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Legitimacy of Enviro Award for O'Day Questioned  
By Jonathan Friedman
Lookout News

March 30, 2010 --City Council member Terry O’Day will be recognized next month as a “Watershed Warrior” by the group Friends of Ballona Wetlands at a catered cocktail party in downtown Los Angeles. However, some environmentalists say Friends falsely portrays itself as an environmental group and is in fact an arm of development interests.

Richard Beban, co-executive director of Friends, said O’Day is being honored for the work of Environment Now, the organization he heads. Beban said O’Day was considered for the award prior to being appointed to the Santa Monica City Council last month.

“As head of Environment Now, he’s been doing a great deal on coastal resource protection … not only in Southern California, but in Baja California,” Beban said. “We’re a group that is deeply concerned with water and water quality issues.”

Friends’ authenticity has come into question because of its support for at least portions of Playa Vista. The Westchester area development has been the center of legal battles for years, with environmentalist charging that it threatens the wetlands and other sensitive areas.

Friends, founded in 1978, was originally an opponent of Playa Vista. But in 1990 it reached a legal settlement with Maguire Thomas Partners, then owner of the project. In exchange for the developer protecting some wetlands and contributing $10 million toward wetlands restoration, Friends agreed to end its opposition.

It also pledged to support the developer at meetings and to the media, as well as speak against those who oppose the plan.

“They’re clearly really not even considered part of the environmental community at Ballona,” said Marcia Hanscom, head of the Ballona Institute, which is one of the many organizations opposed to Playa Vista. “They’re really considered part of the arm of the Playa Vista development.”

She added, “They have a story to tell, and their story is how great Playa Vista is.”

After years of legal wrangling, construction for Phase 1 of Playa Vista began in 2001.

Known as The Village, Phase 2 of the project also went through years of legal fights, including a battle with the City of Santa Monica. The Los Angeles City Council last Friday approved the 111-acre Phase 2, which includes 2,800 homes, a shopping center, offices and parks.

David Kay, vice president of the Friends board of directors and a Playa Vista resident, spoke in favor of Phase 2 at the City Council hearing. Friends co-Executive Director Lisa Fimiani also praised the project. But her comments were limited to what she considered Phase 2’s environmental benefits, while Kay’s comments were about the project in general.

Beban said it is not accurate to portray Friends as a pro-Playa Vista organization. He said it supports what he calls environmental pluses of the project.

“We have found that Playa Vista has worked extraordinarily well to preserve and protect the existing wetlands,” Beban said. “And that’s what we’ve been speaking to.”

 


Several members of the Friends board have connections to Playa Vista. Also, Playa Vista is listed as a sponsor on the invitation for next month’s event honoring O’Day.

Terry O'Day
      Terry O'Day

Meanwhile, Beban questioned Hanscom as an environmentalist. He called her a “disruptor who is in it for herself,”adding that she is more interested in suing people than in coming up with solutions.

“Marcia Hanscom has been lying about the Friends of Ballona Wetlands since 1994 and will continue to lie about the Friends of Ballona Wetlands,” Beban said. “And I consider that anything Marcia Hanscom will say should be taken with a grain of salt.”

But Hanscom is not the only environmentalist questioning Friends. Kathy Knight, a Santa Monica resident from the Sierra Club who has been involved in the Playa Vista battle for many years, said she is familiar with Friends as the organization that has “opposed many of the things we have said (about Playa Vista).

As for O’Day, he said he is not “that familiar” with Friends, but he knows about some of its work, including its support for restoration and access to the coastal wetlands.

“Are they not an environmental group? I don’t know, if you’re doing work for restoration and access on coastal wetlands, I kind of think you are,” O’Day said.

He continued, “I know that the wars rage on over Ballona. But this is the group that is looking forward to restoring these wetlands … Marcia has a disagreement over what their restoration strategy is. And I don’t know all the details.”

O’Day said he also supports Hanscom’s organization, which Environment Now has given financial backing in the past. He said it is not clear to him that Friends is a Playa Vista supporter, but he would be “very interested to hear about it” if it were true.

Environment Now was an opponent for Phase 1 of Playa Vista, but did not take a position on Phase 2.

O’Day was appointed to the council last month after four of the six sitting council members selected him on the eighth round of voting to fill the seat made vacant by the January death of Mayor Ken Genser. ("O'Day Picked for Vacant Council Seat," Feb.24, 2010)

But O’Day has little time to rest. He must defend his seat in a November election.

An e-mail has been floating around Santa Monica from the public relations firm, the Karie Group, promoting next month’s event, which costs $500 per ticket and includes sponsorship packages for Friends ranging from $1,000 to $10,000.

The Karie Group is headed by Kim Karie, a Santa Monica resident who has connections with several City Council members as well as developers. Last fall, she hosted a fundraiser for City Councilmember Pam O’Connor, who is up for re-election in November.

 

Friends falsely portrays itself as an environmental group and is in fact an arm of development interests

“They’re clearly really not even considered part of the environmental community at Ballona,” said Marcia Hanscom, head of the Ballona Institute”
        Environmentalists


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