$50 Million "Interpretive Center" to be Built in Ballona Wetlands

Say goodbye to the beautiful open land you see above, Area C of the Ballona Wetlands.

The Annenberg Foundation plans to build a visitors center that will include an auditorium, classrooms, a public lobby, exhibits about the wetlands, retail space, a snack bar, facilities for an animal adoption and on-site veterinary care, and a parking lot on top of this meadow within the 600-acre Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve. The ecological reserve -- home to great blue herons, burrowing owls, the El Segundo blue butterfly, voles and lizards -- is largely owned by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, which last summer began an environmental review process to determine how to restore the area and make it more accessible to the public. Now the department has agreed to allow the Annenberg Foundation to build the center on the site.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has extended the time for the public to make written comment on the project until March 15, so make your opinion about this matter known!! 

Please submit your comments about the interpretive center to the CDFW by March 16, 2013, by emailing donna.mccormick@icfi.com. You can find information about the proposed restoration of the wetlands at santamonicabay.org.

The Ballona Wetlands Landtrust also suggests you write the Annenberg Foundation: Please call or email Liza deVilla Ameen at the Annenberg Foundation [310 209 4560 /lameen@annenbergfoundation.org] to let the Foundation know your views on this proposed development.

The facility will encompass 15-20 acres of land near Culver Boulevard in Culver City-adjacent Area C, near the 90 Freeway.

Reactions among environmental groups has been mixed. The Ballona Wetlands Land Trust issued a statement in opposition to the center, and the Playa del Rey-based Ballona Institute also opposes building such a center on the wetland property. However, the Friends of Ballona Wetlands have embraced Annenberg's involvement, with Executive Director Lisa Fimiani telling the LA Times, "We welcome them," and citing that the building site is already in poor condition and that Annenberg plans improve the adjoining Culver-Marina Little League fields as part of the project. The California Coastal Conservancy and the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission also support the project. 

Here is the Ballona Wetlands Landtrust's response to the Annenberg Foundation's proposal:

"On January 28th, 2013, The Annenberg Foundation signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with several state agencies that contemplates the construction of an interpretive center, facilities for an animal adoption and care program, office space, optional retail space and associated parking.  You can view the full MOU here.

"We respect the great work that the Annenberg Foundation has done on many issues and we think their objectives for the proposed project are noble ones.  Our opposition to constructing facilities within the protected ecological reserve is very simple – we don’t have the luxury to further erode an ecosystem that is already greatly diminished from its original state.  There are still undeveloped acres of land adjacent to or near the ecological reserve that the Annenberg Foundation could help us acquire that would be more suitable for this construction project.  All of the benefits and objectives outlined in the MOU could be achieved just as fully with the facilities in question constructed outside of the ecological reserve, as long as the Foundation is willing to think creatively and appreciate the unique value of this remarkable ecosystem.

"Our concern about further reducing the size of this ecosystem, which once exceeded 2000 acres, is validated by studies conducted by the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, a lead agency in the larger proposed restoration project and a party to this MOU. 

...

"Some will argue that we are making too big of an issue of just one more acre (and the entire project will actually encompass 15 – 20 acres).  We disagree.  We believe that there will be continued pressure on the state to accommodate other uses for the land that will diminish its capacity to support a high level of biodiversity, and we believe that this agreement sets a bad precedent that will weaken our ability to withstand those pressures.  We also respectfully disagree the Foundation’s claim that they need to “set the record straight” in response to the concerns we have raised about their project [link to Annenberg response].  First, it must be noted that the Foundation and its partners in this agreement had every opportunity to reach out to key stakeholder groups prior to, or even immediately after, their public announcement of this project.  They chose not to do so.  Second, there is nothing in their response that addresses the concern that we have raised, which focuses solely on the negative impacts of building inside of the ecological reserve.  All the Foundation’s response does is focus on the positive aspects of the proposed project while ignoring any negative aspects.  The “half glass full” approach is great for most situations, but at Ballona, it has led to an ecosystem that is more than half paved over.  As responsible stewards of the environment, we need to analyze both the benefits and impacts of any proposed project."

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