Environmental group wins legal challenge to Ballona Wetlands project
A judge Wednesday ruled in favor of an environmental group whose members alleged the state’s approval of a restoration project for the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve near Los Angeles International Airport failed to properly protect wildlife species.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant’s 67-page opinion in favor of Protect Ballona Wetlands also stated that engineers’ designs for excavating and bulldozing more than two million cubic yards of soil and removing levees did not use the correct flood risk standards.
Chalfant’s opinion applied to the Protect Ballona Wetlands petition as well as three other legal actions challenging the same certification of an environmental impact report.
Chalfant granted Protect Ballona Wetlands’ request that he set aside all approvals of the certification of the EIR. The group had cited alleged violations of the California Environmental Quality Act and said that the project proposed was not adequately described. They maintained the same conclusion was reached by federal agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The three stated main goals of the state’s project were to restore wetlands and wetland functions within the Ballona Reserve, improve public access to the reserve and to maintain existing levels of flood risk management provided by the Ballona Creek channel and levee system.
However, members of Protect Ballona Wetlands contended in their legal action filed in January 2021 that it is “disingenuous” to call the state’s plan a restoration and enhancement effort, maintaining it would have “unmitigable impacts on the environment.”
“We are so pleased that the court heard our concerns, especially because many wildlife species at the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve would have been harmed if this project were to proceed,” said the petitioners’ attorney, Jamie T. Hall.
“We are hopeful that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife will reset the process for future management of this special place, truly involve all stakeholders and determine a new baseline of what the ecosystem includes, especially since so many more rare species have returned to Ballona since this plan first was considered.”
Environmental activist Wendy-Sue Rosen said Protect Ballona Wetlands was formed due to what its members believe was a lack of legitimate information related to flood risk, unacknowledged damage to the environment and the high cost of a project allegedly detrimental to wildlife.
“This project is estimated to cost the public more than $250 million and more than $12 million in public funds have already been spent on a design using an incorrect flood risk standard,” Rosen said.