A proposal to turn the fertile waters of Ballona Lagoon into a concrete-lined private marina for 450 boats met fierce opposition at a public meeting Tuesday night from environmentalists and residents who said the project would destroy a vital coastal habitat and worsen traffic problems.
More than 200 people packed the meeting room at Anchorage Street School near Marina del Rey to voice their opinions on the proposal before a panel of representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers, which is preparing environmental impact reports on the project, and the developer, Silver Strand Marina Assn.
Judith Hopkins, a marine biologist and member of the Oceanic Society, said destroying the narrow, shallow body of water between Marina del Rey and the Venice Peninsula would be a "terrible crime against our environment."
In addition to large populations of fish and shellfish, Hopkins said the shoreline around the lagoon is a breeding area for the least tern, a sea bird on the federal endangered species list.
"This lagoon is a rare habitat," she said. "It is the only estuary left on the Santa Monica Bay and all of Los Angeles County, for that matter."
Others were concerned about the severing of Via Marina, which connects the south end of the Venice peninsula to the mainland. The plan calls for digging a channel through the Via Marina to gain ocean access and building a drawbridge.
"The traffic situation there right now is unspeakable," resident James Maslon said. "It would be almost impossible to get in and out of there with a drawbridge operating the way it's proposed."
The proposal also calls for:
The digging of four finger basins to service a tract of 84 luxury homes being built just east of the lagoon.
Deepening the lagoon, now about seven feet deep at high tide, by 11 feet.
Widening the 50-foot lagoon by up to 250 feet and lining it with concrete walls and a pedestrian walkway.
Relocating the pedestrian bridge at Lighthouse Street and the tide gate at Via Marina to a location north of the lagoon.
The association, composed of 184 lot owners whose property borders the lagoon, has already spent $600,000 on the plan and a study of its impact, said Executive Director Catherine Smith. If constructed, the marina would greatly enhance the value of these properties.
Earlier Tuesday, the project was dealt a blow by the County Board of Supervisors when it passed a motion ordering the director of the Department of Beaches and Harbors to attend the meeting and oppose the proposed marina.
Supervisor Deane Dana, who sponsored the motion, said the lagoon is a "protected state wetland and is considered essential for the coastal ecosystem." The environmental, water access and boater safety issues have not been adequately addressed, he said.
Ted Reed, director of the Department of Beaches and Harbors, urged representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers to oppose the project. He cited the marina harbor patrol's opposition to another boat access way leading into the the marina's ocean channel and his own reservations about the drawbridge proposal, which Reed said could affect response times to the peninsula for emergency vehicles.
The lagoon property itself falls under City of Los Angeles jurisdiction, but the project needs county approval because it must breach county property to gain access to the Marina del Rey channel and the ocean, according to Eric Bourdon, assistant director of the Department of Beaches and Harbors.
No Galanter Stance
City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, whose district includes the Ballona Lagoon area, will not take a stand on the proposal until after the environmental impact reports are completed, said press deputy Rick Ruiz.
He said, however, that he would be surprised if Galanter supports the proposal.
Some of the estimated 40 people who addressed the panel at Tuesday's meeting spoke in favor of the plan.
Much of the ensuing debate revolved around the question of whether the lagoon is a beautiful, rare habitat for wildlife or a stinking mud hole.
"I can't understand why anyone wants stinking, smelly, polluted water," said Gordon Laughlin, who owns a lot near the lagoon. "You clean up the area, you get nice clean water, the little animal life is going to love it."
"Let's face it: A mud hole is a mud hole is a mud hole."
But Ed Tarvyd, a professor of marine biology at Santa Monica College, said the mud is essential to the worms, clams and snails who live in the lagoon and the sea birds such as avocets, curlews and sandpipersthat feed on them.
"When they dig these harbors, they make them real deep and all of these species disappear," he said.