By John Davis
Finally, after decades of environmental abuse, the California Coastal Commission put a stop to draining the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve. The proponents of the garguantuan Playa Vista Project installed the illegal drains over a decade ago.
It appears the developer wanted to degrade the value of one of the last vestages of freshwater coastal wetlands in the State by drying them out so it could build a private flood control system. The claimed reason was the wetlands were so badly damaged, they would have to be restored. But restoration was not the true plan, it was to build a private flood control system, euphmisticlay named the Freshwater Marsh System, and it was not finished.
Now, the State Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) is recycling the same sorry lie again in its current plans. This is the case of a fireman starting a fire and then reporting it. It should not happen this way, and the public should not be duped again. What is currently being branded a wetlands restoration is not that at all, it is a creation of something new that was not there before, and it is illegal to do that according to the California Coastal Act.
The State purchased the land West of Lincoln Blvd from Playa Vista, but then allowed the massive development to continue using it for a private purpose, with no benefit to the public. It was cleverly disguised as a benefit to nature. In reality, the Playa Vista Development has been draining the wetlands upstream by pumping public ground water into the sewer and directly into Ballona Creek, disallowing recharge of the water table.
It is illegal to draw down groundwater beyond its historic average according to the State Water Code, but this appears to be exactly what the developers and elected officials have been hiding from the public. In long droughts such as the one California is now experiencing, groundwater can be used for public purposes, but not if it is flushed down the sewer by a private business to the detriment of the owners of the water, the people of the State of California.
The sad truth is elected officials, like LA Council Member Mike Bonin, who was there at the beginning in 1991, acting as Chief of Staff for then Council Member Ruth Galanter, have perpetuated this legacy of deception into real-time.
Other elected State representatives have all helped hide it too. Currently, paid employees of the State Lands Commission (SLC) and Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) are deeply involved in the cover-up. Both agencies own part of the flood control project. And, both are now trying to assist the developers in doing it again, in order to complete the unfinished private flood control system on purpose on public land.
In order to accomplish this despicable act, SLC Executive Officer Jennifer Lucchesi is remaining quiet and DFW Executive Director Charles Bonham claims that the wetlands are so degraded they need to be restored. Both are now responsible for maintaining this false claim to the public.
After a local non-profit, Grassroots Coalition, sued and beat DFW in court, the agency was forced to apply for a Coastal Development Permit to cease the drainage. To avoid the inevitable, Executive Director Charles Bonham’s staff lied on the application claiming the drains were not in a wetland. Adding insult to injury, the Developers of the Playa Vista Project submitted fraudulent methane, groundwater, and wetland delineation reports to the Commission.
The Long Beach staff of the Commission, Teresa Henry and Mandy Revelle did everything they could to assist the cover-up by claiming the Developers submitted those reports on behalf of the State, which was patently false. Staff of that office have been directly engaged in the deception since 1991. This is the power of money speaking.
However, in December, the Coastal Commissioners recognized the nefarious assertions of its own staff and ruled against what DFW Director Charles Bonham wanted. They unanimously required the offender to immediately place a cap on the drains to stop continuing damage to the resource and to prepare an Environmental Impact Report in 180 days, so the drains could be completely removed.
Kevin Taki, the attorney for DFW begged the Commission to wait until the new process to “restore” (DESTROY), the wetlands was under way and then take them out.
Commissioners then asked him how long it would take, and all he could do was trip over his own tongue, trying to provide an answer.
All Commissioners then agreed that draining the wetlands for over-twenty years was enough, and the structures had to be removed. This has rocked the plans to finish the private flood control project on public lands because the DFW failed to even acknowledge the drains were there in its current proposal.
Now, this new honest process will legally interfere in the dishonest plans the Playa Vista Developer, SLC, and DFW have worked so hard to promote for the last five years, by revealing the truth to the public. The proposed “restoration” constitutes a gift of public funds prohibited by the State Constitution and the Coastal Act disallows creation of a big hole and 40ft levees along Lincoln and Jefferson Blvd to replace existing wetlands.
DFW then tried to foist its last desperate argument, and said it would cost too much to comply with the law. None of the Coastal Commissioners bought it. The Executive Director of the Commission, John Ainsworth, finally said what was on his mind, that the DFW should sue the Playa Vista Developers to get the money to pay for removing the drains, since that private business built the illegal pipes in the first place. In this case, speaking truth to power really worked.
Grassroots Coalition Website – SaveBallona.Org