After nearly a year of watching the Ballona Wetlands destroyed by the people living in illegally parked RV’s, who dumped garbage into the water, broke fences, used the area as an outdoor toilet and did drugs unimpeded, residents and nonprofits finally reached out to the L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
Residents had asked CD 11 Councilmember Mike Bonin, County Officials and even State Senator Ben Allen and Assemblymember Autumn Burke for help in saving the Ballona Wetlands.
Lucy Han, of the nonprofit Friends of the Jungle, said they received no assistance. In January, she and other volunteers gathered 500 ‘wet signatures’ for L.A. County Supervisor Holly Mitchell that they delivered to prior to the Supervisors meeting.
At that meeting, a vote was taken, and the board asked the staff to research best practices and to report back within 90 days. Realizing that three months of inaction would impact migrating birds, volunteers next sent 400 letters to the L.A. County Sheriff’s Office asking for help.
Today the Sheriff’s office sent out officers, under the direction of Lieutenant Deedrick, to assess the situation.
On site was resident Alex Reynolds, who is now a member of the Westchester/Playa del Rey Neighborhood Council. Speaking to CTN she said, “We need to protect our wetlands and our environment. I got on the Council specifically because of the Wetlands.”
She said that for many of the homeless, this was like the Milford Track (New Zealand). They start in Venice, move to the wetlands and then to Westchester.
Like many residents, Reynolds felt frustrated because of the inaction.
“Rest assured this will all get cleaned up,” Lt. Kitchin said on Friday.” We’re here to determine what everybody’s needs are and see if we can connect them to the right services.”
He told CTN that “residents and other groups have reached out to the Sheriff’s office to see if they can improve the situation, not only for residents, but also for those experiencing homelessness.”
The lead deputy on this operation will be Roy Sanchez, who said, “We’re here to put them in a better situation – that’s what we’re trying to do.”
The procedure starts with an assessment. Someone will meet with every person in the encampment. They will first check to see if there are any veterans and if there are, try to get them in services.
Second each individual will be assessed – do they need mental health help or help with addiction? CTN was told by the Sheriff’s office that each person and his/her situation are individual, so there is no one solution that can be applied to everybody.
Sanchez said that this unit of the Sheriff’s office does things differently, that “we’re not here to arrest, but we’re wearing our ‘out-reach’ hat.”
“We’re trying to place these people in a better place,” Sanchez said. “This is not an overnight operation; we don’t rush it.” After the assessment takes place, the Sheriff’s office will return to the site once or twice a week, which could take a month to six weeks as they continue to work with people.
LAHSA had also been contacted by the Sheriff’s office and two of those workers were on site.
CTN has been reporting on the Ballona Wetlands since August 2021. State Senator Ben Allen and Assemblymember Autumn Burke were contacted/ “I’ve written about the complete degradation of the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve, located in Playa Vista,” CTN told officials.
“The approximately 600-acre protected area is owned by the State of California and managed by California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). The sewage and trash from illegally parked RV’s is running into this sensitive area.”
CTN asked, “Can you explain why the State is not insisting that the City clean up the hazards that are going into the wetlands. Why is the State not fining the City for destroying an environmentally sensitive area?
In October Allen responded: “I remain concerned by the increase in debris and trash at the Ballona Wetlands. My staff and I have been working extensively with the Department of Fish and Wildlife to ensure they are up to date on areas in need of additional attention.
“We happily welcome the public’s help and input in alerting us to areas of state property needing cleanup so we can notify the proper agencies in Los Angeles. We will continue to work with all relevant jurisdictions in search of long-term solutions that protect the reserve’s ecological treasures.”
In early October, Councilman Mike Bonin passed a City Council resolution to spend $63,000 to remove six-tons of trash from the area along Jefferson.
On October 27, the City Council passed Bonin’s motion for a feasibility study to vacate the unimproved/unpaved portions of the public right-of-way and to perform a land survey and title search for properties in that area. “Management of the ecological resources in the Ballona Wetlands is currently impeded by misplaced jurisdictional lines.
“The City of Los Angeles lacks legal protections for habitat that lies within a public right-of-way that runs through and is immediately adjacent to State-protected land. Areas with habitat value currently lack adequate resource protection due to lack of jurisdiction by the adjacent State and nonprofit land managers.”
Residents and birdwatchers have alleged that there’s a methamphetamine lab inside one of the RV’s; they point out that the five-acre fire last March was hampered when firefighters couldn’t access a fire hydrant that was blocked by an RV that couldn’t be moved; septic tanks (plus untreated human waste) are being emptied to the fresh water; needles are left on the parkway; and an August 18 shooting left four men hospitalized.
It appears that residents and nonprofits have finally found a government entity, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Office, who is listening to them and taking action.