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Davis Backs Bills on Ballona Wetlands Purchase and Restoration

The $139-million deal with Playa Vista's owners is expected to be signed next week. Preservationists praise the action.

September 18, 2003|Martha Groves | Times Staff Writer

Gov. Gray Davis on Wednesday signaled his support for the state's purchase of the Ballona Wetlands, saying he planned to sign two bills that would provide restoration funds and ensure state ownership of a 64-acre parcel next to the Playa Vista development.

The $139-million purchase agreement, already signed by Playa Vista's owners, next goes to the Wildlife Conservation Board for approval. The panel is expected to meet Sept. 30.

"Open space is a valuable and rare commodity in urban environments -- especially in Los Angeles," Davis said. "Voters have sent a message that they want California's environmental resources preserved."

The Ballona Wetlands are part of a 1,087-acre property that industrialist Howard Hughes used for aircraft production and testing.

In recent decades, the area has been degraded by manufacturing, farming and dredge spoils. Yet it has managed to remain a habitat for a number of endangered and threatened species, including the California brown pelican and the Belding's savannah sparrow.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday September 19, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 63 words Type of Material: Correction
Ballona Wetlands -- A headline in Thursday's California section incorrectly said the state's $139-million deal to buy wetlands from the Playa Vista development's owners is expected to be signed next week. The deal goes next to the Wildlife Conservation Board for approval, and it is expected to meet Sept. 30. Gov. Gray Davis is expected to sign bills providing restoration funds this week.

Although the purchase agreement calls for the state to buy about 193 acres from Playa Vista, the developers also have agreed to donate nearly 300 additional acres and to waive their right to buy and develop the 64-acre parcel east of Lincoln Boulevard.

The package includes a stretch of the Ballona Channel. (Under a previous agreement, Playa Vista will also give the state 60 acres just west of Lincoln, including a newly completed freshwater marsh.)

State officials and wetlands proponents praised Davis' action, which marks a step forward for the hard-fought deal for Los Angeles' largest remaining restorable wetlands, just south of Marina del Rey.

About 95% of Southern California's original coastal wetlands have been destroyed or degraded.

"In terms of events that mark the history of Los Angeles, I think this is a historic turning point," said Mary D. Nichols, state resources secretary.

"The idea that this land could ever be preserved and restored for wildlife purposes would have been a complete shock to Howard Hughes and to many other leaders in Los Angeles over the years. It represents a shift in attitude and a shift in Los Angeles' vision of itself and its future," she said.

Marcia Hanscom, executive director of the Wetlands Action Network, noted that, whereas hundreds of citizens worked toward the purchase, "it was Gray Davis' administration leadership, getting us land that was never even thought of" for preservation.

The two bills Davis plans to sign were passed by the Legislature last week.

One, sponsored by Sen. Debra Bowen (D-Marina del Rey), transfers to full state ownership the 64-acre parcel east of Lincoln that is now held in trust. Nichols said that bill was needed to allay community fears that the land might be sold to developers.

The other bill, by Assemblyman George Nakano (D-Torrance), re-appropriates $25 million of Proposition 12 money that had been earmarked for the Ballona Wetlands but was in danger of being used for other purposes.

Nichols said the bill allows the Coastal Conservancy, the state's leading coastal planning entity, to participate in the purchase and restoration planning.

Davis is expected to sign the bills this week.

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