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Lawyer Objects to Silencing of Public at December 2022 Hearing for Ballona Wetlands Plan

Letter seeks new hearing

Christina Ku, a public interest lawyer, sent a demand letter to the California Coastal Commission last week, objecting to the silencing of members of the public at a December 2022 hearing about a proposed industrial habitat alteration plan for the Ballona Wetlands. 

The letter seeks a new hearing in which all members of the public have an opportunity to provide evidence and testimony about the imperiled wildlife that would be harmed by the CA Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) project. It is written on behalf of Lisa Levinson (In Defense of Animals), Robert Roy van de Hoek (Ballona Institute), and Marcia Hanscom (Defend Ballona Wetlands), who were each promised three minutes to speak, but denied this right in violation of the Bagley Keene Act.

According to the letter submitted by attorney Ku, the agenda item at the  Coastal Commission was “for a permit to allow CDFW to drill ten 8-10” diameter borings 25-60 ft. deep for geotechnical analysis and six 2-3” chemical borings 6 ft. deep within areas South and Southeast Area B of the Ballona Wetlands Ecological  Reserve in Playa del Rey, Los Angeles County. The approval of this permit for  CDFW to drill allows the preliminary work to be done to lay the foundation for the industrial excavation of more than 2 million cubic yards of soil of the last coastal wetlands. There is ample ecological evidence that the drilling and borings  combined, produce devastating destruction of marsh soil and water in a fragile  coastal ecosystem.” 

Further, attorney Ku explains the reason for shock from the public to hear the Chair of the Commission not only deny the evidence from being presented but was completely dismissive of the public’s desire to be heard. 

“After waiting over six hours to present, my clients were shut out of the public  hearing as Donne Brownsey, California Coastal Commission Chair stated: “I’m sorry…. I’ve closed the public hearing. I think that we got all of the public  comments that we really, truly needed.”

Environmental scientist Robert Roy van de Hoek, who has testified at Coastal Commission hearings for the last twenty years was stunned.  

“It’s not up to any government official – and I used to be one – to determine which comments are needed and which comments are not needed.  The purpose California’s open meeting laws are to provide the public the opportunity to be heard, and then it is up to the decision-makers to make their decisions based on what they have heard,” stated van de Hoek. 

Attorney Ku quoted part of the Bagley Keene Act too underscore this point:  

“Under §11120 the people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on  remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments  they have created.” 
“The chair’s actions prevented commissioners from seeing the rare animals who would be impacted and likely killed by their decision, including the Monarch  Butterfly and the White-faced Ibis,” added Lisa Levinson. 

“In more than 30 years as an advocate at California Coastal Commission meetings, I’ve witnessed numerous times when private landowners were denied  permits because of the presence of species like the imperiled White-tailed Kite, which feed regularly in the very area the California Department of Fish & Wildlife wants to decimate with their massive machines. It’s despicable that the commission chair prevented this key evidence from being shown to the other commissioners,” said Hanscom, a community organizer working with Defend  Ballona Wetlands. 

The California Coastal Commission could not immediately be reached for comment.

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