Several groups have become involved with the endangered Ballona wetlands in the last few years. Some are true environmental groups out to preserve and restore as much of the endangered wetlands as possible while others want them developed.
A 400-acre chunk of wetlands east of Lincoln Boulevard is the site of one of the largest mixed use projects under development in Southern California. Called Playa Vista, it’s under the umbrella of Playa Capital, LLC, a mega-development/real estate corporation. While the Play Vista advocates say their project is a “model of green development,” many environmentalists and wetland preservationists disagree.
In my March 23 column (”O’Connor rakes in developer loot,” page 4), I wrote that hotel/developer lobbyist Kim Karie was instrumental in helping Councilwoman Pam O’Connor raise re-election money from developers. Karie was also “recruiting attendees and donors for a Ballona Watershed fundraiser honoring (interim City Councilman) Terry O’Day on April 29 at the tony California Plaza in Downtown Los Angeles.” Karie is considered by many to be a pipeline for development money to candidates.
Alert readers e-mailed that the Watershed Warriors fundraiser was sponsored by Friends of Ballona Wetlands, “a front group for Playa Vista developers.” They were skeptical of O’Day’s contribution to wetlands preservation and claimed, “O’Day has never set foot in the wetlands,”
Last week, I e-mailed “Friends" and asked what “sustained and unwavering work” he’d done to earn their praise, how he was chosen and to respond to charges they’re a front for Playa Vista developers. I received no response to repeated e-mail requests.
I did, however, receive a cryptic e-mail from www.beban.org, the Web site for Richard Beban who is co-executive director of ” Friends.” "Marcia Hanscom should be permanently shunned by everyone who still considers public honesty a personal virtue,” he e-mailed.
I asked, “Who is Marcia Hanscom?” Turns out she’s a former board member of the Sierra Club; executive director, Wetlands Action Network; secretary, Sierra Club Ballona Wetlands Task Force and co-director of the Ballona Institute. The Ballona Institute, Ballona Wetlands Land Trust and the Ballona Ecosystem Education Project are recognized by environmentalists and news media as the three genuine protectors of the ecologically fragile wetlands.
About the same time I received the outlandish e-mail from Beban, Marcia Hanscom e-mailed O’Day and also asked what he’d done to receive “Friends” laurels and warned him that they were a developer-backed group. O’Day responded, “Marcia, Friends of Ballona asked me to be honored at their annual event, and word has gotten out. I hope it is helpful! Terry.”
Nobody is giving a straight answer here. What’s with the secrecy and evasiveness? Why the subterfuge?
Members of the Friends of Ballona Wetlands Board of Directors includes Catherine Tyrell, a former Playa Vista employee and David Kay, a development advocate who spoke at a Los Angeles City Council hearing last week in favor of Playa Vista Phase II. Their directors include developers, consultants and pro-development advocates. Donors include the Metropolitan Water District, major utilities, construction firms, banks and investment organizations among others.
Phase II will fully develop the last 111 acres of wetland. It will have 2.6 million square feet of luxury housing, senior housing and approximately 341,000 square feet of commercial and retail space. Many individuals associated with “Friends" enthusiastically supported this project at a recent Los Angeles City Council meeting prior to its approval.
It seems that O’Day will receive an accolade from an organization that favors the complete development of one of the last wetland estuaries on the Southern California coast — while claiming to be for preserving the environment. No wonder nobody can (or will) say why he’s being feted.
O’Day’s award provides an extraordinary opportunity for him to network with a broad number of deep-pocketed developers who could funnel contributions into his council election campaign this fall. In essence, the fundraiser will insure lots of political donations from luxury hotels, developers and business interests Kim Karie serves.
With extensive developer backing expected, predictions are he will amass a formidable campaign war chest — well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
O’Day makes his living from firms and organizations that have a strong “green” tint which is laudable. But, the consistent backing by developers and special interests for his failed 2006 City Council bid and a committee he co-chaired to defeat a 2008 ballot measure restricting commercial development is troubling.
His award at the “Watershed Warrior” shindig is just another clumsy attempt — like the political shenanigans and phony issues concocted by public relations hacks working for clueless hotel, business and real estate interests in previous elections — to disguise the real truth.
O’Day has a reputation for being close to developers — too close. With a large number of mega-developments pending, having their own “bought and paid for” man on the City Council to help ram their projects through is a developer’s dream — and our nightmare.
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org