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Tidal Channel at Ballona

By Cindy Hardin

The usual flurry of seasonal activity is happening at the wetlands right now. The migratory birds that have made Ballona their winter home are preparing for their spring journey to northern climes. The wildflowers are coming into bloom, in spite of our paucity of rain this year. Of course, the bloom is nowhere near as profuse as the one that burst forth during last year’s abundant rains. But, our native plants are adapted to cope with drought years, and are displaying gorgeous blossoms. After pollination by busy insects, the flowers will soon go to seed, and drift into the soil to await next year’s rains and sprout anew. It’s a great time to visit Ballona during our first Saturday Open Wetlands event. We will be there on March 3rd and April 6th from 9 am to noon-please come down to take a look.

On a larger level, the State recently published a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) that described plans by the Department of Fish and Wildlife for a “restoration” of the wetlands. Unfortunately, the proposal favored three alternatives that have caused serious concerns regarding the fate of the Ballona. During the month of January I was a part of a steering committee whose intent was to develop a well argued, cogent rebuttal to the State’s plans. For me, it was an incredible experience. The group met weekly the entire month, and was composed of longtime Ballona activists who had way more knowledge than I of the history of the site, and how to effectively respond to a DEIR. Some of the things that I learned included:

  • A DEIR must offer “a reasonable range of alternatives”. The three alternatives favored by the state were essentially three iterations of the same proposal. All three included removing at least part of the levees along the creek and flooding Parcel A, which is bordered by Fiji Way on the north and Ballona Creek on the south. This would convert what is currently upland habitat and seasonal freshwater wetlands into a full tidal wetland, permanently displacing many animals that currently reside in the parcel. As studies by our own Travis Longcore have shown, Ballona was primarily a closed, freshwater system, with only occasional full tidal inundation. None of the alternatives offered the option to enhance freshwater marsh area, so the DEIR did not offer that “reasonable range of alternatives”.
  • The DEIR proposed massive removal of soil in Area A, and proposed to deposit 40 foot high mounds in Area C (east of Lincoln and north of Culver Blvd.) and to construct 20 foot high berms along sections of Lincoln, Culver and Jefferson, thus destroying scenic views that are mandated by the state to be provided at sensitive coastal locations like Ballona.
  • Fuller tidal flow was also advocated for Area B (north of Culver, west of the ocean, and south of the creek), which would create saltwater incursion toward the beautiful riparian habitat at the base of the Westchester Bluffs. The Eucalyptus Grove at the base of the bluffs, which is used as a roosting and nesting area by the Great Horned Owl, would also be adversely affected.
  • The State only permits restorations of sites like Ballona. Since there were no alternatives offered that included enhancement of historic freshwater marshland, the alternatives offered were more “creation” in nature, rather than restoration. In spite of this, throughout the document the project was referred to as “restoration”.
  • A DEIR is intended to be a tool to inform the public in a reasonable fashion. The document, including its appendices, was almost 8,000 pages long, which for the average citizen is far from a reasonable amount of reading material to cover.
  • When responding to a document like this, it is best to ask questions about points of concern. The State is required to respond to the questions posed by every individual who responds. This creates the need for the State to read the comments thoroughly and take note of the concerns of citizens.

The points listed above are but a few of the many flaws in the State’s proposals. It would take many pages to list all of the issues that are problematic. For me, it was a privilege to spend time with so many brilliant and well informed activists on a weekly basis and have the opportunity to learn how to push back on the content of a government document. I felt like I was attending a college level seminar whose subject was a place that is so near and dear to my heart. I would like to express a huge thanks to all who gave their time and generously shared information and strategies during the response period, including our own Board of Los Angeles Audubon.

I am newly inspired to try to make a difference on the management of this very special habitat that is in our midst. Although the public comment period closed on February 5th, it is still not too late to urge our elected officials to advocate for a different approach to Ballona. You can comment to any state politician of your choice, from your local city council person all the way to Senator Feinstein and Senator Harris. I urge you to do so-your voice matters, and so do the wetlands.

Burrowing Owl at entrance

Burrowing Owls at Entrance

Brown Pelicans at Ballona

Brown Pelicans at Ballona