Commission of Errors: The Continuing Fight to Save Our Environment

By John Davis

It’s bulldozers versus nature all over again in Ballona. The Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation, a non-profit corporation, was just stopped by legal injunction from dredging the Malibu Lagoon, and now that Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, a State Agency, is dead set on destroying the Ballona Wetlands, calling it a “restoration.”

The SMBRC is funneling money into non-profits preferred by its board members and staff who also serve on the non-profit corporations that get the money.

Other local non-profits which are equally capable, if not more so, are excluded from the process.

The Sierra Club held a meeting to discuss valid alternatives to the SMBRC plan. The general consensus of all groups present was that it was not necessary to destroy a wetland to restore it.

Local non-profits have been frozen out of the process in favor of a tight knit clique which exercises total control of the process and the state and federal money involved.

The State Commission simply wants to dig a big hole in the salt marsh to act as a toilet for upstream developments. SMBRC is leading this insane charge while ignoring alternatives. The Commission claims it is restoring an estuary where none ever existed and ignores the giant estuary under their noses, Marina del Rey.

The players involved are SMBRC Governing Board Members like the Mayor of Santa Monica, Richard Bloom, L A City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl, County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, as well as the Director of California State Parks, the Secretaries of Environment and Resources, a member of the Coastal Commission, many other politicians, in concert with representatives of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, the E.P.A., and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Other members include representatives of local non-profits; Mark Gold of Heal the Bay and Katherine Tyrell of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation.

Here are some of the problems. The Commission meets in a gated yacht club in Marina del Rey. It announces its meetings on a private website, not a government-sanctioned site. The State Commission shares the website with a 501C3 Non-Profit Corporation called the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation.  This non-profit benefits from its association with the state while others are not allowed in. The foundation has even gone so far as to place the Great Seal of the State of California on their donation form, as if it were part of the State itself.

But it does not stop there. People associated with the foundation are acting as staff to SMBRC. Dr. Shelly Luce is Executive Director of the private foundation and also claims she is the Executive Director of the SMRBC.

The problem is that the California Public Resource Code requires that administrative services and personnel for the Commission “shall” be provided by the State Water Boards, not a parasitic non-profit corporation.

The result is that Dr. Luce directs the governing board of SMRBC to provide money to the very non-profit foundation which pays her. Tax documents from 2010 confirm that she received over $100,000 from the foundation.

The same tax document shows Richard Bloom and Mark Gold were also directors of the private corporation which gets money from the very state commission they both serve on. They appear to vote public money into their own private group(s). SMRBC recently approved over $600,000 for this purpose, and there has been a lot more public money wasted away.

Governing Board members of the SMBRC and some staff are required to disclose income to avoid conflicts of interest. The State Fair Political Practices Commission requires Dr. Luce, and Councilman Rosendahl and Mark Gold to file Financial Disclosure Forms to comply with the Fair Political Reform Act for instance.

Dr. Luce’s 2011 financial disclosure form fails to report the income she received from the foundation.  Mark Gold did not disclose any income he may have received from Heal the Bay in 2010. Rosendahl did not file the legally required disclosure at all in 2011.

The SMBRC appears to be rife with conflict, it stifles public participation and is leading to the destruction of the Ballona Wetlands.

Categories: Environment

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