A long-awaited $10-million restoration of the Ballona Wetlands, a coastal sanctuary for migratory sea birds and marine life, may be delayed as long as two years because of controversy over nearby development.
Eric Metz, the National Audubon Society's project manager, said the restoration--which would include construction of an information center, museum, outdoor exhibit areas, a visitors trail and a fresh- and salt-water circulatory control system on the 216-acre marsh--has not yet been approved by the Los Angeles City Council.
Metz said even if the council were to approve the plan soon, the California Coastal Commission could take up to two years to certify the restoration, due to environmental concerns linked to the construction of Playa Vista, a $1-billion commercial and residential project to be built near Marina del Rey by Summa Corp.
Rick Ruiz, a spokesman for Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, whose district includes part of the wetland area, said that the Summa project will not be approved until a compromise is reached on the size of the proposed 957-acre project.
Summa owns the adjoining wetlands and has agreed to donate the land to the Audubon Society as well as to finance restoration and maintenance in return for developing the surrounding area.
The Playa Vista project would include retail, office and residential construction. Development would also include the extension of Falmouth Avenue, which would run through part of the wetland area to Culver Boulevard.
Restoration of the wetlands is also contingent upon the outcome of a lawsuit filed against Summa by Friends of Ballona Wetlands, which is seeking an additional 100 acres for the wetlands.
Ruth Lansford, chairman of Friends of Ballona Wetlands, said that over the last 50 years, the wetlands have shrunk from 2,000 acres to 216 acres because of development.
'Postage Stamp Wetland'
"If it gets cut back one more time, it is going to be a postage-stamp-size wetland," she said.
Since her election in June, Galanter has been trying to persuade Summa to scale down the project because of the increased traffic it would create, as well as the added burden it would place on the city's troubled sewer system.
Spills from sewer lines present a more immediate problem for environmentalists, who for nearly 10 years have been seeking to restore the marsh. It serves as a spawning ground for a variety of fish and as a winter way station for a large number of birds like the California least tern and the Belding's Savannah sparrow, both endangered species.
When the restoration project was originally proposed, Metz told residents of the community that toxic waste or sewage spills from Ballona Creek or the Jefferson drain could severely damage the wildlife sanctuary.
Heavy rains flooded main sewer lines last weekend, washing an estimated 4.1 million gallons of partially treated sewage into Ballona Creek and into Santa Monica Bay near the wetlands, according to the Los Angeles County Health Department.
Lansford said that as long as unlimited development is allowed, the sewage problem will continue.
Galanter, also a member of the Ballona Wetlands organization, agreed, saying, "These things (spills) happen with depressing regularity."
However, she said, the city, which has already been fined $625,000 by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and more recently was sued by the state for a series of spills into the Santa Monica Bay last year, is taking steps to repair the system.
However, in filing the state's civil lawsuit, state Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp has said that "the city has not worked quickly enough" to solve the sewage problem.
Lansford agreed. "Things are moving much too slowly," she said.
Metz said restoration of the wetlands is important because of its unique urban location, which would allow the public easy access and a chance to learn about the coastal ecosystem first hand.