Concerns about wildlife in Venice will delay the restoration of its historic canal system.
Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter this week said federal and state officials have decided that the restoration plan poses a threat to area wildlife, including an endangered bird known as the California least tern.
They have ordered a halt to the project, which was scheduled for a state Coastal Commission hearing this month, until the problem is resolved.
"The state and federal wildlife agencies have finally noticed that they are dealing with a wildlife habitat," said Galanter, who represents Venice. "And they are not comfortable with the project in its present form."
Galanter's announcement may represent a major setback for canal-area residents who have been trying to get the waterways restored for more than 20 years.
The canal system, which was designed by Venice founder Abbott Kinney, has fallen into disrepair and is slated to receive a $3.3-million face lift.
Under the plan, the 370 canal residents who live in expensive homes that front on the exotic canal system will help foot the bill for the repairs by paying $7,000 per home over a 10-year period. The remaining costs of restoring the dilapidated canals, about $540,000, will be paid by the city.
The plan has been approved by the Los Angeles City Council but still needs the OK of the Coastal Commission and the Army Corps of Engineers, since the canals are a federally recognized wetland area and a shallow water habitat .
Galanter said she will do everything possible to get the project back on track but could not predict how long that will take.
No Time Frame
"No one can tell how quickly this problem can be solved," Galanter said. "But it's my intention to move the project along. . . . I hope this is not a major setback."
Chuck Damm, the south coast director of the Coastal Commission, said the hearing on the restoration plan will be rescheduled when the city provides a workable plan for protecting the wildlife, which includes invertebrates, ducks and several species of birds.
Damm said it would be impractical to go forward with the project before the concerns about the wildlife there are settled.
"We are trying to work with the city to get all of the issues addressed," Damm said. "We certainly understand the importance of the project and what it means to the community . . . and we hope that this is not a big problem."
Sharon Lockhart of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Laguna Beach said that her office had no objections to the restoration plans until it discovered that the Venice canals are a summer feeding ground for the California least tern, a tiny gray and white bird with a black cap that feeds on small fish.
Lockhart said that the least tern is on the list of endangered species and could be threatened if its canal feeding ground is lost. There are about 1,000 least terns in the state, according to Lockhart, and about 200 of them migrate yearly to Venice from Central and South America.
"The proposal to totally dewater that area for two years would eliminate it as a foraging ground," Lockhart said. "We have asked that they do the project in steps or make another feeding area available."
Earl Lauppe, the state's wildlife management supervisor, gave a similar appraisal. Lauppe said that he hoped the issue could be quickly resolved.
Galanter, who was elected in June, could not explain why the wildlife concern was not addressed earlier. She said it might have been possible for officials to uncover the problem 10 years ago with a telephone call.
"But it didn't happen," Galanter said. "And I believe wildlife is extremely important. I would rather see us do a project that respects the needs of people and wildlife than do one that respects one at the expense of the other."
The restoration work on the canals, which have become murky, dirty and structurally unsafe, is expected to take about two years. Plans call for dredging the six waterways--Carol, Linnie, Howland, Sherman, Eastern and Grand--and adding retaining walls, sidewalks, boat ramps, a storm drain and landscaping.
Some residents have criticized the plans, saying they are historically inaccurate since they do not call for returning the 1904 waterways to their original state. But the majority of the canal residents supported the plan creating a special assesment district to pay for the bulk of the restoration work.