Founded in 1978, the Friends Saved the Wetlands, Then Had an Instrumental Role in Getting Them Designated as a State Ecological Reserve

First Friends of Ballona Sign with Founder Ruth Lansford

Prior to extensive housing and commercial development in the 20th Century, the Ballona Wetlands encompassed more than 2,000 acres. In 1978, Ruth Lansford gathered other concerned citizens to join her in protecting what remained of the wetlands. That year, Lansford created and secured nonprofit status for Friends of Ballona Wetlands, and thereafter, the nascent organization pursued protracted litigation against a series of developers. In 2003, the State of California, the developer of Playa Vista, and the Friends reached an agreement to preserve approximately 600 acres of the Wetlands.  

The Friends’ history of advocacy through activism, working with other NGOs, and creating community restoration and educational programs established the organization as a leading voice in preserving the Ballona Wetlands.

Friends Fought to Restore 51 Acres of Freshwater Wetlands

Once a dry, weedy field, the Ballona Freshwater Marsh now supports more wildlife than the entire Wetland has in many years.

The Friends are proud of this achievement. The landowner could have simply built a run-off basin, but through our tough negotiations, we achieved a freshwater marsh that met 3 conditions:

  • It must create habitat superior to what existed before.

  • That habitat must be maintained in perpetuity.

  • Should it not be compatible with the salt marsh restoration, it must be redesigned and rebuilt until it is.

Ballona Freshwater Marsh full of Wildlife

The marsh was created without the use of any public money and is maintained through a conservancy directed by Playa Vista residents. 


Our Timeline

1979   Tours begin along Ballona Creek, inaugurating the Friends Education Program

1984   Lawsuit filed against California Coastal Commission

1990   Settled lawsuit with successful outcome of saving 340 acres of Ballona Wetlands, funding for Ballona Wetlands Foundation, commitment to create Freshwater Marsh, and land set aside for Ballona Interpretive Center within development

1992   Initiated tide gates project with multiple agencies including Army Corps of Engineers, County of Los Angeles, and Heal the Bay for self-regulating tide gate installation

1994   Created Ballona dunes restoration program as a volunteer effort

2003   Dedication of Freshwater Marsh and creation of Freshwater Marsh docent program

2003   Fostered state purchase of Ballona through Trust for Public Land (600 Ballona acres now owned by the State of California)

2004  Ballona tide gate installation completed creating a healthier salt marsh

2005   Successfully advocated for an Ecological Reserve designation for Ballona Wetlands with California Department of Fish and Game

2007   In partnership with Loyola Marymount University, launched Pollution Prevention Project to reduce pollution in the Ballona Watershed

2007 / 2008   Received funding from City of Los Angeles for Pollution Prevention; Southern California Edison and Sony for dunes restoration and education; William C. Bannerman Foundation and JiJi Foundation for organizational capacity

2009   Received new funding from Southern California Edison and Sony for dunes restoration and education, and a $25,000 capacity building grant from the S. Mark Taper Foundation

2010   The federally-endangered Least Bell’s Vireo nested for the first time since the Ballona Wetlands system was restored

2011   The Federally Endangered El Segundo Blue Butterfly, a formerly extirpated endemic species, was discovered in the restored Ballona dune system

2012   Edison International awards $35,000 grant to benefit Friends’ Education & Restoration programs

2013   A delegation from the Forestry Department of Shandong Province, China tour the Ballona Freshwater Marsh

2014   Published Patterns of Vehicle-based Vertebrate Mortality in the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve technical memorandum in collaboration with The Bay Foundation

2015   Wetlands Restoration Principles Coalition is formed to collaboratively advocate and support wetland restoration projects

2016   Scott Culbertson named the Executive Director of Friends of Ballona Wetlands

2017   First Migration Celebration at Ballona Discovery Park attracts more than 650 attendees

2018   Received grant from California Wildlife Foundation to fund Ballona Gateway Restoration Project

2018   In partnership with Heal the Bay, LA Waterkeeper, Surfrider Foundation, and The Trust for Public Land, launched fact-based campaign to educate and keep residents of Playa Del Rey and Playa Vista informed about the restoration of Ballona