West Coast
Beneath the shallow waters of the Ballona Wetlands, fish and marsh creatures thrive despite being surrounded by development. (Photo courtesy of Ballona Wetlands Institute)

CA - Court ruling halts controversial Ballona Wetlands restoration project

In a major development in the battle over the Ballona Wetlands, a judge has reversed approvals for a state restoration plan to bulldoze and reshape vast areas of the sensitive habitat which borders the sand dunes that separate it from the ocean to the west, and the upscale Playa Vista development to the east.

The opinion filed on May 17 by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant found that the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s proposed restoration project used incorrect flood risk standards and didn’t commit the organization to specific enough performance criteria for preserving wildlife.

The Ballona Wetlands Ecological Preserve is a 577-acre area of salt and freshwater marshes just south of Marina Del Rey that is home to birds, coyotes, fish, lizards and butterflies, including at least seven endangered species.

The state’s plan called for excavating more than 2 million cubic yards of soil to allow tidal flows to penetrate more areas, and construction of nearly ten miles of bike and foot paths. That project cannot proceed until the department submits a new EIR that addresses the concerns highlighted by Chalfant.

Jamie Hall, a lead attorney who represented Protect Ballona Wetlands, one of four environmental groups that filed suits against the state plan, said, “This EIR was not ready for primetime. They just did not have the necessary information in order to evaluate, and disclose, and mitigate the environmental impacts.”

California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) stands behind its restoration plan.

“This restoration project remains the best mechanism to revitalize the Ballona Wetlands for many future generations of Angelenos. It will bring outdoor space for connection with nature to a city center where it is deeply needed,” said Jordan Traverso, CDFW deputy director of communications, education and outreach.

“Although the court’s decision is disappointing, the bottom line here is that CDFW prevailed on the majority of claims brought by the petitioners. Facts matter: Petitioners raised 10 claims and CDFW won completely on eight of them,” she added.

Chalfant’s decision settles four similar lawsuits that all sought to halt the state’s proposed restoration plan due to concerns about how it would impact the environment, wildlife and habitats.

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