Protecting the Cradle of Life

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The Herons' Park Forever
Editorial reprinted from the Los Angeles Times, Aug. 12, 2001
August 12, 2001
The great blue herons grooming themselves in the Ballona Wetlands last week were, of course, unaware that a deal announced Wednesday between environmentalists and Playa Vista developers is likely to allow them to return to this special place again and again. The deal, which could add 193 acres of valuable wetlands to the 281 acres that developers already have agreed to restore, is the first positive step in nearly two decades of guerrilla warfare over this massive residential and commercial project adjacent to Marina del Rey.

If it goes through, the deal would essentially save all 474 acres seaward of Lincoln Boulevard, an area more than half the size of the marina, as habitat for herons and a host of other plant and animal species. The wetlands, the last major coastal marsh in Los Angeles County, also act as a filter for storm runoff.

Over the years, the plans of the Playa Vista LLC company for this land included construction of a recreational boat marina and waterfront condos. The preserved area will not be a park in the sense of greenswards and playing fields, but its environmental and educational value justifies spending park bond money.

The company's decision to sell to the public could keep bulldozers and concrete trucks out of those two parcels west of Lincoln forever. But Wednesday's agreement is just the first step. The developer and the Trust for Public Land, which gained an exclusive option to buy the land, must agree on a price. An independent property appraisal should set the parameters for negotiations.
Then the trust, which is brokering the deal on behalf of the public, would have two years to come up with the money and find a federal or state agency willing to manage the land.

Proposition 12, the park bond that voters passed in March 2000, earmarked $25 million for Ballona, but that won't be nearly enough. The additional funds could come from grant and tax credit programs, the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, the state general fund and private foundation grants.

The deal does not affect ongoing construction east of Lincoln. Plans call for some 13,000 residences and up to 5 million square feet of commercial space, along with other facilities, drawing thousands of new people and cars and further snarling traffic along Lincoln and Jefferson boulevards. For that reason, the wetlands deal is unlikely to end the court fights or the angry neighborhood rallies over construction at Playa Vista, even among groups that lobbied the company for years to set aside the parcels west of Lincoln.

The Ballona deal is, however, the latest example of a constructive strategy for enticing battle-weary developers to sell to the public. Proposition 12 money will help secure the Cornfield downtown, parcels along the Los Angeles River, Baldwin Hills parkland and much more. But with almost 80% of the $2.1 billion in bond money now spent or committed, much of that in Los Angeles, the immediate priority for open-space advocates should be to identify new funding sources, including perhaps new park bond measures, so that Ballona isn't the last best deal.