The state Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Annenberg Foundation on Sunday could announce plans to pursue an interpretive center in the Ballona Wetlands.
The state agency, which owns the 600-acre reserve near Marina del Rey, has been working with the foundation for more than a year, said Shelley Luce of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, which has been coordinating studies and research at the habitat.
Fish and Wildlife, formerly the Department of Fish & Game, launched an environmental review process last summer to evaluate Ballona Wetlands restoration plans, including removing Ballona Creek's concrete levees and making the habitat more accessible to the public.
Luce declined to discuss the pending announcement, referring calls to Fish and Wildlife officials, who would not provide details about it to the Daily Breeze. Calls to the Annenberg Foundation were not returned.
But word of an interpretive center spread quickly among wetlands advocates, some of whom expressed concern about the prospect of a private foundation building a project in an ecological reserve. Rumors swirled that a restaurant, parking lot and exhibit center would be moving onto the state reserve, although the restoration commission denies a restaurant was included.
"An interpretive center is an excellent idea - but it needs to be in the community adjacent to the wetlands," said Playa del Rey resident Marcia Hanscom, executive director of the Ballona Institute. "Businesses in PDR have wanted to build parking lots on the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve, and we have always said `no' - that's not what the land is for."
"There's a lot of interesting buildings around where it could go," she added.
Although the state agency kept mum about its plans, Luce a year ago had discussed the prospect of an Annenberg project with the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission's Executive Committee.
Old meeting minutes say she provided information about the foundation's interest in funding a center in Area C of the wetlands, which is east of Lincoln Boulevard, and said the foundation's legal staff drafted an agreement with future goals. She raised two issues for consideration - a desire for an animal adoption center and a limit on the fill that would need to be placed on the land, the minutes say.
Assuming a Ballona Wetlands project is in the works, it would come nearly two years after the Annenberg Foundation withdrew a controversial plan for an animal-focused educational complex on property in Rancho Palos Verdes.
Submitted to Rancho Palos Verdes in 2008 after several years of preliminary discussions, the $40 million plan included a "discovery park" designed to complement the city's nearby marine-themed Point Vicente Interpretive Center. The 51,000-square- foot center would have featured exhibit and classroom space and adoption suites for dogs and cats.
The project faced opposition from vocal residents and concerns from state and federal officials.
The foundation later pulled its plan. Its website says the center is no longer proposed in Rancho Palos Verdes and "its future site will be announced soon."
Follow Kristin Agostoni on Twitter at http://twitter.com/kagostoni