The Army Corps of Engineers says it is sorry for causing damage to the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area last December but a local Audubon Society leader is still upset about the Corps dragging its feet on a remedy.
The Corps hopes to resume work to restore the area by the start of the federal fiscal year on October 1. Many conservationists and nature lovers complained bitterly about the drastic and unexpected cleanup by the Corps. Work has been stopped while the Corps met with area stakeholders to develop a plan for restoration. There was a further delay over the summer because of nesting birds.
At a meeting last week of her Valley Advisory Council, state Sen. Fran Pavley asked about two dozen community leaders to keep a “going forward mentality.” She is actively involved in discussions to restore and preserve the area, which is south of Burbank Boulevard.
Jodi Clifford, of the Environmental Resources Branch of the Corps, told the group that the Corps “removed some vegetation” and that action “was not well received.” They paused work while re-engaging with stakeholders, she said. The Corps “understands the passions” related to natural areas.
There has been some re-emergence of native plants and much growth of non-natives, she said. They plan to tag non-native trees that will be replaced with natives and develop a herbicide plan to encourage growth of other natives. They also need a plan to move an encampment of homeless people living there, she said.
At their last meeting with stakeholders in April, there was some disagreement about what people want the area to have. The Corps spent time this summer developing alternative plans, Clifford said, but the plan has always been to emphasize native growth.
Kris Ohlenkamp, San Fernando Valley Audubon Society conservation chair, expressed frustration with the lack of progress on the project. He said the Corps has not responded to repeated requests for information. The nature group is considering legal action against the Corps, he said.
He showed a drawing of a current proposal that is essentially the same as what was presented in 1979, with a three-acre pond within the 48-acre natural surrounding area. He said work had started around 1980 but was stopped. The plan would result in the area looking similar to the natural area north of Burbank Boulevard, he said.
Ohlenkamp has lead weekly tours of the basin for 32 years. At a previous council meeting he said residents discovered on Dec. 22 that the Corps had removed all vegetation lower than 20 feet. The Corps filled the ecology pond with discarded trees and debris, disturbing wildlife and destroying vegetation that had been planted over many years by volunteers.
Audubon wants mitigations for environmental damage, remuneration for damages, improvements in communications with local representatives and clarification of their master plan for the basin, he said.
Glenn Bailey, who is involved in several Valley conservation efforts as well as being president of the Encino Neighborhood Council, said the Sepulveda Basin Advisory Committee was established about 20 years ago. He said water to fill the pond and sprinkle the area comes from the nearby Tillman recycling plant, so no potable water is used there.
In response to a question, Clifford said, “There is a lesson to be learned and I think we learned it.”
Terri M. Kaplan, chief of the Corps’ Asset Management Division, said, “I have apologized before and I apologize again that we dropped the ball. … The Corps needs to remember that public engagement is our policy.”
In separate presentations, DWP representatives explained the importance of updating the power and water systems for the City of Los Angeles.
Under state mandate, the city is required to eliminate coal-burning power plants, which provide about 40 percent of the power supply. By 2020, DWP is mandated to use 33 percent renewable energy sources, including solar, wind and geothermal. DWP says that “over the next 15 years, Los Angeles DWP will replace over 70 percent” of the power generating capacity that was built during the last 100 years. Toward that goal, DWP has a variety of solar projects and incentive programs.
Los Angeles depends on groundwater for about 15 percent of the city’s water supply, with twice that amount in dry years. About 80 percent of the groundwater rights are from the San Fernando Valley, mostly in the northeastern area. DWP has several programs to identify and treat groundwater contamination, recycle water and capture storm water to increase groundwater supplies. The city is supporting a $3 billion bond to help pay for the projects.
Sen. Pavley said some of her top legislative priorities include increasing penalties for “the worst of the worst” child pornographers, initiating state regulations and oversight on fracking and gradually increasing the state minimum wage to $10.
Pavley said current laws set the penalty for child porn the same for one photo or 10,000 photos. Although California prisons are required to release another 10,000 non-violent prisoners by Dec. 31 under court order, she believes there should be longer sentences for the worst child pornographers. She is working with district attorneys in Los Angeles and Ventura counties on the issue.
There are an estimated 15.4 billion barrels of oil embedded in Monterey shale in the state, Pavley said. Currently, there are no regulations concerning fracking, a process that uses high-pressure water or acid to extract the oil. As chair of the Senate Water Committee, she is concerned about possible water and air pollution. She emphasized that she is not asking for a moratorium, only for regulations and oversight on fracking.
Pavley, who was re-elected to a second Senate term in November, meets several times a year with her Valley Advisory Council to discuss current legislative issues and local topics of concern.