Litigation is always a last resort for the Land Trust. However, it is frequently the only way that we can compel various agencies and entities to adhere to environmental laws and public interest laws. Regrettably, we found ourselves needing to litigate seven different cases in 2020, and we may need to file additional litigation in 2021. Below is a brief description of each case and why we believe each case is important to the welfare of the Ballona Wetlands.
We sued the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission twice, one suit is for refusing to disclose public records and the other relates to the Commission’s patently illegal delegation of its public duties to a private entity called the Bay Foundation. The Commission, a state agency, has a statutory mandate to monitor, assess, coordinate and advise all state programs that impact Santa Monica Bay and its watershed, including the Ballona Wetlands. Allowing a private Foundation to assume that oversight role, and allowing the Foundation to keep various documents hidden from the Commission, created a vacuum of leadership and accountability, which has led to harmful management decisions. We are very successful that we will prevail in both cases and that the Commission will be compelled to redefine its relationship with the Foundation in a manner that is consistent with the law. In three previous suits against the Commission, we received a favorable court ruling and two favorable settlements, as well as reimbursement of our legal fees of approximately $243,000.
We also filed a lawsuit directly against the Bay Foundation for breach of contract and fraud. This suit relates to a settlement agreement we had entered into with the Foundation designed to protect the independent decision-making of the Commission.
We sued the California Fish and Game Commission for refusing to make a required determination regarding the appropriateness of leasing ecological reserve land, acquired at great taxpayer expense for the express purpose of habitat conservation, the County to alleviate its parking needs.
We sued the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, along with the California Coastal Commission for approving the removal of mature trees from the ecological reserve without sufficient analysis or evidentiary support that such tree removal would not negatively impact the habitat in the ecological reserve.
For the third time, we also sued the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors for its refusal to disclose public records. And, for the third time, we obtained the records in question and reimbursement of our legal fees over $8,000, totaling over $23,000 for the three cases. It is very unfortunate that this County agency, which maintains the above referenced paved parking lots in the ecological reserve, has been so careless in its adherence to the California Public Records Act. We are confident that we will soon be able to compel the removal of excess parking areas in the ecological reserve, allowing that additional land to be converted to native wildlife habitat.
Finally, we sued the Marina del Rey Convention and Visitors Bureau for violation of the Brown Act, which is the open meeting statute for local governments. The Bureau played a substantial lobbying role with regard to the leased parking areas in the ecological reserve.