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The Friends' Policy Statement on Ballona Restoration (Updated 2012)

Friends of Ballona Wetlands supports the process which the California Coastal Conservancy (CCC) is using for restoration planning of the Ballona Wetlands. After years of input from scientists and stakeholders, the CCC is developing a restoration plan that would achieve many of FBW’s goals and objectives, including biodiversity, sustainability, public access, education opportunities, and conservation of rare species. Water quality of Ballona Creek and impacts of climate change on sea-level rise are also being studied to optimize long-term sustainability of restoration. FBW will continue to be engaged in this restoration planning.

What is most important, however, is that at long last, after more than 100 years of abuse and neglect, followed by decades of struggle by FBW and others to save the wetlands from further loss, Ballona finally has a chance to become a functioning ecosystem once more. Studies of Ballona have been conducted over many decades, and many of these will continue. But with the wetlands finally protected as an Ecological Reserve, it is time to act – not in 25 years or 100 years, but now.

Ballona is the last remaining coastal salt marsh in Los Angeles County. With many species endangered in California, the urgency of restoration is clear. After completion of the Freshwater Marsh in 2003 by Playa Vista, we have seen several bird species return to nest at Ballona after many decades of absence. Much is already known about Ballona and this information must be considered in relation to the tremendous biodiversity that will come with restoration. But with priorities focused on protection and sustainability of habitat, we expect restoration to move forward without delay. After all, we need to keep perspective. With nearly 10 million people in Los Angeles County, the ultimate cost per person for restoration may amount to less than a family outing at the movie theater. And the outcome, in terms of conservation of endangered species and an ecosystem that were almost lost forever, will be priceless.

Restoration Conceptual Plan (2007)
The intent of this document was to communicate the values and goals of Friends of Ballona Wetlands in the context of the current Ballona Restoration planning effort.  The Friends have a 25-year history studying and planning for the restoration and desire that our understanding and expertise be translated successfully to the new planning now underway. For more information on the restoration process, head to the Ballona Wetlands Restoration Project website.

click map to zoom and drag to move

Overall Goals: 

Given the location of the Ballona Wetlands and surrounding open space in an urban environment, the biggest challenge is finding the “right” balance between competing needs for salt marsh, freshwater cleansing marsh, uplands, trails and public use.  The Friends guiding principles are as follows:

  1. Restore a wetland ecosystem that functions according to natural estuary flows as much as possible.
  2. Respect and enhance existing rich and productive habitats, minimizing disturbances.
  3. Maximize the areas available to restore tidal marshes.
  4. Minimize disturbance or removal of existing features (such as roads, gas and oil facilities and pipelines, and other expensive infrastructure) when their removal or disturbance would be too expensive, too impractical, or too disruptive.
  5. Create opportunities to educate the public about the values of Ballona, teaching them to respect the boundaries of wildlife habitat and enjoy the wetlands without harming them.

With these guiding principles in mind, the overall goals are:

  • Restore a dynamic, self-sustaining tidal wetlands ecosystem that results in a net gain in wetlands functions and a net gain in salt marsh acreage and that serves as an estuarine link between Santa Monica Bay and the freshwater tributaries to the Ballona Salt Marsh.
  • Maintain flexibility after restoration is complete to allow for adjustments that occur naturally.
  • The preferred salt marsh restoration program is a combination of muted tidal where wetlands are currently relatively healthy and functioning (western end south of the channel), and full tidal further inland where it will be least likely to impact existing infrastructure and/or cause flooding. Existing infrastructure forms a divider between these two tidal regimes.
  • The new restoration plan is also a unique opportunity to remove at least some existing concrete/rip-rap banks of the Ballona Creek creating a wider and more natural estuarine environment for the Creek.
  • For non-wetlands open space, the goal is to create additional salt marsh where feasible and to provide improved uplands and prairie grasslands habitat to support a healthy Ballona ecosystem.  While restoring uplands vegetation is also important, there is minimal land available for salt marsh restoration and that should be the priority. However existing unique habitat areas, such as the remnant dunes, should be protected and restored. 
  • The existing freshwater marsh should be protected, and additional freshwater treatment wetlands be created to protect the salt marsh habitat from upstream urban drainage and pollution and provide a freshwater source for wildlife should be created.
  • Public recreational uses, similar to those planned at the Los Angeles State Historic park, most recently known as the Cornfields property near downtown Los Angeles, should be retained at the existing ball fields and in adjacent open space where existing habitat is poor, in order to serve the recreational needs of the children living in surrounding communities, particularly disadvantaged communities.
  • Generally, however, emphasis should be on passive recreational uses, such as nature trails or a demonstration garden for native plants, as opposed to more ball fields or active recreation. Such land use should be sensitive to special status species which are known to occur on the site (e.g., southern tarplant) or which may be discovered in surveys.
  • Public trails that encourage enjoyment and education regarding Ballona’s valuable natural resources and link to existing or planned visitor nodes--- without impacting habitat -- are also important and need to be included.
  • In order to accomplish the most restoration with limited public dollars, existing constraints should be analyzed and, if possible, accommodated in the restoration design.

    Additionally, the following objectives are important for the restoration effort:


  • To create a diverse, integrated salt marsh system that provides habitat for native coastal estuarine fish, invertebrates, and wildlife.
  • To create freshwater marsh areas which enhance habitat diversity at Ballona and improve water quality.
  • To provide a mix of habitat types for sensitive, rare, and endangered species, and species that are of regional conservation concern.
  • To contribute to the health of Santa Monica Bay and its watershed, including the diversity and abundance of fish, invertebrates, wildlife, and habitat linkages.
  • To restore as much as possible the native plant diversity that had been present historically in the Ballona Wetlands.
  • To allow for a brackish ecotone between the existing freshwater marsh and the to-be-restored salt marsh.
  • To create, where feasible, sufficient and adequate native upland buffers that aid in maintaining and/or restoring resources and serving as a biological link to the adjacent wetlands.
  • As part of native upland buffers, to enhance and create where possible, native coastal prairie habitat – a habitat that is both extremely rare and historically relevant to the region.

Water Quantity:

  • To protect existing communities and facilities from flooding.
  • To allow for seasonal freshwater flushing of the saltwater system that considers interannual variability, natural estuarine dynamics, and the ecology of estuarine species.
  • To provide sufficient capacity in water control structures to maintain tidal flushing as the new salt marsh plantings mature and consume more space.

Water Quality:

  • To assure seasonal fluctuations in salinities to promote salt marsh species diversity.
  • To minimize pollutant input from urban runoff into the salt marsh and Santa Monica Bay.
  • To protect the wetlands system from accidental spills and trash.

Soils and Sedimentation:

  • To allow natural accretion of sediment or create elevational contours with the wetland to accommodate sea-level changes.
  • To maintain soil moisture and salinity at appropriate levels for the types of salt marsh vegetation desired.
  • To remove contaminated or hazardous soils from the site, if present, prior to construction.

Public Access:

  • To allow limited but effective public access in order to provide meaningful opportunities for the public to experience Ballona while protecting and preserving sensitive species and habitats.
  • To provide cohesive trail connections between the Discovery Center, B.O.L.D., freshwater marsh, salt marsh, dunes, Ballona Creek, and the Bluffs. 
  • Safe and Enjoyable: Safe bicycle and walking trails that do not put pedestrians and cyclists on busy streets.
  • Safety on Trails: Call boxes, doggie poop bags, and trash cans should be located periodically on trails. There should be no additional lighting.
  • Controlled and sensible: Use perimeters and existing trails when possible.  Use vistas and clearly designated trails.  Use existing bluffs road (Cabora), possible gas company easement and limited new trails, to link the Visitor Center/Freshwater Marsh to Playa del Rey.   Limited trails allowing for on-leash dog walking. 
  • Use raised look-out towers or platforms for viewing and nature study without disturbing wildlife.
  • Educational:  Signage will explain the story, value, and beauty of Ballona, encouraging stewardship and limiting negative human impact.

 Public Programs:

  • To continue on-site education programs to offer valuable education and restoration opportunities to students of all ages, as well as to the general public.
  • To allow current volunteer restoration programs to continue in the dunes and in specific permitted areas throughout Ballona.
  • To enhance educational opportunities at the Freshwater Marsh.
  • To provide cohesive, connected educational opportunities and signage between the Discovery Center, B.O.L.D., freshwater marsh, salt marsh, dunes, Ballona creek, and bluffs. 

In order to communicate the Friends’ ideas most effectively, a map showing a conceptual plan for the area has been created (attached).  This map represents the Friends’ current thoughts on not only what, but where, changes could be made. However, it is just one visual representation of how the Friends’ goals and values could be implemented and should not be interpreted as the only approach the Friends support.  This conceptual plan is also subject to change based on the results of ground surveys and baseline information from the current planning and analysis process.

Northwest Wetlands (nearest to Marina del Rey)
Open the walls of the Creek expansively in this area and create a habitat island. A channel will connect flows from the Marina to this new expanded estuary. Enhanced uplands encircle the estuary.

Public Access: Bike and trails edge the expanded tidal basin and link with the existing bike trail system.

South Western Wetlands (From Lincoln, West from Ballona Channel to the Bluffs)
The most western wetlands on both sides of Culver Blvd. should be retained as muted tidal so as to minimize impact to existing healthy wetlands and state listed bird habitat.

Just east of this area, but still west of Lincoln, full tidal waters should be brought in via additional tide gates and culverts under Culver Blvd. using the existing Gas Co. service roads to form a barrier between the muted tidal to the west and the full tidal in this area.

A portion of the Ballona Channel sidewalls should be removed to create the wide Tidal Basin to the existing berm north of Culver Blvd. 

The existing riparian habitat and eucalyptus grove at the base of the bluffs should be retained.  Native trees should be planted also. They will eventually replace the non-native eucalyptus and improve habitat values.

The freshwater marsh should be retained and expanded as planned and the overflows to the salt marsh area just to the west should be completed to enhance the creation of a brackish zone.

All overhead power lines should be relocated underground.

Public Access:  A trail along the creek on the south side should be created.

A trail along Cabora Rd. should connect to the Salt marsh near the Inn at Playa del Rey and then through the dunes to the creek side trail.

The trail along the freshwater marsh should connect to Cabora Rd. trail and to the creek trail.

Also very important is the connection from the new Friends of Ballona Wetlands Discovery Center on Bluff Creek Dr. (to the East) to the freshwater marsh and Cabora Rd. Trail system by a footbridge over Lincoln Blvd.

North East Uplands (North of the Ballona Creek, and east of Lincoln Blvd.)
Other than the addition of a freshwater marsh, the area north of Culver should be restored and enhanced upland. South of Culver Blvd., the existing ballfields should be retained and a nature trail/picnic area should be created.

Public Access:  South of Culver Blvd., this area should have public use with nature trails, existing ball fields and links to the existing bike path.  Outside of the existing ball fields, non-native vegetation should be removed and replaced with native species.