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Will the Annenberg Foundation Dump a Glorified Pet Center on the Ballona Wetlands?

Marcia Hanscom at the Ballona Wetlands

Jennie WarrenMarcia Hanscom at the Ballona Wetlands

So the super rich Annenberg Foundation wants to dump a 46,000-square-foot "interpretive center" on the Ballona Wetlands -- one of the last major wetlands areas in Los Angeles. Some folks think it's a great idea. Ballona Institute co-director Marcia Hanscom, who's been fighting to protect the wetlands for decades, has a far different take.

"It's kind of a shell game here," Hanscom tells L.A. Weekly. "The thing the Annenberg Foundation really wants is a center for dogs and cats."

Yep, that's right. In Hanscom's well-informed opinion, the Annenberg Foundation wants to build a $50-million glorified pet clinic, but dress it up as something else.

Real estate developers have been trying to build on the Ballona Wetlands for years with mixed success. Now the Annenberg Foundation has zeroed in on the wetlands after the charitable organization was forced to scrap plans to build an interpretive center in Rancho Palos Verdes.

Hanscom thinks the project is rife with problems.

For starters, says Hanscom, the private Annenberg Foundation wants to build on, and have full control of, public land.

"It's basically privatizing public land -- it's a public land grab," says the environmentalist. "And it's a very wealthy organization that can afford to buy their own land."

Also, says Hanscom, constructing a 46,000-square-foot building that's billed as an "interpretive center" in which people will be educated about the wetlands but will also destroy at least an acre of it is flat-out nuts.

"It makes no sense," says Hanscom. "It's contrary to the concept of conservation."

Hanscom says that interpretive centers are a thing of the past -- tourists can learn about the Ballona Wetlands by listening to an oral presentation through a smart phone app or an electronic headphone device while taking a walking tour of the real thing.

The state, which controls the land where the Annenberg Foundation wants to build, apparently likes the idea because Aube has promised millions for upkeep costs throughout the Ballona Wetlands.

But only if Annenberg can construct the center, which will include veterinary facilities for animals and "adoption suites" for cats and dogs. The public, though, won't have access to the pet hospital.

Annenberg Foundation executive director Leonard Aube did not get back to the Weekly seeking comment.

But Aube told the Daily Breeze he doesn't know why there's been such a hubbub over the pet component of the project. "We don't understand the controversy because it's such a natural part of our everyday lives," he said.

Hanscom says that if the Annenberg Foundation, with an endowment of over $1 billion, wants to truly be philanthropic and environmentally conscious, the organization would donate the millions necessary to upkeep the Ballona Wetlands "with no strings attached."

"We have a lot of problems that need to be fixed through genuine philanthropy," says Hanscom, "but this is not genuine philanthropy."

The environmentalist expects another battle over the future of the Ballona Wetlands will be played out as Annenberg moves forward with its plans.

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.