Save the Ballona Wetlands, or give us some half-decent restaurants?
Approximately 5:30 pm, 18 April 1999
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My office is in a Marina del Rey highrise, right near the Ballona Wetlands. The Wetlands, which look like a desolate wasteland to the uneducated eye, are part of a vicious struggle between developers and environmentalists.
The view of the wetlands from the roof of my Building is to the right. Bleak, featureless land, with nothing but Lincoln Blvd to give the scene some colour and interest.
A large real estate development firm wants to change all that, and bring shops, restaurants and homes to the desolate landscape. Places where we can live, work, dream. Places that make sense within an urban context.
We do, after all, live in a city. And, in my view, there are not nearly enough good restaurants around the Marina. Not to mention reasonably priced apartments. If we can get more housing and more places to eat, drink and enjoy, I look forward to seeing Playa Vista work.
Others, of course, disagree. And when they do it in a bizarre, colourful way, I can't help but pay attention. What is that saying? I don't like what you're saying, but I defend to the death your right to say it?
Indeed. To the left, you see what the Ballona Wetlands Land Trust call "Puppets". They are supposed to represent the earth, the water, and something else I have momentarily forgotten. (Hopefully someone will drop me a line and let me know). (Someone did! It was air. My thanks to Andrew for pointing this out). As I was driving back from a most excellent dinner in Manhattan Beach (most Marina restaurants being rather mediocre), I saw this strange procession of odd looking people. Not being one to resist a photographic opportunity, I grabbed my Canon XL1 MiniDV camcorder and set out to get some pictures.
Their arguments are interesting. They repeat the saying that the Wetlands are LA County's kidneys, as though that means anything to someone not yet familiar with the situation. One rather frightfully hysterical woman said that she would die if the Wetlands were developed, due to the hideous lack of open space that would ensue. I must say I find that hard to believe; when I've driven in the area, I have not seen one single soul around the land, even before the developers erected their giant fences (see left). The lands look bleak and friendless.
And yet they are the habitat for numerous birds; you can see a lamentably blurry picture of one on the right. It created much excitement among the protesters as they talked; they suddenly became animated and happy over this one bird, the way I might feel if I had solved a particularly difficult but satisfying computer problem.
For those unfortunate, unhappy souls who don't care about the wetlands themselves, they include a protest against substantial state subsidies that were given to make the project work. Unfortunately, their information is a bit shallow on details; my experience is that the State only gives subsidies when it feels something, such as higher tax rolls in the future, is in the offing. And I have no doubt that Playa Vista will provide.
And yet, despite my love of buildings and expensive camera and computer equipment that forms my own personal religion, it was curiously moving to see all these people actually caring about a local issue. The protest obviously took quite a bit of effort and organization, and I don't doubt the sincerity of those who participated.
Sadly, an extensive search of the web brought forth no passionate official page from Playa Vista, nothing about how the development would do wonderful things. However, I did find a collection of articles from various environmental publications that presented part of the other side of the story.
A big page with nothing but my images of the protest. If you hate what I say but like the pictures, this is where to go.
The urban world has its own special magic. Here's what the Ballona Wetlands may become.
The protest group
Mother Jones has a very well written writeup of the controversy and the stakes involved.
Playa Vista supports the rather trendy principles of sustainable development.
A bit about the Dreamworks dream
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Created using xemacs on a Silicon Graphics Indigo2 workstation, Radius EditDV for the Mac, and hosted on a Linux server. No Microsoft software was used in the preparation or serving of this document.
Text and Images Copyright © 1999 David H Dennis. All rights reserved Last modified: Mon Apr 19 22:40:46 PDT 1999