By John Davis
Two items appeared on the December 17 agenda at the Board of Supervisors.
First, Don Knabe, a Republican whose district includes Marina del Rey and the Ballona Wetlands backed off his motion to oppose renaming an existing roadway the “ Ballona Highway,” as proposed by Los Angeles City Councilperson Mike Bonin, a Democrat, who values the existing freshwater wetlands.
There were a lot of people wearing green shirts that read, “DON’T BULLDOZE BALLONA” at the hearing. They spoke of the value of promoting the natural beauty of the State Ecological Reserve by naming a local highway after it. The public criticized Knabe for backward thinking, like his predecessor from the 1950s, Burton Chase, who claimed the wetlands were a “mosquito infested swamp,” in an attempt to diminish the obvious ecological value of a thriving coastal freshwater wetland.
When one speaker claimed Knabe was downplaying the value of Ballona because the county Dpt. Of Public Works, without any public input and without the knowledge of the other supervisors, applied for a 408 Flood Control Permit from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, Los Angeles District, in the spring of 2013. The project would bulldoze the entire Ecological Reserve and turn it into a retention basin for upstream point-source polluters. The people would then pay to dredge the toxic sediments on a regular basis, rather than stopping the upstream polluters from doing it in the first place.
Knabe, in a very animated way, lurched in his leather chair and put his hands in the air as if to surrender, then withdrew his thoughtless motion.
The preservationists were there for another item too. It regarded the county’s inclusion of the Ballona Wetlands in a motion that would require the taxpayers to foot the bill for the massive project. The revenues would then be provided to the USACE to use for the project.
The public objected to paying for a flood control project at Ballona because an effective project was already built by the USACE under the U.S. Rivers and Harbors Act of 1941 and improved by the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1954. And, it has worked for 70 years without fail. The new proposal would slow the velocity of the floodwaters down before discharging into the sea and bring them closer to homes and infrastructure. And, given the rise of sea level associated with global warming, inviting the ocean closer to homes and infrastructure is backward thinking. Rather than offering protection, the project invites catastrophic flooding from storm surges and periodic large storms. When taken in conjunction with astronomical high tides, the project opens the floodgates onto homes and businesses.
The public also objected to the widespread destruction and killing of wildlife that would occur as wetlands were dredged and filled. And, the course of Ballona Creek would be bent to slow the discharge of storm waters to the sea.
Existing plans show high seawalls would be constructed along Fiji Way, Lincoln, and Jefferson Blvd. that would block scenic views now enjoyed by millions of people, including tourists that generate capital for local businesses. The ten-year duration of the project and the impacts from air, noise, soil, and water pollution were brought to the attention of the Supervisors, as was increased traffic congestion. Knabe disappeared for the second item and left it to three Democrats and one Republican, Mike Antonovich, to decide.
Much to the happiness of preservationists, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky (for Venice) quizzed county staff about why Ballona was in the proposed item. Staff proffered no answer that satisfied. Then he asked them if removing Ballona would have any impact. Both staff members stated that removing Ballona would have absolutely no effect on the motion. Republican Antonovich then suggested that we make these people happy and remove Ballona, if it did not affect the item.
Then, the staff commented that it would have an effect, contradicting their prior statements. When pressed by Yaroslavsky, they could not explain themselves. The Supervisor then asked them, if he waited a few more minutes, would they come up with another, different answer. He was not happy. When Mark Ridley-Thomas, another Democrat, asked exactly what California Environmental Quality Act process the county would implement for the project, there were no answers. This is because the county does not intend to implement CEQA. The Department of Public Works wants to let another agency conduct the environmental review over the County Flood Control District, with no legal authority. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has already announced it will act as Lead Agency for CEQA purposes, not only for the Ecological Preserve it administers, but also for the Ballona Creek Flood Control Channel, which is the exclusive jurisdiction of the County of Los Angeles. So, Ridley-Thomas caught the county staff trying to pull the wool over his eyes.
But Yaroslavsky, Ridley-Thomas , Gloria Molina, and Bonin all came through for Ballona, demanding that staff come back with answers next time. Yaroslavsky moved the item to be continued until January 7, it was seconded by Ridley-Thomas, and passed with no dissenting vote.
Los Angeles City Councilperson Bonin did nature a solid with his action to memorialize the value of the Ballona Wetlands, which promotes awareness of this immensely important public asset.
Low level County staffers and the State Department of Fish and Wildlife have been engaged in a stealth marketing campaign, trying to paint the wiping out of the Ballona Ecological Reserve as a “restoration”. However, the people are beginning to understand the truth now, and they want to protect the last vestiges of coastal freshwater wetlands in California.
See: Stealth Flood Control Project -Venice Beachhead 1/2012: bit.ly/1dXNGW0.