, educational tours on trails that exist at Ballona. Friends of Ballona have similarly been allowed by CDFW to perform the same function. Numerous other organizations, including the Ballona Wetlands Landtrust and Ballona Ecosystem Education Project, have also provided educational touring of Ballona and provided their own management work to align with CDFW permits for their educational work. The Conservancy has failed to include these groups who have worked to protect Ballona for over 20 years in this latest consideration of grants for outreach purposes.
Flood Protection & Infrastructure Relocation
The proposed project will maintain existing flood protection and alleviate some existing local flooding. The proposed project includes flood risk management components such as: constructing new engineered levees set back from the existing Ballona Creek channel thereby reestablishing a functioning floodplain for flood attenuation and sea level rise, installing new hydraulic structures to allow for controlled tidal exchange from the Ballona Creek channel to the southern areas of the Reserve, and constructing a retention basin to alleviate neighborhood flooding in Playa del Rey.
The Conservancy provides no data or information of the alleged ‘neighborhood flooding’ in Playa del Rey.
The Conservancy mischaracterizes the Ballona Wetlands in its inconsistent goal statement, “reestablishing a functioning floodplain…”
The floodplain of the Ballona region was a predominantly closed system to the ocean but for during years of extreme storm events which allowed for inland freshwater flow to break through the double dune system and then silted back in. (Historical Ecology of Ballona Creek , Dark, Longcore et al)
The floodplain/watershed area of Ballona Wetlands persists with multiple underlying freshwater aquifers and interconnected surface freshwater areas. (Playa Vista EIR, Poland Report, USEPA USEPA, 1986 Terri Huffman Ballona Wetland Delineation Report). The state has also acknowledged Ballona Wetlands/ Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve, as a Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem. Ballona is included in the SGMA, Groundwater Sustainability Plan, which has acknowledged data gaps and need for hydrology data for Ballona. The Final EIR does not provide evaluation of the hydrology of Ballona Wetlands.
As discussed above, the recommended grant will support a watershed study to determine the appropriated design capacity for the proposed project. It is likely that the final design criteria will increase the capacity of the Ballona Creek channel above its existing as-built dimensions.(emphasis added)
This comment is highly misleading as it appears to refer to waterflow within the proposed new LEVEES and does not refer to a true watershed study of the Reserve itself.
This comment should not be ambiguous and should define its meaning. This comment also fails to acknowledge the two REJECTED Ballona Channel water conveyance studies which utilized inaccurate data. The two USACE REJECTED studies cost approximately $4 million dollars.
The Coastal Conservancy has already APPROVED the CERTIFICATION of the FEIR, hence acknowledgement of the absence of freshwater hydrology data for Ballona should require decertification of the FEIR in order to acknowledge this data gap, which, has been verbally acknowledged by the CDFW Land Manager for Ballona. Piecemealing of watershed information now should not be allowed. CDFW has protocol for its Land Management Plan (Section 1019) and Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem study of habitats. Funding that is acknowledged by both the Conservancy and CDFW for these specific purposes under Title 14, Section 630 Terrestrial/ NonMarine Ballona Ecological Reserve, should occur.
The EIR also considered the Southern California Gas Company’s (SoCalGas’) relocation of surface wells and associated infrastructure that currently exist on the Ballona Reserve to allow for restoration of those areas. SoCalGas owns the mineral rights and operates a natural gas storage facility far beneath the surface of the wetlands. SoCalGas also owns easements for surface wells associated with that facility and access roads to service those wells. Operation of the natural gas storage facility predates CDFW’s acquisition of the Ballona Reserve. SoCalGas is interested in relocating surface wells and associated infrastructure to their own property, immediately south of the Reserve. The state will not pay to remove any of this infrastructure. Relocating wells and associated infrastructure off the Ballona Reserve will reduce habitat fragmentation and eliminate ongoing disturbances related to operation and maintenance of
The comment above does not address the infrastructure of SoCalGas that will be exposed to enhanced corrosion damage due to the abandoned wells’ exposure to the Conservancy approved creation of a fully tidal saltwater bay’s inundation. Such saltwater contamination harm will only add to disturbances related to operation and maintenance of SoCalGas operations and those abandoned wells’ potential for leakage due to saltwater corrosion effects upon the metal infrastructures.
The comment does not address the relocation of replacement wells for the wells abandoned in Ballona Wetlands. The relocation is planned to place approximately 7 new wells within 100- to
several hundred feet from existing homes. The Conservancy’s approval of such occurrence is inconsistent with the Governor’s work to require new operational wells to have over 3,000 feet of buffer zone to protect residents from harmful oil/gas contamination. The City of Los Angeles and the County of Los Angeles similarly are attempting to secure a buffer zone of over 3,000 feet. (Map of well relocation in FEIR)
An extensive planning and public process for the restoration of the Ballona Reserve began in 2004. CDFW, the Conservancy, The Bay Foundation, the Corps, and many others have spent years working with the public, scientists, and other agencies to develop this proposed project to revitalize Ballona Reserve. The Conservancy, CDFW and The Bay Foundation held or attended more than 40 public meetings between 2004 and 2012. In 2006, the Conservancy established a
Science Advisory Committee composed of nationally recognized experts. Seven Science Advisory Committee meetings were held between 2006 and 2012, all of them open to the public. In 2006, the project team held a Saturday design charrette with more than 100…
In the beginning, the meetings were a hopeful start with actual communication. The interim management program allowed for public participation. However, as of 2005 when CDFW was actually the lead agency of its Title 14, Section 630 (NonMarine Ecological Reserve) specific Purpose and Goals, the Conservancy stepped in to manage the Ballona dialogue and ‘restoration studies’, without adherence to Title 14 Section 630 and did not fulfill its actual legal role as a Responsible Agency per Public Resource Code specifics. See the following PPT per failure of the Conservancy, CDFW and Bay Foundation to have transparent, open, meaningful communications.
The litany of ‘meetings’ above needs to have the agenda of each, scrutinized for anything that actually was related to Ballona as many, if not most became meetings off topic from Ballona itself, and without responsiveness to the public. The Science Advisory Meetings, while stated as ‘open to the public’, became mainly telephonic meetings that were not open to the public and even meeting minutes were not available to the public online or via Public Record Act requests.
(See redacted meeting minutes of the latest Public Record Act requests and apparent privatized meetings with only certain stakeholder groups- email April 2022 from Grassroots Coalition to the Coastal Conservancy)
In the main, most of what the public was able to tract and be a participant in was, writing numerous Public Record Act requests. The PRAs with queries included, in the main, responses that stated the queries were not PRA documents therefore there was no need of response.
Litigation also was often necessary to even retrieve PRA responses.
As for the Bay Foundation, it has been and continues to be a nonresponsive private business that also has incurred multiple lawsuits for its less than transparent behavior. The Conservancy’s Ballona Project Manager was also a board member of this private business. Conflict of interest and improper conduct has been the history of the Conservancy and the Bay Foundation as is also noted for the Conservancy in the Dept. of Finance Audit of 2011.
3. Promotion and implementation of state plans and policies:
Support of the public: There is significant support for the proposed project. The project is supported by Friends of Ballona Wetlands, Heal the Bay, Los Angeles Waterkeeper, California Audubon, Trust for Public Land, and Surfrider Foundation. There is also opposition to the project from several local organizations including: The Ballona Wetlands Land Trust,
Ballona Ecosystem Education Project, Defend Ballona Wetlands, and Grassroots Coalition. The extensive public comments on the EIR (Exhibit 2) were divided between comments supporting and opposing the proposed project.
The Conservancy language above is misleading. In Defense of Animals alone as an organization provided approximately 7,000 letters of opposition. The letters against the project overwhelmingly are against the Project. Additionally, Los Angeles Audubon Society opposes the project, an organization with the oldest education program at the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve. See a list of opposing organizations that the Conservancy excluded in the grant recommendation are below:
- Los Angeles Audubon Society
California’s General Obligation Bond Law, Government Code Section 16727(a). All of the work to be funded under this authorization is directly related to the Ballona Wetlands Restoration Project and therefore qualifies for funding under Proposition 12.
Proposition 12 funding had numerous purpose and goal attachments to its language, inconsistent with the current proposal to destroy Ballona Wetlands with an industrial scale excavation, to convert Ballona Wetlands into a fully tidal saltwater bay with the creation of enormous new levee structures on the perimeter of the Ecological Reserve. The levees are not habitat as they are flood control, roadway structures and under USACE levee regulations of
Vector Control to kill any burrowing creatures and keep the area as mowed grass.
The levees may become secondary kill zones via indirect killing of wildlife that feed upon poisoned moles, voles, rabbits etc.
The Prop 12 funding should be consistent with Ballona as a Title 14, Terrestrial, NonMarine Section 630 Ecological Reserve as Registered with the Office of Administrative Law.
The Prop. 12 funding should not be, as has here occurred, be public funds that are doled out by the Conservancy to CDFW without CDFW having provided an application for this grant. And its Land Manager not being apprised of the need for a grant application, and for the Land Manager to not be advised of the Conservancy’s grant procedures and process. Recent telephonic communications with the CDFW Land Manager demonstrate that the Land Manager is unable to discuss the grant process of the Conservancy and was unaware of any need for CDFW to place a grant application for funding.
The Conservancy again appears to be running this process to comport with its ‘preferred goal’ of ‘restoring the ebb and flow of the ocean’ which is inconsistent with the Fish and Game Commission’s approval and registration of Ballona as a Title 14, Terrestrial, NonMarine Ecological Reserve with its own specific Purpose and Goals.
The Conservancy violates and continues to avoid the premise for which Ballona was acquired.
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CONSISTENCY WITH CONSERVANCY’S ENABLING LEGISLATION:
The proposed project is consistent with Division 21, Chapter 6, Sections 31251-31270 of the Public Resources Code, which states that the Conservancy may provide grants to public agencies and nonprofit organizations for the purpose of “enhancement of coastal resources
that, because of indiscriminate dredging or filling ... have suffered loss of natural and scenic values.” The Ballona Reserve has lost many of its natural values through the deposit of approximately 3 million cubic yards of dredge material. The proposed project seeks to advance the restoration of ecological function at the Ballona Reserve. Consistent with Section 31253,
the Conservancy may provide up to the total cost of any coastal resource enhancement project and as the project funding is reserved specifically for Ballona Reserve, the proposed project is consistent with this section.
The proposed project is inconsistent with the Purpose and Goals for which Ballona Ecological Reserve was acquired under Title 14, Terrestrial, NonMarine Ecological Reserve Section 630 approved by the Fish and Game Commission and registered with the Office of Administrative Law in 2005. As noteworthy in this grant, the Conservancy, once again fails to alert the Board Members and the public to the Title 14, NonMarine Section 630 Ballona Ecological Reserve’s approved status of induction into the Ecological Reserve system of California.
(See also, earlier response to this matter)
“The proposed project is consistent with Division 21, Chapter 6, Sections 31251-31270 of the Public Resources Code, which states that the Conservancy may provide grants to public agencies and nonprofit organizations for the purpose of “enhancement of coastal resources...”
The proposed project is inconsistent with Division 21, Chapter 6, Sections 31251-31270 of the Public Resource Code because the Fish & Game Code 1745 also states that such grants to public agencies and nonprofit organizations shall adhere to the reasons for which the land was acquired. Title 14, Section 630 (Terrestrial, NonMarine Ecological Reserve) specific Purpose and Goals of Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve carry the force of law and yet the Conservancy does not adhere to this Registered language of the Ballona ER. Instead, the Conservancy has inserted a purpose and goal not approved, namely ‘to restore the ebb and flow of the ocean’. This non approved goal is at the heart of this grant to fund another hydraulics study of contaminated water flow within the proposed saltwater bay to be contained by new perimeter levees at the edge of the Ecological Reserve.
The Ballona Channel is not part of the Ecological Reserve boundary area and there are no new agreements provided by either the Conservancy or CDFW to demonstrate there is any support for this proposed embayment from either USACE or the County of Los Angeles. If such agreements existed, then the request could/should alert the public and the County Supervisors and USACE.
The proposed project is consistent with Division 21, Chapter 9, Sections 31400 et seq. of the Public Resources Code, which directs the Conservancy to take a principal role in the implementation of a system of public accessways so that the public can exercise its right to access and enjoy coastal resources. Consistent with Section 31400.1, the Conservancy may award grants to public agencies to develop lands for public access purposes to and along the coast.
The proposed project is consistent with Section 31113 of the Public Resources Code, which directs the Conservancy to undertake projects that address the impacts of climate change, including “using natural ecological systems or processes to reduce vulnerability to climate change related hazards, or other related climate change effects, while increasing the long-term adaptive capacity of coastal and inland areas by perpetuating or restoring ecosystem services”. This project reduces existing vulnerability of the Ballona Reserve to the impacts of sea level rise and restores ecological process and ecosystem services. Finally, the proposed project is consistent with Section 31111 of the Public Resources Code, which authorizes the Conservancy to implement Division 21 by awarding grants to public
agencies and nonprofit organizations to prepare plans and feasibility studies and provide technical assistance. Section 31017 of the Public Resources Code defines the term “public agency” to include state agencies
CONSISTENCY WITH LOCAL COASTAL PROGRAM POLICIES:
A Local Coastal Program was never completed for the Ballona Reserve area. However, the proposed project is consistent with the policies of the Coastal Act. The project goals are consistent with the Coastal Act goals as stated in Public Resources Code Section 30001.5, as the proposed project will protect, enhance, and restore the natural resources of the site and
expand public recreational opportunities consistent with conservation of those resources
The Project is inconsistent with the Coastal Act as the actions of the Conservancy as a Responsible Agency having managed the studies of Ballona, have not provided for transparency and fulfillment of a project plan that would provide protection and enhancement to Ballona’s freshwater resources, its saltmarsh and its Belding’s Savannah Sparrow and attendant habitat (Section 630 Ballona Purpose and Goals). The Conservancy was party to all of the studies and work via the Bay Foundation and failed to advise CDFW of its irresponsible activities that have harmed the hydrology and ecosystems of Ballona. The Draft Environmental document failed to alert the public and agencies to the Coastal Act violation of harming the hydrology and ecosystems of Ballona via the unpermitted drainage of freshwater away from Ballona via unpermitted Drains. Instead of restoring the natural resources of Ballona, the Conservancy and CDFW under the Conservancy’s consult, harmed the hydrology and ecosystems of Ballona during the project studies to the present because of continued dewatering that CDFW and the Conservancy have management oversight. Neither have provided any attempt to fulfill the required Land Management Plan and/or a Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem evaluation under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. There has only been a pattern and practice of ignoring the natural resources of Ballona in order to further an agenda and goal not approved by the Fish & Game Commission and that was not a part of the Wildlife Conservation Board’s approvals for Ballona’s acquisition.
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CONSISTENCY WITH CONSERVANCY’S 2018-2022 STRATEGIC PLAN GOAL(S) & OBJECTIVE(S):
Consistent with Goal 2, Objective E of the Conservancy’s 2018-2022 Strategic Plan, the proposed project will design trails that will connect to the coast. Consistent with Goal 6, Objective A of the Conservancy’s 2018-2022 Strategic Plan, the proposed project will develop a restoration plan for a coastal habitat.
The Conservancy is inconsistent with its role as Responsible Agency wherein it advises the lead agency which is CDFW.
The Conservancy is inconsistent in its “proposed project…develop(ing) a restoration plan for a coastal habitat.” The Conservancy is not the lead agency. The Conservancy’s goals are inconsistent with the approved and registered Fish & Game Commission’s Title 14, Section 630 (Non Marine Ecological Reserve) specific Purpose and Goals for Ballona Ecological Reserve.
The Ballona Wetlands Restoration Project Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Draft Environmental Impact Report (September 2017) (State Clearinghouse No. 2012071090; “Draft EIR”) was released for public review on September 25, 2017. The public comment period on the
Draft EIR was extended once and closed on February 5, 2018. On December 18, 2019, CDFW released the Final Ballona Wetlands Restoration Project EIR (“Final EIR”). As described in section
1.2 of the Final EIR, it is made up of the Draft EIR, CDFW’s responses to comments on the Draft EIR, and CDFW’s revisions to the Draft EIR.
The Conservancy’s role with respect to funding the restoration project is that of a CEQA responsible agency. A responsible agency follows the process laid out in14 Cal. Code of Regulations Section 15096 (CEQA Guidelines). Generally, a responsible agency is a government agency that issues permits to or partially funds another agency’s project. Accordingly, in order to proceed with the funding of the Ballona Wetlands Restoration project, the Conservancy must comply with section 15096. That section requires the responsible agency to consider the environmental effects disclosed in the lead agency’s EIR then to reach its own conclusions on whether and how to approve the project involved. That section also requires the responsible agency to make findings (under CEQA Guidelines Section 15091) for each significant effect of the project. Staff’s recommended set of actions below with respect to the Conservancy’s responsible agency role in this project are consistent with actions taken by otherpublic agencies in a CEQA responsible agency role.
The Conservancy has acted as the lead agency rather than acting as Responsible Agency.
Contrary to Ca. Code Section 15096, the Conservancy, in its management of the studies and insertion of its own purpose and goals for Ballona has acted outside its role as a Responsible Agency and instead improperly acted as lead agency and has not adhered to the Fish & Game Commission’s approval and registration of Ballona Wetlands under Title 14, Section 630 (Non-Marine Ecological Reserve) with specific Purpose and Goals.
Staff has reviewed CDFW’s EIR for the Ballona Wetlands Restoration project and has further reviewed CDFW’s CEQA Findings and Mitigation
‘Section 15096 - Process for a Responsible Agency (a) General. ... A responsible agency shall respond to consultation by the lead agency in order to assist the lead agency in preparing adequate environmental documents for the project.’ Cal code section 15096
SCC failed to utilize and embrace and consult per the title 14, section 630
And instead has worked throughout its involvement with Ballona Wetlands to promote its own agenda, inserting its own purpose and goals which align with section 632 (Marine Preserve) without naming it. The Conservancy, without providing a Petition for Revocation to change the status of Ballona via the Fish & Game Commission and without garnering an approval for such change has inserted its own purpose and goals, namely ‘to restore the ebb and flow of the ocean’.
(g) Adoption of Alternatives or Mitigation Measures.
(1) When considering alternatives and mitigation measures, a responsible agency is more limited than a lead agency. A responsible agency has responsibility for mitigating or avoiding only the direct or indirect environmental effects of those parts of the project which it decides to carry out, finance, or approve.
(2) When an EIR has been prepared for a project, the Responsible Agency shall not approve the project as proposed if the agency finds any feasible alternative or feasible mitigation measures within its powers that would substantially lessen or avoid any significant effect the project would have on the environment. With respect to a project which includes housing development, the responsible agency shall not reduce the proposed number of housing units as a mitigation measure if it determines that there is another feasible specific mitigation measure available that will provide a comparable level of mitigation.
(h) Findings. The responsible agency shall make the findings required by Section 15091 for each significant effect of the project and shall make the findings in Section 15093 if necessary.
Please review this inappropriate and ill-advised grant recommendation and provide response to the public.
Thank you for your attention to these matters of grave environmental concern and widespread public outcry and concern,
Patricia McPherson, Grassroots Coalition