Ballona Wetlands

Showdown at Ballona Gap

By John Davis

Last year the Beachhead reported illegal drainage systems had been installed in the Ballona Ecological Reserve. The overall effect was to dry out and ruin the wetlands by preventing groundwater recharge that occurs when rainwater seeps into the soils. This is what keeps the wetlands wet. Grassroots Coalition, a local non-profit dedicated to protecting the environment, initiated the complaint to the Coastal Commission last year leading up to the showdown at the Ballona Gap.

The California Coastal Commission demanded that the Playa Capital limited liability company (PC) stop destroying the State owned wetlands. PC is the shady money behind the gargantuan Playa Vista Project. Deceptively, PC insisted to the Coastal Commission enforcement staff that the drains were legal and approved by the Commission as part of a Coastal Development Permit.
After several months, on April 14, the Commission called PC on their numerous lies in support of their claim. The Commission went through each argument and refuted all of them, leaving PC without a leg to stand on.

PC claimed that the City wanted the drains installed to prevent flooding on Jefferson Blvd, which is nonsense. The Coastal Commission gave PC until April 25 to contact them and agree to a consent cease and desist order, whereby they would admit their guilt, remove the systems that have been damaging the environment for over 7 years, and pay penalties which could be very substantial, given the length of time the illegal drains have operated. In 2013, there was little rain, but what fell was drained away. Playa Capital hates groundwater because it interferes in the Playa Vista development, PC’s bread and butter.

The Playa Vista development is situated in a flood plain delta and at the end of Ballona Creek. The LA River spilled into the creek before it changed course in the 1800s. Groundwater still flows in the former river channel under the development. This causes problems for Playa Capital because of the hydrostatic pressures caused by the massive amounts of groundwater pushing against the underground foundation and parking garages of the project as it flows to the wetlands and then the ocean.

To overcome this problem, the project has installed a complex of pumps in the basements of many of its buildings. The State Water Code defines such unnatural extractions of groundwater as “water wells” and the groundwater is defined as State property, “waters of the State”. There is no evidence that PC complied with laws required to install such wells.

Playa Capital did obtain permits to discharge groundwater, but apparently, not to extract it. Since the installation of these wells Playa Capital has wasted vast amounts of public groundwater and discharged it to the surface and into the sewer. This has prevented the upper level of groundwater from flowing down gradient to replenish the Ballona wetlands. Add to that the fact that the same business is also responsible for the illegal drains in the wetlands, and that spells trouble for PC. The State Porter Cologne Act designated the Santa Monica groundwater basin and the Venice sub-basin as potential sources of drinking water. Rather than allowing the groundwater resources called aquifers to recharge from rainwater, PC is causing them to dry out. And, given the drought we are in and the importance of water conservation today, the only one who profits from the destruction of public groundwater resources is Playa Capital LLC, while the rest of us pay the price for its demonstrable greed. That groundwater is now forever lost to future generations. And, the amount of damage to wildlife using the Pacific Flyway to survive is immeasurable.

The Beachhead published two recent articles in its March and April 2014 editions about another private business, calling itself the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation, or the Bay Foundation, exposing the truth of its formation and how it provided employees of the business to purportedly act as agents of the State Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission. For instance, around 2005, a paid employee named Shelly Luce walked into the State Commission, claimed she was its Executive Director, and then proceeded to impersonate an agent of the State for years, while the State Commission just played along. On April 24, Luce claimed she resigned from the Commission, knowing it was impossible for an impostor to resign from a position she was never appointed to. The Commission went along with this charade and gave her an award. This is like giving a medal to a general who drops a bomb on the wrong village, to cover it up. The incorporator of this business is Katherine Tyrrell, who has been employed by Playa Capital LLC, which is responsible for the illegal wetland drains described above.

Categories: Ballona Wetlands