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.