As of 12/2/2014, the Annenberg Foundation has suspended its plans to build a new 46,000 square foot facility in the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve.

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The Annenberg Foundation Wants to Construct a Companion Animal Center / Interpretive Center in the  Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve

On January 28th, 2013, The Annenberg Foundation signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with several state agencies that contemplates new construction inside of the protected Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve, much of which would be for domestic dogs and cats.  You can view the full MOU here.

The Annenberg Foundation has not been open or honest about their reasons for entering into this agreement.  A companion animal center is a long time desire of Wallis Annenberg and the Foundation first attempted to build the center on public land at Lower Point Vicente in Rancho Palos Verdes.  It was only when that attempt failed that the Foundation showed any interest in the Ballona Wetlands.  Now they are trying to dress the companion animal center up as an interpretive center in order to sneak it into a protected ecological reserve.  This type of manipulative behavior is below what one would expect from a respected philanthropic organization.

We respect the past philanthropic work that the Annenberg Foundation has done, and we appreciate Wallis Annenberg’s desire to help companion animals.  However, we simply don’t have the luxury to further erode an ecosystem that is already greatly diminished from its original state.  The Annenberg Foundation could do more for the Ballona Wetlands ecosystem and more for companion animals if they stopped trying to force these two different objectives into the same project.  Our request to them is therefore very simple:  Remove the inclusion of a companion animal center as a quid pro quo condition of their financial assistance to the Ballona Wetlands restoration.

Our concern about further reducing the size of this ecosystem, which once exceeded 2000 acres, is validated by studies conducted by the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, a lead agency in the larger proposed restoration project and a party to this MOU.  In a 2006 document that outlines the opportunities and constraints associated with possible restoration plans [link], the following opportunities and constraints address the limited size of the remaining ecosystem:

Opportunity:  Preserve, restore, enhance, and create multiple habitats historically associated with both the Ballona Wetlands and the region.
Constraint:  Because the size of the site is limited, it may not be possible to incorporate large enough patches of all historic habitat types to ensure their viability.

Opportunity:  Strategically design habitat to ensure recruitment and survival of targeted species.
Constraint:  Site may too small and isolated to support some species.

And this opportunity/constraint pair specifically mentions the challenge of putting a interpretive center inside the ecological reserve:

Opportunity:  Develop interpretative components to educate the public on the values of wetland functions and habitat, build on existing educational programs.
Constraint:  Public access areas reduce the area available for restoration.

Some will argue that we are making too big an issue over just one more acre (and the entire project will actually encompass 15 – 20 acres).  We disagree.  We believe that there will be continued pressure on the state to accommodate other uses for the land that will diminish its capacity to support a high level of biodiversity, and we believe that this agreement sets a bad precedent that will weaken our ability to withstand those pressures.  We also respectfully disagree with the Foundation’s claim that they need to “set the record straight” in response to the concerns we have raised about their project [link to Annenberg response].  First, it must be noted that the Foundation and its partners in this agreement had every opportunity to reach out to key stakeholder groups prior to, or even immediately after, their public announcement of this project.  They chose not to do so.  Second, there is nothing in their response that addresses the concern that we have raised, which focuses solely on the negative impacts of building inside the ecological reserve.  All the Foundation’s response does is focus on the positive aspects of the proposed project while ignoring any negative aspects.  The “half glass full” approach is great for most situations, but at Ballona, it has led to an ecosystem that is more than half paved over.  As responsible stewards of the environment, we need to analyze both the benefits and impacts of any proposed project.

We know that we cannot win a public relations battle with the Annenberg Foundation and the various state agencies who want to build within the protected ecosystem.  All we can do is try to keep the discussion going, with the hopes that someone in a position of influence will take a step back and see that the tail is wagging the dog in Ballona.