Ballona Cleared: Damage Could be Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars

Councilwoman Traci Park has worked to restore the Ballona Wetlands by clearing illegally parked RVs and campers so rehabilitation of the area can occur.

The RVs were mostly gone from the strip of land along Jefferson Boulevard in Playa del Rey that borders the Ballona Wetlands.

This is an environmentally sensitive area that serves as a migratory bird stop for the millions of birds that fly the 7,500 miles between northern Alaska and the southern tip of South America.

On August 3, people driving by, honked, clapped and gave the thumbs up sign to Councilmember Traci Park as she looked at the nearly cleared area.

Even though there had already been one deep clean of larger trash items, there were still needles, pieces of plastic and glass, cigarette butts. Several more Care Plus cleanings were scheduled.

“The major debris has just been picked up,” said Jim Burton, president of EcoKai environmental. “Tomorrow, we start picking up the little stuff. We have to ID potential sources of contamination, such as gas, oils, motor oils—that was just dumped them on the dirt—and we need to take it out.

“This has been an absolute disaster for Ballona,” Burton told Councilmember Traci Parks office.

Cigarette butts, needles and pieces of plastic need to be cleared from the roadway, so it doesn’t flow into the freshwater marsh and ultimately into the ocean.

Friends of the Ballona Executive Director Scott Culbertson estimated that rehabilitating the area could take hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Burton said, “It will cost $153,000 just to replace the fence.” The wood fence that had separated the marsh from the path had been pulled out and destroyed.

Culbertson said that “hundreds of mature native vegetation has been cut down, trampled, destroyed.”

Many of the trees that were planted in 2003 had been cut down the past two winters and used for kindling. All that was left were stumps. Vegetation will also need to be replaced. The cost for plant replacement has not been factored, yet.

The cost to repair the damage is still being assessed and does not include the costs for sanitation, which have already cleaned the area, and will be required to perform additional cleaning.

Most likely the dirt next to the curb will have to be scraped and removed as a biohazard and then replaced with new topsoil, which is also a cost that has not been factored.

Additionally, maintenance that was done monthly in the Ballona, has not been done for several years. Culbertson said that “Because of the encampment, regular maintenance was deferred. Now we’ll have to play catchup.”

The porta-potty that prior Councilman Mike Bonin had placed on the strip of land where city signs clearly stated no parking, could not be removed, yet. The small building was so full of needles, that it needed to be dealt with before it could be taken away.

Although (former) Councilmember Mike Bonin supplied a porta-potty to the illegally-parked RVs, some  urinated in jugs, which were dumped on the land.

A Ballona RV dweller threw porta-potty fluids on a Playa del Rey resident. There are pages and pages of porta-pottys financed with discretionary funds from former Councilman Bonin’s office.

Resident and birder Lynzie Flynn told CTN, “Living across from the Ballona Freshwater Marsh I have watched the destruction over the last few years, and it has been heartbreaking. Fences torn down, trees cut down and used for firewood or just tossed in the street.

“Burglary has increased in Playa Vista and surrounding areas. The marsh has become unsafe for birds, birders and those who simply wanted to take a walk in nature,” Lynn said. “This was overdue in happening due to the powers in the previous administration. We cannot afford to lose this important piece of land and we can’t allow anything like this to happen again anyplace in Los Angeles.”

This editor parked along the road on August 3. At one time as many as 75 RVs and campers, lined the street. There was still a slight whiff of a sewage smell, because of the illegal dumping of the RVs. And many of the RV residents used the Ballona as a bathroom, putting sewage and toilet paper into the fresh water.

The RVs were parked in a no camping/no parking area, but the City did not enforced the signs.

CTN was told that already the area smelled better than a week ago, when the cleaning/removal operation began.

Before Park ran against Bonin in 2022, she went with a “birder” into the marsh area. The woman complained to Park the area was being destroyed and that Bonin was not returning her calls and was not doing anything about the environmental damage.

“As a resident of CD 11, who cares about the coastal environment, that this was allowed to happen was a tragedy,” Park said.

When five acres of the Ballona caught fire in March 2021, it prompted Park to enter the race against Bonin. She said that she realized that someone had to be willing to fight for the birds and the wildlife.

Once she was sworn into office in December 2022, she made good on her promise, not only to the neighborhood, but to those in CD 11, who care about the environment. “The problem was never unsolvable,” she said. “I started working on it in January.”

Legwork involved working with the different agencies, so that the RVs could be cleared. “This is a win for the district and the entire city,” Park told CTN at Ballona. She pointed to all the small pieces of trash/plastics still on the ground that need to be removed.

“It will all go into the storm drains, which go into the oceans,” she said. “CD 11, the Westside, is the repository for the entire watershed region.

“My obligation is to protect these resources for the community,” Park said. As she looked at the land, the dry brush, the remaining trash, and even the storm drains that had served as a garbage dump for the vans, restoring the habitat is a primary concern for the councilmember.

The RVs parked along Ballona allow garbage and human waste to go into the environmentally sensitive area. The City has not enforced “no parking.”

Park said that when vans had been asked to move on last week, another RV caught fire. There have been numerous fires in that string of RVs, and in February a man was found dead, charred inside a motorhome that had burned.

“The dangers are real, not theoretical and the intervention is long overdue,” she said.

Culbertson and Burton, hope that restoration can be done through the fall, so students and L.A. residents can return to the area.

By bringing school children to the Ballona, “We are training the next generation of eco-warriors,” Culbertson said, noting that 265 different species have been documented in the area. “This is a resource for all of L.A., we want families to see the amazing diversity of wildlife.”

Fencing is up and people will not be allowed to illegally park in this area as rehabilitation gets underway. As Park looked over the area, she realized this was just the first in a long set of steps to rehabilitate the area; to bring the birds back and allow wildlife to repopulate the area.

“Man, do we have a lot of work to do,” she said.

By removing the illegally parked vans, Friends of Ballona can start to work on maintenance at the wetlands. Councilwoman Traci Park has been working on clearing the area since January.

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17 Responses to Ballona Cleared: Damage Could be Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars

  1. M says:

    FINALLY! something is being done. Good for Councilwoman, Parks – HOO-RAY!!

  2. Lynn Hylen says:

    Thank God for Traci Park and everyone who voted her into office!! The travesty of what happened to Ballona Wetlands is finally at an end. Mike Bonin should be cited for crimes against the environment. This is a huge and long-awaited respite for birds and residents who love and need nature to flourish.

  3. K.C. Soll says:

    BRAVA!!!

  4. R Weber says:

    Bravo, Councilperson Park!

  5. Dave Borgeson says:

    Congratulations to Traci Park for making this happen. Can Bonin somehow be sued or forced to pay for this for his incompetence and failure to enforce the law?

  6. THANK YOU COUNCILWOMAN TRACI PARK! You have demonstrated that something can be done about multiple issues! Too bad they didn’t give you some of the billions of dollars that seems to have vaporized. One of the biggest roadblocks to reclaiming these encampments has been relocating the people living in the encampments. I’m curious how this was accomplished!

  7. Debra-Lynne Terrill says:

    Thank you, Traci Park! The damage that Bonin inflicted on our community will take a long time to heal but you have made a wonderful start.

  8. Cindy Simon says:

    A true leader takes on a challenge and gets things done, bringing capable persons alongside her in the battle! Thank you Councilwoman Park who looked at a problem and didn’t say “nothing we can do about it”. We will suffer PTSD from the Bonin time for years to come, but hard work can cure us !

  9. Birute Anne Vileisis says:

    Traci Park deserves the Citizen of the Year medal! How
    many of us saw the destruction of this wildlife sanctuary
    and felt powerless to do anything. It took Traci’s courage
    to run and win against Bonin and her grit and determination
    to clean up this abomination of a mess. Kudos and many
    thanks to her perseverance to help restore Ballona wetlands to
    it’s previous glory.

  10. Murray Levy says:

    Traci Park should be Mayor or Governor. Then we’d have a chance of cleaning up the homelessness mess.

  11. A says:

    The damage Mike Bonin has caused to CD 11 will take decades to repair!

  12. Jose says:

    Great work. Long overdue. It devolved into a Health hazard and meth abuse haven. I can’t believe how badly they trashed the environment there. Hope the city gets the dozen or so rv stragglers out before the whole encampment regenerates. Bonin was out of his mind.

  13. Helen Fallon says:

    Thank you Traci! The money to rehabilitate the Wetlands should come from the billion dollars the city has allocated to addressing the homeless issue. We need to have an accurate picture of just how much turning our streets and public areas into campgrounds is actually costing the taxpayers. This desstruction of our public spaces has to stop and there must be consequences. Living in an RV is not an excuse for destroying public property and creating environmental hazards.

  14. Thank you, Traci, for successfully tackling this and
    seeing it through. I hope the Venice Library is high
    on your list to clean up and prevent camping and
    loitering so that all residents of CD 11 felt safe and
    can enjoy and use the library when it reopens.

  15. McMulligan says:

    Take every gallon of waste, all the needles, all the feces, every drop of urine, all the trash and the filth and drop it all off, all it, in Mike Bonin’s backyard.

  16. Michele Stark says:

    Ecokai Environmental should also be commended and Jim Burton especially for tirelessly bringing this up to the LA city council. Ecokai has continuously been bringing in dumpsters and cleaning up inspite of being understaffed and outnumbered by the homeless population. We should be very grateful for the incredible effort by Jim Burton and his team at Ecokai Environmental.

  17. Gail Kim says:

    As of August 9, the last of the vehicles are gone and barricades are in place to prevent parking. I saw people working cleanup as I drove past this morning (8/11).

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