State Coastal Conservancy consultants will examine the Del Rey Lagoon this month, beginning a process that could lead to the purchase and restoration of the privately held north end of the lagoon as a wetland habitat for wildlife.
"We're interested in taking a look at it to see if there is a possible role for the conservancy to play in the restoration and enhancement of the area," said Reed Holderman, a project manager for the conservancy's resource management section.
The conservancy was created by the state Legislature to preserve and restore coastal resources.
Members of the Playa del Rey Network, a neighborhood group, recently collected more than 500 signatures on petitions asking the City of Los Angeles or other government entities to buy and restore the land, said network member Bob Krauch.
"This land should have been acquired a long time ago," Krauch said. "But the answer has always been that the city did not have enough money."
Krauch said his group is urging the city to purchase the parcel now from the owner, Howard Hughes Realty, while there are no plans to develop it.
All the land surrounding the lagoon, except for the 2.39-acre Hughes parcel, is part of a Los Angeles city park.
"We would have no problem selling the land to the city or a homeowners group based on an appraisal and fair market value," said Stephenie Miller, vice president of Hughes Realty.
Not Determined Price
Miller said her company has not determined its asking price.
"We had some discussions with (former Councilwoman Pat) Russell a number of years ago but because of budgetary cutbacks the city never pursued it," Miller said.
"The site is capable of development," she said. "I can't say it will always remain as it is."
The city's Department of Recreation and Parks is not planning to purchase the parcel.
"I have never heard, in the last 10 years, of any suggestion to acquire any additional land at Del Rey Lagoon," said Joel Breitbart, assistant general manager in charge of planning and development for the department.
Councilwoman Ruth Gallanter's staff is "looking into the facts of the case and what the alternatives are," said Rick Ruiz, her press deputy.
Interest in Preservation
Holderman said the conservancy became interested in the parcel after it was advised by Gallanter's office that area residents want to preserve the land.
Conservancy consultants will study the Hughes land, which is fenced off and covered with weeds, and determine whether it can be restored to its natural state, Holderman said. Restoration would involve eliminating a dirt trail and non-native vegetation.
If restoration is possible, the conservancy will grant up to $50,000 to study how to purchase and restore the land. Once the study is complete, the conservancy board would vote on whether to purchase the property, Holderman said.
Playa del Rey was developed at the turn of the century as a recreational resort centered around the lagoon, said Krauch, who has written about the history of the small body of salt water.
"The lagoon was about four times the size it is now, deeper and a lot cleaner," he said. Rain water that drains from the Westside once flowed through the lagoon to the ocean, but flood control work in the 1930s diverted that runoff into nearby Ballona Creek. Without a flow of water into the lagoon, its ocean outlet soon became clogged with silt and closed, Krauch said.
Only a tunnel to the creek enabled water to flow into the lagoon and prevented it from becoming a stagnant body of water.
Boating on the lagoon once was popular, Krauch said. But the accumulation of silt combined with years of dumping made the lagoon too shallow for boats by the end of the 1950s.