Ballona Wetlands Deal Announced (CA)

LOS ANGELES, 8/9/01 –The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national land conservation organization, announced today its option agreement with Playa Vista to purchase nearly 190 acres of land located west of Lincoln Boulevard between Marina del Rey and Playa del Rey. The agreement — covering the 139-acre Parcel A north of Ballona Creek and 54 acres of residential Parcel B south of Ballona Creek — is the first step toward possible public ownership of the 190 acres for a variety of purposes including wetland creation and restoration, nature preserves, and active urban park space.

“The vision and leadership of Governor Davis, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, and the local community have helped to make this agreement possible. Playa Vista has been a cooperative, willing landowner and the Trust for Public Land will continue to work with them to bring this land into public ownership for the creation of an urban park and wetlands,” said Reed Holderman, vice president and executive director of the Trust for Public Land-California.

Governor Gray Davis included $25 million in the Coastal Conservancy budget from Proposition 12 to help fund the purchase of this portion of the Playa Vista property. “TPL has a tremendous record of success in crafting these sorts of agreements,” said Assembly Member George Nakano (D-Torrance). “While there is still much work to be done to bring the deal to fruition, this is certainly a significant first step.”

Earlier this year, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter invited Playa Vista to explore the possibility of entering into discussions with TPL. These discussions were successful and led to the current option agreement under which TPL has until July 2002 to purchase the portion of Parcel B, which, if accomplished, would then trigger an extension of the agreement until July 2003 to find funding for the purchase of Parcel A.

“I have been working hard for many years to preserve and restore the Ballona Wetlands. I want to thank TPL and Playa Vista for your hard work to reach this agreement. With the Governor’s support, I am confident that we can together preserve the land seaward of Lincoln Boulevard for habitat restoration and open space as I first proposed in 1999,” said Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter.

“Although we believe we have a master plan for the area west of Lincoln Blvd which is both exciting and environmentally sound, we are also open to this alternative that Councilwoman Ruth Galanter has proposed. Public ownership of that property is a viable option and TPL is the best organization to pursue that option,” said Peter Denniston, president of Playa Vista.

The first phase of Playa Vista currently under construction east of Lincoln Blvd and south of the Ballona Channel will, when complete, include more than 3000 homes and 3 million square feet of office and commercial space, habitat restoration, and parks. The property includes the part of Playa Vista where the historic Howard Hughes Aircraft Company was located. Hughes built the famous “flying boat,” the Spruce Goose, in huge hangars on this site.

On the western end of the property – which includes the area under the option agreement – the last remnants of the historic Ballona Wetlands can be found. Once stretching along the coast (mostly west of Lincoln Blvd.) from the Playa del Rey bluffs through what is now the community of Venice, a majority of the wetlands have been lost because of the construction of Venice, the Ballona Creek flood control channel, and finally Marina del Rey. The remaining wetlands have been cut off from saltwater tides and are significantly degraded.

“A crucial element of any successful development project is the preservation of open space,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe said of the announcement by TPL and Playa Vista. “By securing more than 190 acres of additional open space for restoration, a large portion of the Ballona Wetlands will be revitalized for the long term enjoyment of our future generations.” Knabe’s Fourth District contains the majority of the County’s coastline, including the Playa Vista project area and the unincorporated community of Marina del Rey.

Playa Vista’s plans already include restoration and expansion of the wetlands and uplands habitat in the vast majority of Area B. This is in part as a result of a settlement agreement between the Friends of Ballona Wetlands and a former landowner – Maguire Thomas Partners-Playa Vista. As a result of the settlement agreement, Playa Vista committed to a minimum of $13 million for restoration and maintenance of the current saltwater marsh in Area B. Playa Vista is also currently restoring 26 acres at the eastern end of Area B as a freshwater marsh. The 54 acres TPL wants to purchase in this parcel is adjacent to the habitat restoration.

“It’s been a long road, but we are very excited about this golden opportunity to achieve our goal of over 20 years: a restored Ballona Wetlands ecosystem. We thank Councilwoman Galanter for initiating this process with the Trust for Public Land and we want to acknowledge Playa Vista for its willingness to work with TPL,” said Ruth Lansford, executive director of the Friends of Ballona Wetlands.

Although the property value has not been determined, TPL hopes to contract with a third party, state-approved appraiser in the next 30 days, and expects to have an agreed upon sale price by the end of the year. In the meantime, TPL has begun the search to secure acquisition funding.

Elsewhere in Los Angeles, TPL recently entered into an agreement with Majestic Realty to purchase the 32-acre Cornfield property, adjacent to the Los Angeles River, and hopes to create the first state park in downtown Los Angeles. TPL is also negotiating for several properties in north Long Beach, including the 40-acre Wrigley Heights assemblage that will constitute the largest open space along the southern stretch of the Los Angeles River. Earlier this year, TPL conveyed 5.4 riverside acres to the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority for a community park. TPL also conveyed nearly two acres to the City of Maywood as as a part of a a 7-acre assemblage to create the Maywood River Park for California’s most densely populated, low-income community. TPL has already conveyed nearly 3 acres to the City of Maywood for the creation of the Maywood River Park.

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national, nonprofit land conservation organization dedicated to conserving land for people as parks, greenways, wilderness areas and natural, historic and cultural resources for future generations. Founded in 1972, TPL has protected more than 1.2 million acres nationwide.