Milton Bassett's comments on the settlement between Friends of Ballona Wetlands and Maguire Thomas Partners, developer of Playa Vista (Times, Nov. 11), indicate that he doesn't understand the terms of our agreement. I hope I can shed some light on just what the Friends agreed to support and why.
Unfortunately, certain trigger words used by Bassett only serve to arouse emotions, while obscuring facts. When he labels the wetlands restoration a "pet project" of the Friends, he denigrates one of the most important ecological assets in Southern California. Over 90% of the wetlands are gone in Los Angeles County. Our battle was fought to save what is left.
Also, the figures Bassett cites to support his contentions are misleading in that they speak of an "increase in density" over the original project. It's true there is an increase in residential units. But I would remind him that the original project contained a regional shopping center (a tremendous traffic generator), 33% more retail space, 25% more new office space and very little affordable housing.
The Maguire Thomas plan will increase affordable housing by 110%. Additionally, the amount of space devoted to recreational uses and open space will be significantly increased. A 60-acre parcel west of Lincoln Boulevard and south of Jefferson Boulevard protected by the new agreement had been targeted by Summa Corp. for 10- to 15-story buildings, 1,433 units of housing and a private golf course. Now that area will be freshwater ponds and a freshwater wetland.
Maguire Thomas also agreed to eliminate an extension of Falmouth Avenue that would have sliced through the heart of the restored wetland. They also abandoned plans for a 225-unit building at the stable site adjacent to the most sensitive portion of the wetland and replaced it, at our insistence, with a plant nursery and other uses compatible with the wetland.
Within Playa Vista, Maguire Thomas plans a recycling facility for refuse separation, a combined sludge and refuse organics processing facility to produce soil amendment, and an on-site water reclamation plant. The reclaimed water will be used for irrigation of landscaping, energy conservation, car washes, toilet flushing and habitat improvement in the wetlands and Ballona Creek.
When we added to all these pluses the realities of the marketplace, the Friends concluded the settlement was the very best they could achieve. It would be wonderful to have no development at all. It would also be wonderful to return to Eden. But we live in the real world. The settlement we made is the best possible in that world.
Certainly there are many issues besides the wetlands involved in Playa Vista, and, yes, the project will have substantial impact on the surrounding communities. But Playa Vista will have to go through public hearings. When the draft Environmental Impact Report is circulated, we--and everyone else--will have the opportunity to comment.
It has been 14 years since Playa Vista was first announced by the Summa Corp. The Friends have fought every moment of those years to prevent the destruction of the Ballona Wetlands. We are pleased to have achieved our goal.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bassett, please try to think kindly of the Ballona Wetlands. They have had to live for many years with the "devastating environmental impact" of the surrounding communities. They have fought the longest, faced the most deprivation, surmounted insult and degradation and survived in the face of terrible adversity. Now it's our turn to nurse them back to health. When you see them in all their restored glory, you'll be glad we did.
Friends of Ballona Wetlands