One of the region’s unsung environmental heroes, Ruth Lansford, received deserved kudos Saturday night, July 19th, at the 30th Anniversary Dinner for the Friends of Ballona Wetlands. A few hundred supporters, including Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Assemblyman Mike Feuer and “California Gold’s” Huell Howser, came out to the marsh to celebrate Ruth’s incredible conservation efforts.
I’ve always looked at Ruth as the Dorothy Green (Heal the Bay’s founder, heart and soul) of the Ballona Wetlands. She isn’t trained as a wetland ecologist or a political activist, but she still has been effective because of her passion, perseverance and patience. She has truly led the fight to save L.A. County’s last major coastal wetland.
Over the years, Ruth and the Friends unfairly took a lot of heat because they eventually settled their claims against the development of Playa Vista. The compromise not only precluded them from opposing the massive development, but actually put them in the awkward position of supporting the components of the development tied to wetland protection. This is considered taboo in the environmental movement and was a mistake recently avoided in the Tejon Ranch deal made by NRDC, Audubon California, Planning Conservation League, Sierra Club and the Endangered Habitats League. Although the wetlands compromise can be viewed as a misstep, there is no doubt in my mind that there would be eight-story buildings and a golf course on Ballona without Ruth’s heroic efforts as the leader of the Friends.
The good news is that numerous other groups sprung up to effectively fight for Ballona and about 600 acres are now protected. Former Gov. Gray Davis, Mary Nichols and Ruth Galanter (who first ran for city office over two decades ago on the platform of stopping the Hughes Summa Corp.’s plans to destroy the wetlands) helped get the $150 million to buy a large wetland parcel. Then State Controller Kathleen Connell helped pull off protection of another parcel.
Saturday night was an emotional walk down memory lane, with many of the region’s most successful conservationists there to honor and thank Ruth for her work. Her son’s film documenting highlights of the last 30 years was very moving. I was particularly touched by Ruth’s gushing enthusiasm about the endangered California Least Tern‘s use of the freshwater marsh as foraging habitat. The avian symbol of the Friends had returned to Ballona in big numbers. After 30 years of tireless activism, the woman most responsible was as happy as a kid on Christmas morning.