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SFV Audubon Rep Says Army Corps' 'Lies Have Stopped' About Sepulveda Basin Razing

An agreement for the restoration of the area is nearing, Kris Ohlenkamp tells the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council.

Kris Ohlenkamp, conservation chair of the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society, stood in front of a podium and addressed the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council Monday night.

"I’m going to assume that you’ve all heard about what the Army Corps of Engineers did in the Sepulveda Basin, and in an effort to save time, can I see a show of hands if there is anyone that is not entirely convinced that what they’ve done is a travesty?" he asked.

Not one hand went up.

"OK, everybody agrees," Ohlenkamp said.

Ohlenkamp then reported that the Audubon Society, the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Area Steering Committee (SBWASC) and other local environmental groups have made significant progress with the Corps about a restoration plan for 46 acres of vegetation that was removed in the basin by the Corps in December.

"We’ve come to several agreements. They’re not formally agreeing that they’re agreements, but they are agreeing that we are making progress for the restoration proposal that we presented them with," Ohlenkamp said.

Ohlenkamp also reported to the council that local environmental leaders were scheduled to take a tour of the area with Los Angeles District Commander Col. Mark Toy of the Corps on Tuesday and talk further about the restoration plan. (See the attached photos of the tour sent to Patch by Glenn Bailey, a member of the SBWASC and president of the Encino Neighborhood Council.)

"The good news is, the lies have stopped," Ohlenkamp said. "Their vegetative management plan said one thing, and they did entirely different things. And they’d been lying up until about two weeks ago, saying, 'No it didn’t, we only removed three trees.' When in fact, I can show you before maps and I can go there now and count the trees, and there’s more than 100 trees gone."

Ohlenkamp said the restoration plan proposed by the SBWASC calls for a wilderness pond, new trails, the introduction of native plants and a seasonal marsh.

"The Sepulveda Basin is the nursery for the entire Los Angeles River, and many birds that nest in the basin but use the entire river. It’s really a unique place from an environmental perspective," Ohlenkamp said.

After the tour Ohlenkamp sent out an email to local environmental groups saying the tour did not go well and there are still many topics that have not been agreed upon. Parts of the email read as follows:

Apparently, the Colonel took this opportunity to show his staff that he is not caving in to the enviros and wants to take a hard line on a couple of specific issues; bodies of water, tall vegetation and trees, and removal of large pieces of debris...

We also heard a bit about how poor they are and only have the budget to do 14% of their necessary maintenance. And yet, somehow, they can find the funds to remove all the vegetation in the LA River (from Burbank Blvd. to the Dam), twice in one year - and throw in Haskell Creek and Encino Creek as well. No explanation given.   

So, we all had a grand time.

The razing of the acres of vegetation in December by the Corps caused outrage with several local environmental groups, some members of the Los Angeles City Council and the Encino Neighborhood Council, which were not consulted about the vegetation removal or notified in advance.

The razing also prompted the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board to send a letter to the Corps stating that it had not filed proper paperwork with the Water Board. State lawmakers like Kevin DeLeon have also called for a report on how the devastation happened, and Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry asked for a report from city staff on the notification procedures in place with the Corps.

On its website, the Corps posted a story about the tour of the basin that happened Tuesday and reported agreements were reached on a number of topics, but did not give any indication about the disagreements Ohlenkamp outlined in his email. The story also announced that the Corps would resume the vegetation management program work that began in December and made no mention of the local controversy and outrage the razing of the vegetation had caused. 

"We're going to work together to figure out the best use," the story quoted Toy as saying to the environmental leaders who were at the tour. "I want it to be valuable habitat for all of us, but I don't want it to be vegetation that's going to create a huge expense for us to maintain it."

Several members of the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council asked Ohlenkamp why the Corps had razed the land.

"The reasons that they used in their plan was to address the crime issues and the homeless issues," Ohlenkamp said. "They provided absolutely no documentation. The lead officer for the area is not aware of any crimes in the wildlife reserve. We looked at the LAPD crime website where they have maps, there is zero showing for last year. So that is not a significant issue."

Ohlenkamp also said $60,000 worth of city funds were used to do improvements in the basin, and that the improvement area was destroyed.

"We’re hoping the L.A. City Attorney will look into it and get some of that money via penalties back," Ohlenkamp said.

In response to Ohlenkamp's speech, the council passed two motions unanimously. One called on the Corps to provide adequate notice to the Encino, Sherman Oaks and Lake Balboa neighborhood councils at least 60 days prior to any proposed actions in the Sepulveda Basin, and the other called for the Corps to provide restoration of the wildlife area and compensation to the city and county for money expended for improvement in the area that was destroyed.

Gregory Urbach February 13, 2013 at 04:33 PM
The Army Corp is Engineers is really outrageous. The San Fernando Valley is not occupied enemy territory, but they've assumed the right to run roughshod over our citizens and our resources. They need to be held accountable, and that means firing these liars and replacing them with responsible public servants. If the politicians don't have the guts to stand up to them, maybe we need new leaders.
Don Jagg February 13, 2013 at 07:03 PM
Too funny. New leaders? We squander that opportunity every time we have an election. Where's our US Congressman on this. He said he was a environmentalist in all that junk mail he sent me. Maybe he's the only one that is smart enough to realize that it is the US Army's property and the primary purpose of it is to keep Sherman Oaks and everything else down stream from washing away in a major rain storm. Sorry, but from the US Army's point of view, the birds come second, just above the homeless people. As far as crime, apparently Mr. Ohlenkamp doesn't frequent the area after dark. The area had several large homeless camps and was a hotbed for drug use and gay prostitution. Park your car at the small lot on the north side of Burbank, just west of the 405, about 9pm any night and you will certainly get propositioned.
Tim H. February 14, 2013 at 04:15 AM
No.. that is not correct.. The Army Corps of Engineers needs to completely raze that area and use the land for it's intended purpose, to stop flooding of Encino, Sherman Oaks and all other communities downstream of the sewer water/runoff!
Tim H. February 14, 2013 at 04:17 AM
Way to go Don Jagg, finally someone else is stating the obvious truth!
jenius February 15, 2013 at 08:55 PM
The US Army Corps of Engineers is--as evidenced by decades of "projects"--an environmental terrorist organization which needs elimination far more than vegetation. Countless acres of wetlands (which are essential for DRAINAGE and water purification) gone at their hands all over the country. Homelessness and prostitution are not Corps jurisdiction, nor are they caused by trees and underbrush. I'm also trying to figure out which part of Burbank is west of the 405. Or even close to it.
Tim H. February 15, 2013 at 09:13 PM
Hey JENIUS.. Burbank Boulevard runs through the basin... obviously you don't even know the area... It's the Army's land.. and hobo encampments and prostitution happens in the area.. it IS their jurisdiction, they just allow City of L.A. through a land-use agreement to have parks in the basin! That is the big mistake!
Don Jagg February 16, 2013 at 02:36 AM
Obviously, I didn't mean the City of Burbank. I also have no problem with the land being used for recreation as long as it's primary purpose is not compromised. We look at the LA River which is usually running at a very low rate and lose sight of just how powerful it can be. The Ballona Creek in the Mid City/Culver City area which empties into Marina Del Rey was created when the LA River jumped it's bank and took a shortcut to the ocean. We can argue about whether we should be here or not, but the fact is, we, our houses and our businesses are here and the river needs to be controlled to keep them from being wiped out. The Sepulveda Basin was created just for that purpose, along with catching the Van Norman Dam if it should ever fail.
Tim H. February 16, 2013 at 03:45 AM
Yes Don Jagg... also, no one is commenting regarding when the LA river overflows its banks and deposits raw sewage onto the street along Burbank Bl (Hayvenhurst to Woodley.. When the dam hits 680 feet, the LAPD shuts down all access... After the river subsides, they do an on-site assessment of debris, etc. in the roadway.. one year there was almost a foot of sludge/sewer debris.. It took City road crews two weeks to clean it up.. I saw a jogger the next day after a storm.. I told them they were jogging in sewage! They were shocked and wanted to know why there aren't any public warnings/closures.. such as they have at Ballona Creek/beach areas.. There are NO CLOSURES for bio hazard!
Dick Carter February 16, 2013 at 05:03 AM
Until you learn the geography, you need not say ONE word. This cleanup is the best thing to ever hit the Wildlife Area, and was long overdue. Whether you are/were for or against anything going on there, the shrubery was WAY overgrown, the lack of indigenous plant materials had grown significantly, and of course the pond was drained over a year ago, because Vector Control felt that mosquito abatement was a major importance, and that by not having water, there would be no mosquitoes, and there were none. Mission accomplished. I walked thru the area on day 2 of the demolition, complimented the gang on the work they were doing, went to the basin website where it specifically mentioned that December of 2012 would be the month that the place would be cleaned up, and that the replanting would occur in the Spring. All this nonsense on the part of all those "do-gooders" or bird-watchers is just that - nonsense. How many of you realize that at least 2 people were killed in that area over the past 2-3 years? Cause & effect - does it matter to the 2 that lost their lives. Cleaning up the area, making it safe and environmentally sound for all - these are important items. Let the Corps do its job - they know much more about the task at hand than nearly any of the objectors will EVER know.
Tim H. February 16, 2013 at 06:15 AM
Well said Dick Carter... raze the area and grow corn... Building Lake Balboa was a mistake! Cicero corn fields was better!
anita sands March 21, 2013 at 10:59 PM
This is going to be a trend. The Army needs al fresco jails or concentration camps dotting a circle around every big city. Count on it, more leaf green spaces will disappear to be covered with khaki green. See http://www.masterjules.net/marktoy.htm

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