The Board of Supervisors’ approval on January 14th to fund expedited Corps of Engineers review of various public works projects, including the Ballona Wetlands Restoration Project, brings us one small step closer to returning the Ballona Wetlands to its former glory. Friends of Ballona Wetlands supported the Supervisors' vote to approve. One of the alternative restoration plans under review would create a meandering stream open to the tides instead of the present concrete channel, which spills the Ballona Watershed's freshwater into the ocean, bypassing the remaining wetlands, long-separated from the tides by the same channel. The remake would tear down down the manmade channel that encased Ballona Creek more than 70 years ago. Friends of Ballona Wetlands are awaiting the EIR review of all the project alternatives before recommending a preferred plan.
Like many similar proposals unrealized – most notably the Hetch Hetchy Dam that flooded the "other Yosemite Valley" – the state’s expected “preferred alternative” for the Ballona Project would undo that well-intended but poorly planned piece of last century flood control infrastructure which unintentionally strangled the Ballona Wetlands by cutting it off from its life source: daily tidal ebb and flow and upstream freshwater input. The County then compounded the destruction by building Marina del Rey, when hydraulic dredges pulverized hundreds of acres of soil, water and wetland vegetation and pumped the muddy slurry on top of 200 wetland acres that formerly existed north of Ballona Creek and west of the Marina Freeway. Now 14 to17 feet high and covered mostly with weeds, these 3 million cubic yards of fill dirt must be removed to feasibly restore any tidal or freshwater wetland habitat there. This vast pile of dredge waste must be excavated down to 2 feet or lower elevation before incoming tides OR freshwater from upstream will again nourish the land as they had done prior to Marina construction. This work, and removal of the concrete flood control channel, cannot realistically be accomplished by any other means than large scale mechanized excavation and regrading. The people shouting at the Board of Supervisors meeting like Tea Partiers, wearing “Don’t Bulldoze Ballona” tee shirts, oppose any such righting of those historical environmental wrongs. Their numerous past public actions document this fanatical opposition.
As litigants in 2002 opposing the now wildly successful Ballona Freshwater Marsh project , the Ballona Institute also opposed removing invasive iceplant from the Ballona Wetlands in 2008 . In 2012, Ballona Institute unsuccessfully opposed the now-thriving Malibu Lagoon wetland restoration , and now seemingly oppose any comprehensive, meaningful state restoration of the Ballona Wetlands. Their directors have publicly (and so far, unsuccessfully) pitched area Neighborhood Councils and clubs to adopt ill-advised resolutions opposing any Ballona restoration plan incorporating mechanized excavation and grading , even before such state plans are subjected to environmental analysis. Ballona Institute’s consistent positions and repeated failed resolutions and litigation opposing well-planned wetland restoration projects are a matter of public record.
Knowing full well such work must employ bulldozers, scrapers and backhoes (as distasteful as that may sound), Ballona Institute, Ballona Wetlands Land Trust, and Sierra Club continue to openly and actively oppose any such plans. Ballona Institute director Hanscom was recently quoted as saying, “the county has taken a lot from the wetlands to build Marina del Rey and it’s time they give something back.”  Removing the concrete flood channel and giving back the 200 acres of wetlands buried by Marina development would be a good start, but Hanscom’s organization campaigns against any feasible plans to do so, instead wearing kitschy tee shirts and shouting untruths at any public meeting where restoration plans are discussed. These groups and their leaders are no credible advocates for wetland restoration, at Ballona or anywhere else.
Enjoy your Ballona Wetlands, and keep your eye on the prize!