It is with dismay that Defense of Place takes note of the potential betrayal of the essence of the Ballona Wetlands in Southern California with the intrusion of concrete and steel onto a landscape set aside for marshland restoration. The betrayal is that of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which seems to be willing to enter into a $50 million project with the Annenberg Foundation to develop on lands that were rescued a decade ago through a $139 million bond measure in partnership with the Trust for Public Land.
Defense of Place is stunned at the boldness with which the Annenberg Foundation again is seeking to buy access to lands held in the Public Trust for a project that ultimately has nothing to do with the true nature of the Ballona Wetlands and its wildlife habitat. The image of a 46,000-square-foot interpretive center within the protected wetlands ecosystem is perplexing enough, but the inclusion of a planned domestic animal adoption and care program strains credulity. However, it appears that the detemination of the Annenberg Foundation to build such a center on public land will not ebb, even after their withdrawing the (seemingly) same project proposal for Lower Point Vicente Park in Rancho Palos Verdes in 2011. In that case, courageous federal and state park officials held fast to the deeds protecting the parkland. It is disheartening that the Fish and Wildlife would not display such valor, but would barter away parcels of the Ballona Wetlands and flout their mission to sustain a natural resource in their care.
Defense of Place works to sustain parklands and open spaces nationwide whose protective deeds are contravened for development or predatory changes in use. The settings and purposes vary, but inevitably the explanations for the breaches in protection carry coded words meant to mollify citizens when their public asset is bartered away. For instance, “Interpretive Centers” have become the Orwellian substitute for office buildings and administrative headquarters, and PowerPoint diagrams of facility footprints artfully mask the reality of the infrastructure and peripheral impacts. In addition, the guardians of protected lands regularly excuse the land surrender with the familiar, “It is already degraded.”
However, the spins and explanations are increasingly being met with skepticism – and government agencies, municipalities and institutions are finding it harder and harder to work under the radar – due to the courage and diligence of individuals and groups working to defend irreplaceable places.