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Wetlands Activist Takes Deal in Vandalism Case

October 21, 2006|Carla Hall | Times Staff Writer

A biologist and environmentalist charged with vandalism in the Ballona Wetlands reached an agreement in court Friday with the city attorney's office to provide an ecological report and lead field trips of a portion of the wetlands in exchange for prosecutors dropping the charges in 18 months.

Roy van de Hoek, well known in conservation circles for his fervor and activism, was charged with cutting down nonnative invasive plants in the wetlands without permission.

The proliferation of the plants -- basically weeds, bushes and aggressive ficus trees that might be harmful to the ecologically delicate wetlands -- is a major issue for environmentalists preserving the 600-acre swath of land south of Marina del Rey near Ballona Creek. But no one is allowed to cut anything without a government permit. Van de Hoek contends he was acting on behalf of organizations with permits. He was seen cutting shrubs and a ficus. "What I was doing was a pruning technique which alters the growth to be less able to produce fruit," he said of the ficus clipping.

Under the agreement reached between Van de Hoek -- who was represented by Thomas Mesereau Jr. -- and the city attorney's office, the environmentalist's arraignment has been continued for 18 months, according to a city attorney's spokesman. During that time he is expected to carry out a list of activities that draw on his expertise as an ecologist.

"If he obeys the terms and conditions we've laid out, when the next arraignment comes up, the charges will be dropped," said the spokesman, Frank Meteljan. He is also barred from tampering with any foliage without permission, Meteljan said. When he was charged, Van de Hoek was also temporarily banned from returning to any work in the wetlands.

"For the 18 months I can give my tours, I can walk in the wetlands. But I am asked to be a good citizen. Bizarre ending, you might say," said Van de Hoek, 50, of Playa del Rey, who described the Friday court proceeding as very amicable. Van de Hoek's supporters had earlier contended the charges were intended to tamp down activists.

Under the terms of the agreement, Van de Hoek will submit to the city a report on the flora and fauna of Del Rey Lagoon. He said he would also lead two field trips in the lagoon park and, if requested, donate up to 25 more hours of similar kinds of activity.

Van de Hoek, a recreation services supervisor for the L.A. County Department of Parks and Recreation, said he urged the city to take advantage of his knowledge. His activism is unconnected to his job, he said.

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