By John Davis
Councilperson Mike Bonin could have made a positive impact on the Ballona Wetlands, but failed to comment on behalf of the City as the County Board of Supervisors voted to approve a Memorandum of Understanding to fast-track a flood control project that would bulldoze all 600 acres of the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve. He probably wants the people who voted for him to believe it is in the County’s hands.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas led the County Board of Supervisors to vote for what he called a restoration. Zev Yaroslavsky, who represents Venice, abstained without comment.
Changing the course of Ballona creek will invite flooding rather than preventing it, letting ocean water come closer to homes and businesses. Storms and tidal surges would be brought one step closer, thanks to the Supervisor’s thoughtless approval. And it threatens the City of Los Angeles, too. High levees are planned along Fiji Way, Lincoln Blvd, and Jefferson Blvd. that would block existing public views of the wetlands. And if they failed in a flood, we are reminded of Hurricane Katrina and the failure of levees there.
The lower reach of Ballona Creek is a Federal Flood Control Project constructed in 1941 and modified in 1954 under the U.S. Rivers and Harbors Act. In 1998 the U.S. Congress asked the local Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) to report back on recommended alterations for the purposes of flood control and the environment, inclusive of the fresh groundwater aquifers found in Ballona, which have been designated as a “Potential Source of Drinking Water” under the State Porter Cologne Act. The proposed project would ruin fresh groundwater resources by inviting saltwater to invade. The County is ignoring the fact that it is the U.S. Congress that must by law approve alterations, not just the local USACE District and the County Supervisors.
The private business behind this mess called itself the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation (SMRBF). A former State of California Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (LARWQCB) employee, Catherin Tyrrell, who latter worked for Playa Vista, was the incorporator. As late as 2010 SMRBF deceptively listed its physical address as 320 W. 4th Street, Suite 200, Los Angeles. This is the address of a State Office she used to work for, the LARWQCB.
Between the time the Articles of Incorporation were filed with the Secretary of the State in 1990 and 2010, SMRBF sucked off the public tit. For twenty years it used basement offices, phones, computers, meeting rooms, insurance and electricity, all provided at State expense for a private entity. SMRBF Board members included Assemblyman Richard Bloom. Mary Small of the California Coastal Conservancy also shared the Board with others closely associated with major energy concerns. They were caught by the public and forced to move to Loyola University around 2010. Executive Officers of the LARWQCB let this parasitic group consume the public resources for decades until the public began to complain.
Later in 2002, a State Agency with a similar name was created by the legislature, named the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission (SMRBC). This is appears to be a case of mimicry.
Subsequently SMRBF provided a website that claimed to represent the SMRBC and itself at the same time, blurring the distinction between the two. That was changed after the public discovered what was happening. Private business should not claim to represent the State of California, yet this was the case for years.
Recently SMRBF fled from its old name and now calls itself the Bay Foundation.
According to the IRS, Shelly Luce is the President and Executive Director of the business entity SMRBF, and was formerly associated with Heal the Bay. Luce also claims that she is the Executive Director of the SMRBC, a State Agency.
However, she is not a State employee nor is there a public description of her duties, responsibilities, or powers as they relate to the State’s business. She purports to conduct the State’s business by using a private email account with no public access. Luce has signed important documents on behalf of SMRBC with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. The problem is that the State SMRBC cannot produce records of her actions in this respect and she has failed to disclose them at public meetings. The records were, however, obtained from the Army under a Freedom Of Information Act.
The SMRBC consists of very important political types like the Secretary of Resources and Secretary of the Environment, for instance. Bonin represents the City of Los Angeles, owning a seat on the Governing Board. Deputy Nate Kaplin attends the meetings. Yet, they have allowed this charade to continue uninterrupted and without question.
For years Luce has directed the Governing Board of SMRBC to approve money that was deposited into the accounts of SMRBF, absent from any State control. SMRBF then reported them to the IRS as revenue.
A State Treasury Account was created for the SMRBC to induct funds from any source allocated by the State Assembly to improve Santa Monica Bay and the Ballona Wetlands. The State has made no allocations, however. Other funding sources from both State and Federal have come into play, which could have and should have been deposited in the State Treasury, where they could have been publicly tracked.
Rather than allowing the funding to reach the State, in a ruse Luce has directed the SMRBC Governing Board, including Bonin, to approve depositing every cent into accounts controlled by the private business she directs. The Treasury Account has remained empty since the SMRBC was created. The inferred logic presented is that the State cannot afford to provide an Executive Director and that the State cannot afford to account for funds, so the private SMRBF has ridden to rescue California by assuming those jobs. They are more like corporate raiders.
G. Wang, a Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Board employee, signed at least one application to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on behalf of the State for a grant under the U.S. Clean Water Act. The funds were deposited into the private accounts of SMRBF. Around 2006 a million dollar settlement from the California Public Utilities Commission was directed to the SMRBC, but was deposited into the private SMRBF account, without ever reaching the State, as intended.
In a recent Financial Disclosure required by the California Fair Political Practices Act of 1972, Luce claimed that she did not file a Schedule C to the IRS, and reported no income. However, public IRS documents from SMRBF clearly demonstrate she has had an income exceeding $100,000 that same year. There is clearly a contradiction here. The question begged is why Luce has failed to disclose income she received from the private SMRBF as its Executive Director?
On January 14th Luce testified to the County Supervisors that the SMRBC had requested that the County apply for permits from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to alter the Federal Ballona Creek Flood Control Project. However, there is no record of the Governing Board of the SMRBC ever considering or approving it, nor did Luce disclose this fact at any public meeting.
When asked under the California Public Records Act, the County could not produce a request from SMRBC. It looks like Luce just whispered into a low level County staff member’s ear, and the County Department of Public Works started this massive stealth project on that basis alone, with no public record at all. She is trying to fly under the radar, undetected. But that is not easy when six hundred public acres are at risk from bulldozers.
The County first claimed the documents it submitted to the U.S. Army were provided by the SMRBC. This is not the case. After making a legal request for the records that the County submitted to the Army, Patricia McPherson of Grassroots Coalition, a Venice-based environmental non-profit, was referred to a private website to download the 408 Flood Control Project materials. It was not a State website. It appeared to be an .ftp download site for the private SMRBF.
When other County staff members became aware of this, they disallowed further access to the site with no explanation. But McPherson was able to obtain some of the documents first.
The State of California did not ask the County for this Project and there is no record to validate that claim made on the record by Luce. She previously signed a letter asking the USACE Los Angeles District to withdraw from a 2005 Joint Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement project that would have answered to the 1998 Congressional request. Again, she did this on behalf of the SMRBC. Sadly, this was not approved or even disclosed to the Governing Board of the SMRBC at a public meeting, leaving the public in the dark.
Luce’s written request was provided by the USACE, but when the SMRBC was asked, it could not produce the same record at the State level.
This is how she plays it, fast and loose, assuming the collective public intellect will not catch on to the overblown shell game. But we have. And it is not her game alone – the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission has known about this for years and taken no action. They only approve, in lock-step, without ever a dissenting vote, including that of Councilperson Mike Bonin.
It looks like Bonin’s motion to rename State Road 90 was nothing more than a dodge to hide his true intentions of assisting in bulldozing 600 acres of the last freshwater wetlands in California. All for an ill-conceived flood control project. Since he has taken office, he has voted yes to every destructive Ballona agenda item when present at SMRBC meetings, just like every other Commissioner. The analog is the pied piper leading rats off a cliff, with no objections from the unquestioning community, with Luce playing the role of the piper.
The County made the false claim that the Ballona Bulldozing Project was environmentally acceptable.
It decided to skip a step. The Board of Supervisor was first required to have a project approved under the California Environmental Quality Act, with public hearings. In this case it did not.
Decades of experience with County and City already inform Angelinos to watch the Supervisor and City Council with a microscope because that is where the cheating is done on a normal basis.